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Katherine Shonfield

Using the Pets Page of the Daily Telegraph as a social gauge may seem a touch eccentric but last weekend's bullet point list on 'What to do if your pet goes missing' is an invaluable key to the paucity of middle class engagement in the urban realm.

It exhorted the hapless city dweller to leaflet neighbours letter boxes, stick ads in newsagents' windows, put posters on lamposts, the pub and the community centre and ask the dustman.

Who are these people who need to be reminded to walk down the street?

They are the Hoverers. The ones who prefer their books from Amazon, their food from Waitrose, and don't know the street sweeper or what day the rubbish is collected. They skim the surface of urban life, and only land when safely ensconced in their cars or front rooms. These are the people, we assume as architects, who need corner shops, neighbourhood facilities, and street lighting to give them a sense of security.

But hang on though. The entire list is predicated on the fact that these things already exist, and that there are other people who will be walking the streets, examining lamposts, and looking in newsagents' windows. Not only that, the unthinking assumption is that these walking people, so minutely involved with the neighbourhood they can identify your personal moggy, will all be benign.

The Hoverers are an upper middle class generation brought up by other inveterate cardwellers and weekend cottage users. Their problem is not a sense of insecurity, it's that they simply haven't met enough other people who are strangers. They just don't know what to do when they are not barking orders but passing the time of day. Could it be that what's stopping this powerful group with getting on with the business of being urban citizens is not a sense of insecurity but of shyness?

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