Sense of community, public space, and intergenerational (in)activity in Middle England

Clark, Andrew; Peace, Sheila; Holland, Caroline and Katz, Jeanne (2005). Sense of community, public space, and intergenerational (in)activity in Middle England. In: Annual Meeting of The Association of American Geographers, 5-9 Apr 2005, Denver, CO, UK.



There as been considerable attention paid to the importance of public place in promoting individual and social wellbeing and quality of life, enhancing urban competitiveness and supporting democratic rights. It also has a long association with the development of ‘sense of community’. Currently, the idea of public place is entangled in the community-based rhetoric of social inclusion initiatives, planning policy and urban renaissance agendas across North America and Europe. However, there is limited evidence of the links between public space and community and where links are believed to exist, little understanding of them. Beyond this, although much research has explored the territorialisation of public space, particularly with regard gender, ethnicity, social class and marginalised groups, there has been less attention paid to if, and how, different age groups use, and interact, in different public spaces.

This paper reports on ongoing research into how different social groups use a range of public spaces in the Buckinghamshire (UK) market town of Aylesbury (population circa 55,000). It considers ways in which groups of younger and older people interpret, and act upon, the presence of other groups in such spaces. The project adopts a participatory approach with local people conducting observation research to help make sense of the spaces around them. Small, rurally located towns are often stereotyped as good places supporting inclusive, cohesive communities. By exploring the contestation, negotiation, and social reproduction of public spaces in one such town, this paper will illuminate some of the myths surrounding such ideas.

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