Wednesday, 09 June 2010

A new old narrative for community regeneration Demos have just published a paper by Max Wind-Cowie on community regeneration based on interviews in two high profile Birmingham projects, Balsall Heath and Castle Vale. The report is called Civic streets, although I didn't feel there was much focus on the civic. There's a reassuring emphasis on local democracy, noting for instance that when local people come together, establish a plan of action and consult widely, 'they have already demonstrated collective efficacy and commitment to improving their neighbourhoods'. Birmingham City's idea for 'micro-mayors' for areas up to 5,000 people gets welcomed, as we'd expect given the Demos tradition. The projects' part in stimulating social capital is celebrated. And it's helpful also to reflect on how come, although they have good relationships with local government, people in these areas 'are not able to assume control of local services even when they are confident of their ability to do so more successfully.' The author suggests that there is 'a new narrative for community regeneration' - 'one that frees up the space for civil society to rebuild itself and its communities, although providing the tools to help groups and communities to demonstrate their worth and success.' That sounds like a slightly over-excited claim to justify the planting of the BS flag on all this territory they think they have captured. Before I accept it, I'd just like to consider the use of the word 'rebuild'. Don't keep telling me civil society is bust, I think that compared to some other sectors it might be in reasonably good shape. He goes on: 'We can help to open up the political and social space for community regeneration if we begin to roll the state back in those areas where it is possible, and desirable, for others to act. We must step back and enable civil society to build neighbourhoods that function well. Just because the state pays for regeneration it does not mean that the state must do regeneration.' Fair enough, although I think that in ten years' time we may look back at a lot of painful mistakes and re-learning of the reasons why we have such things as, for example, state schools. Then he rather lets himself down with the final phrase here: 'Community regeneration needs to occur within a framework that is supportive, enabling and engaged with communities themselves.' Surely only a tory could imagine a form of community regeneration that did not engage with 'communities themselves'... And that highlights a slight problem for those coming late to the idea that people already do this stuff, that it involves political skirmishes and conflict and injustices and messiness, that it's something the state can enable and try to control, and by which occasionally the state can be upset. Note how the report, we are told, 'aims to explore how the ‘Big Society’ has worked in two areas... that are often claimed to be examples of its success.' Does Big Society really have such a distinguished history? As the author acknowledges elsewhere, people...

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