Sam Davies

Making a life worth living

Coinciding with my post last week expressing concern about how much ‘real’ community space is being created as the city grows, this week has seen the publication of three wide-ranging reports on the importance of social infrastructure.

These were undertaken by the Bennett Institute at the University of Cambridge and the Institute for Community Studies on behalf of The British Academy and the Power to Change trust, and cover:

The reports have a lot of valuable insight and benchmarking, and some very helpful perspectives on what social infrastructure is and does, and why it’s so critical to sustaining the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

I have argued that in a city like Cambridge, with a rapidly growing and constantly changing population, the relentless emphasis on economic growth must be matched by an equal determination to bolster our spaces for social connection:

“Economic policies alone – from new infrastructure to inward foreign and direct investment – are always welcome but not always sufficient to fix social problems; nor will community revival offset more precarious housing tenure or declines in job security. It is the interplay between economic and social factors that drives the improvement, or deterioration, of the social fabric of a place.”

– Tanner, W., O’Shaughnessy, J., Krasniqi, F. and Blagden, J. (2020), ‘The State of our Social Fabric: Measuring the changing nature of community over time and geography’, Onward [accessed 13 December 2022]

What was fascinating this week was to hear these theoretical research themes recurring time and again in the stories retold and tributes paid at a thanksgiving service I attended.

Chris K hadn’t had an easy life, but made the most of his later years, with a routine which took him around a hyper-local range of cafes, pubs, parks and churches. It was the friendships and connections he made in these unglamorous, unconsidered, uncelebrated places which gave him strength and contentment in life; and it was those same friends and acquaintances who came together on Thursday to tell their stories and bid him farewell.

Academic research can state that “Social infrastructure should be seen as an asset that contributes to the creation and maintenance of the social fabric”.

Thursday showed me that social infrastructure made Chris’s life worth living.

Sam Davies

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