If you have met me I probably tried to give you a ‘Plain Language Statement’. This is a sheet which has been approved by the ethics committee as telling people what they need to know about the project. (See my New Plain Language Statement here)
My Plain Language Statement includes five questions which try to give people a glimpse into what I am looking at. The last of these questions is, “Governments talk about creating inclusive communities. What do you think about that?”
While there has been a change of government in Victoria since I first designed my project, Australia’s government is quite clear that ‘social inclusion’ is something worth talking about. The City of Port Phillip seems very concerned with creating inclusive communities as ‘strengthening our diverse and inclusive community’ is one of its four key directions in the Council Plan. This is further demonstrated in the way programs are described on their website (e.g. “The Linking Neighbours Project is a community safety and social inclusion project”), that community grants are given for social inclusion projects, and one of the Community Pulse indicators they measure over time is ‘diversity’ (i.e. “Do people from a diverse range of social and cultural backgrounds reallly feel welcome here?” [sic- I think it’s a typo rather than for emphasis]).
Some people express scepticism at the ability for diversity in neighbourhoods to allow for a sense of community, or they say that it is a great idea that is not rolled out well in practice. There is academic work that backs up such a position. For example Robert Putnam came to the (much spoken about) conclusion that the greater the diversity in an American neighbourhood the more all people ‘hunkered’ down and did not participate or trust others.
When it comes to people in Port Melbourne, this scepticism in regards to inclusive communities is generally expressed only when they see the question on my Plain Language Statement. When people describe to me who lives in their neighbourhood they usually speak positively about the ‘mix’ they see. Of course seeing a ‘mix’ of people does not mean that these people mix much with each other or that everybody experiences a sense of inclusion.
An inclusive community does not mean that every person has to participate in the same things and in the same ways. However, I am keen to hear what people in Port Melbourne want their community to be like.