Thursday, 10 September 2009

Nicolson Square and the addicts

In early 2008 a rather rundown Nicolson Square was revamped, with trees approaching their sell by date replaced and an altogether very pleasant environment shaped with over £100,000 of public money.

Concerns about it continuing as a resort for addicts and drunks have, in the event, come to pass. In the period since the upgrade, some very considerable public expense has been incurred in policing and repairing the square - with moves to create an exclusion zone for alcohol eventually rejected. There is ongoing concern that the now beautiful square is just not a safe place of resort with many local people feeling threatened or uncomfortable as the place is often taken over by addicts.

It was 6:30 this evening as I was heading to an event and passing Nicolson Square that I saw what turned out to be the tail end of a confrontation. Having just come from another event where I was accused of being a terrorist (wearily: I'll tell you another time), I stopped to take in the scene.

There were a dozen of the usual suspects on the grass within the gardens, with cans and bottles littering the grass. They were facing up to a scattering of Asian men and women on the north side of the square. In particular I noted two of the men within the gardens, much the worse for wear, threatening and trying to get at their perceived adversaries to the north. The latter stood their ground without making threats or advancing. I say the two men were trying to advance. A couple of their women friends made sterling and only partially successful efforts to drag them back and calm them down. Both men were well under the influence and shouting F*** off accompanied by obscene gestures.

All this was over in a minute or so and the women achieved a sort of victory and quietened down their two friends. As the Asian men drifted away in cars or on foot I called the routine police number and asked for their attendance.

The two main culprits I had seen moved away, one apparently to renew supplies and the other having collected a carrier bag full of empty cans to dispose of them and visit the nearby public toilets. After 20 minutes two policemen arrived with another support vehicle hovering in the background. Fortunately the two main culprits had come back into sight and I was able to point them out to the officers who then engaged them in lengthy conversation and noted their particulars.

I then found myself talking with a couple of local residents, both of whom pointed out that the nature of this event was pretty well a regular occurrence. The lively discussion on what should be done can be saved for another time.

But with me now 40 minutes late for my event I took the opportunity to fulfill my appointment.

On a number of occasions of late I have wandered into the square and engaged with the addicts first hand (there are many, many different ones who frequent the gardens). But this evening was a reminder that the considerable energy expended by public authorities (police, council community safety, community wardens, parks staff, lawyers etc) has thus far failed to crack the problem.

Feel free to add your solution below.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The solution lies at tackling the root causes of addiction and until that is dealt with we will continue to waste money on the unpleasant symptoms. Creating exclusion zones is for the greater detriment of society, we should be faced with the problems our culture creates, not shuffle it away to create a sanitised public realm. You might find Anna Minton's book Ground Control a good read.

CR said...

Thanks for your comment. Not having read the book I have done a quick flick through the reviews and the publisher's synopsis http://www.annaminton.com/Ground_Control.htm .
Sounds interesting reading and by all accounts well written.

What I have read suggests the key themes are that in the last generation the market place has created a) homogeneity and b) a gated community environment, wresting real and rightful control of planning and communities from local (and central) authorities where it should belong.

Having spent some time in the last few days in some of our 60s government created multi-storeys, and the last couple of years observing at first hand the inefficiency and negative effects of over intrusive central control, this will certainly be an interesting read! Added to my wish list. Thank you.

PS I'd be interested in a brief description of the 'root causes' to which you refer.

Anonymous said...

Frequently coming across the groups that hang out at Nicholson Square, the top of Middle Meadow Walk and previously on Hunter Square it's clear that some have serious mental health issues.

CR said...

I appreciate that is so. In many cases the mental health issues are brought on by the addiction we see being lived out before our eyes.

Anonymous said...

chicken/egg - it's quite a conundrum.

One interesting part of Ground Control (includes some depressing reports from Edinburgh) is comments from community workers suggesting that the money invested in cctv and asb legislation would have been better invested if it had been chanelled into providing community services and support for the very people that we now criminalise. How much has CEC spent on cctv I wonder?

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