Proper prevention Part II: Shit Place Syndrome

Andy Turner
11 min readApr 8, 2021

This is the second of two blogs on ‘proper’ prevention, with the first on the need for a general ‘shit life reduction strategy’ and this one on what I’ve come to think of as ‘Shit Place Syndrome’.

Acknowledging ‘Shit Place Syndrome’

A quick thought experiment — two people, same income, one in a nice leafy area and one living in a run-down estate. Who’s more likely to end up ill? What about you, would you rather have a 20% pay rise but live in a bad area, or stay as you are and live somewhere nice? It’s not just about how much money you’ve got in your pocket is it?

The places we live are so important to our wellbeing and I think it’s important to acknowledge when somewhere is just crap, because it can be really bloody hard living somewhere crap. No public transport, nowhere for kids to play, no decent schools, no decent housing, no prospects. It’s absolutely no reflection on the people who live there — they’re generally victims of decisions made by others, poor planning and design, lack of investment, prejudice, neglect; all of which lead to a persistent cycle of deprivation and low aspiration.

Now, I’m all for strengths-based approaches when we are talking about people. Understanding that people and communities have strengths as well as needs is great and far more positive than traditional deficit models of seeing everyone just as a problem to be fixed. Defining people only by their needs or cost to ‘the system’ is dehumanising, because people have feelings. But things don’t — we don’t need to worry about upsetting a tower block or an abandoned car park. We should be brave and honest enough to acknowledge when a place — a neighbourhood, an estate, a single building — is crap and making people ill and unhappy and that even the best, most committed of residents can’t be asset-based-community-developed into sorting everything out themselves. It’s not their fault, such places have been let down by the poor decisions of successive local and national governments, and I think residents are right to expect the responsibility to rectify those decisions to lie primarily with those in charge.

Below I run through some ideas on how decision makers might focus on places to improve wellbeing. I’m not going to talk about the more obvious things like the need…