Communities don’t tend to just happen. Usually they are built, whether they are physical or commuties of interest or a mixture of both. Therefore there has to be an intent and an idea on the part of the creator(s) how they will be made to happen and the form that they will take.
I am not sure that enough attention is paid to the planning and maintenance of communities and I do not think that it is a new thing. I only need to think about the large council estate which was to become notorious, as Easterhouse, which was built decades ago. As with many of these estates, at that time, the houses were built and little or no infrastructure put in at the same time. The effects on the community are well-documented.
I was thinking about this recently as I have become involved in a small community which has at its heart, permaculture principles, ie earth care, people care and fair share. I had not given much thought before about how communities come to be and yet it is very few of us who are not part of a community. Although traditionally where we lived tended to be the most obvious community we were part of, that is less true now. Karen Birch’s article this month documents those changes which have left us often unaware of who our close neighbours are.
Where I live now, I know the names of only two of my neighbours. Yet there are still issues within neighbourhoods which can bring people together; although not always in a good way nor in a particularly planned way. In the past, I had to deal with communities which were being adversely affected by anti-social behaviour of the worst kind. Local people in this situation banded together, reacting to the problems that they were jointly facing. In this way they could support each other and approach the authorities for help as a group.
On the other hand I have an example locally of proactive action by one of my neighbours. The pavements where I live have never been adopted and so have not been paved. This one resident decided that he wanted the local council to adopt them and has been very organised in arranging meetings with local councillors and speaking to everyone in the area in order to get their backing. I do not know how successful he has been so far with the other residents, in forming a ‘community of interest’ as I have not become involved; it is not enough of a priority for me, knowing how badly local councils are being hit financially.
So what needs to happen for communities to be maintained in order to grow in a way that is healthy and sustainable? Harking back to the small community which I mentioned previously there has been an opportunity there to do just that.
The intention has been to build a framework which allows all those involved in the community, to agree how they interact with each other and how the resident community and the wider community (which is geographically spread out) work with the other. It also covers for example, how newcomers are introduced and integrated into the community. More importantly it is about increasingly reaching out to the wider community, especially the disenfranchised and engaging them in a new way of thinking and doing.
The framework has been built by Jamie Hamilton who is a Systems Analyst, but he describes the work that he does as ‘soft’ systems. He has done this in collaboration with others involved in the project. You can see more of his thinking at: http://www.arkadiansystems.com/?tag=energy-security.
Essentially what Jamie and the others are looking to achieve, is a ‘sustainable Viable Alternative to the current economic system.’
If we are to survive in a changed world, we need new frameworks, new ways of thinking about our life in the communities that we are members of and different expectations of how we operate within these communities. I commend Jamie’s model and would be interested to hear what our readers think of it.
This artice was written by Anne Casey who is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.