Just the sort of thing local campaigners should be trying out

The changing nature of high street shop windows picks up many threads of wider change in society. Not only the increasing homogenisation of them as national chains with standard shop front designs have spread out across the country. But also varying attitudes towards, and technologies for, tackling crime. Large glass panes frequently sprouted metal shutters – immediately effective, relatively cheap and yet ugly ways of stopping the classic smash and grab crimes.

Then a move away from shutters following an increasing awareness that ugly, off-putting high streets bring about their own problems with crime and fear of crime, with empty, dehumanised hearts of local communities causing far more problems that the immediate short-term physical security fix of the shutters that keep out crime and invite in graffiti. That wider understanding of tackling crime was helped by improved options for tougher glass and alternative forms of security to take the role of the shutters instead.

Now even the graffiti is increasingly turned into a positive social boom with imaginative communities encouraging high quality street art on shutters and other high street items which both brighten up the area and gives more people a feeling of a stake in its state and its future.

As I’ve written before:

In parts of Bristol there has been some particularly good work at getting street art painted on the shutters of local shops and otherwise bare, ugly walls. This not only brightens up the area, it provides a showcase for artistic talents – and also is an effective tool against graffiti, for once shutters or a wall bear artwork produced by someone in the community, the likelihood of it being covered in tags falls sharply.

Many parts of Canada have a strong tradition of taking this further, with large murals, and with decorations to liven up the utility boxes which feature on so many pavements.

Examples of painted utility boxes in the UK are far rarer, though clever pieces of artwork are present on some, such as in Brixton.

So it was great to see these two examples in Southwark recently, along Borough High Street.

In South East London the idea has been taken one stage further:

As evening draws in, the shop shutters along Greens End, a street in Woolwich, come down, revealing a gallery of portraits of local babies.

They were painted by a collective of graffiti artists, who worked from family photos sent in by people living close by…

Tara Austin, of Ogilvy and Mather advertising agency, which paid for and initiated the scheme, points to a series of research papers, published as long ago as the 1940s, into the effect that seeing an image of a baby has on an adult stranger.

“The evidence suggests that babies’ faces, the round cheeks and the big eyes, promote a caring response in human beings,” she says…

Austin plans to study crime figures in Woolwich to measure whether the idea is having the desired effect.

And even if the effect is not proven, many will still have enjoyed seeing the paintings. [BBC]

This is just the sort of thing imaginative councillors and local campaigners should be trying out much more.

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