Non-footballing highlight of the World Cup has to be the post-match litter-picks by supporters from Senegal and Japan. With armies of stadium cleaners presumably standing by, it was hugely affecting to see how these supporters made their public-spirited gesture seem the most natural thing in the world. As one Japanese commentator explained, in their culture it goes without saying that everyone tidies up after themselves. The wider inference being clear – so, what’s wrong with the rest of you? While the lazy response might be to look towards our public services, explaining that in our culture we prefer to pay people to pick up our litter, it would also be to miss the more serious point. Within our civic realm, is there anything that we all still do without question or complaint that somebody else should be doing it? It may just be that the corollary of a long-term dependency on well-funded public services is the inevitable withering of our ‘civic muscle’. But for most of us, well-funded public services are a distant memory and with the latest survey of frontline workers indicating that 80% no longer believe their service has any future, that ‘civic muscle’ could do with a serious workout.
In the most recent briefing…
Throughout our lives we are conditioned to seek help for all sorts of reasons – from the very minor things that touch our daily lives to the life changing stuff. If we’re given help we’re also conditioned to assume it’s well intentioned and so we express our gratitude accordingly. But while it may be well intentioned there is no guarantee that it will be of any constructive use. In fact some new research from NESTA suggests that a great deal of help achieves precisely the opposite of what was intended. There is good help and there is bad help.
Twenty five years ago, the Assynt Crofters tore up the rule book that hitherto had served as the Unofficial Guide To Who’s Allowed To Own Land In Scotland. Back then, the idea that a group of crofters had the temerity to seek ownership of an estate must have rocked the Establishment to its core. Their actions have since inspired many more communities to travel that same path. A programme of events celebrating this milestone anniversary runs all next week during which a biography of Allan MacRae, a driving force behind the buy-out, will be launched.
When more than 400 folk are prepared to spend a sunny Saturday stuck inside a Glasgow hotel discussing the dire state of Scottish local democracy, something of note is happening. Most people agree the current system is a busted flush but what’s proving much more elusive is any consensus about how to fix it. The many views we heard at this event will hopefully feed into the work of Democracy Matters. Most inspiring for me was the contribution from Elena Harrero of Barcelona en Comú, a citizen led movement (not a political party) that now runs that great city.
Many of the 400+ folk who came along to Democracy21 had had some involvement with community councils – most of them prefaced what they said with a comment about how powerless they felt. Also attending were all the well-kent names and faces you might expect at an event like this who have been debating and thinking about this subject for years. At times these debates can seem a bit circular so at some point we all need to start converting these thoughts and arguments into practical ideas. Writer and commentator, Gerry Hassan put this piece out some time ago.
When a community takes ownership of an asset, be that a public toilet, a village hall or the land under their feet, something profound occurs which changes the way they think and feel about that asset. Although impossible to measure by any quantifiable metric, this collective ‘internal shift’ seems to release an energy that translates into a level of creative and entrepreneurial activity that simply didn’t exist beforehand. The massive former MOD base at Machrihanish is a case in point. Bought by the community for the princely sum of £1, there are now 212 people working across the site.
The history of community regeneration is in many respects a troubled one. The challenge of breathing sustained new life into areas affected by severe social and economic disadvantage has resulted in a huge number of expensive failures and very few success stories. Perhaps it is because we have invested so much money over the years to such little effect, it has become almost too painful (or embarrassing) to learn the lessons from these failures. Interesting research from America into what factors might determine why investment in some communities seems to produce results and not in others.
There are no end of opportunities for communities to be consulted on proposals that will ultimately change the look and layout of their place. The extent to which local opinions ever actually shape the final plans is less clear. The Planning Bill is placing great store by the prospect of communities developing their own Local Place Plans. Whether these will carry any weight when push comes to shoving the planners and developers is another matter. Causey Development Trust, in Edinburgh’s south side, have taken advantage of generous support from Sustrans to rethink a crucial aspect of their public realm.
A bit of a buzz was generated last week by the launch of a new scheme from Crown Estate Scotland who currently manage Crown Estate assets in Scotland. The Local Pilots Scheme is to encourage local authorities and community groups to become involved in the management of Crown Estate land and property. Whilst being wary of raining on parades, this scheme seems behind the curve of mainstream policy – no prospect of these assets ever transferring into local ownership and any surplus revenues to be handed back to the Crown Estate. Where’s the buzz in that?