Saturday, 03 July 2010

Valuing common ground The English tradition of common land is a physical representation of collective interest that defies exclusive and privatising practices. 'People may not know what a common is, but they have some sense of its survival through history, perhaps that the land once belonged to the people, and they want to keep it that way.' This comes from new guidance for assessing the community value of common land, prepared by Kate Ashbrook and Nicola Hodgson for The Open Spaces Society. It's full of fascinating insight and some individual reflections like this: 'Zoar Common is the link between my home and the high moorland and is welcoming, familiar, territory where I‟m most likely to meet near neighbours coming and going, exchanging a few friendly words and keeping in touch with local matters.' The guidance is intended to identify mechanisms to recognise and take account of local community interests on commons, hence complementing established criteria used in assessing national importance of land for interests such as nature con-servation and landscape. The intention is not that community interests should be graded or weighed and balanced against national interests, but rather that they should be given proper recognition and attention when considering man-agement on a common, seeking to integrate local and national aspirations within management frameworks. Specifically, the purpose of the commission was to provide information to enable the user or practitioner to: i be aware of issues relating to the community interests of common land, ii assess the importance of common land to local neighbourhoods, iii engage with communities and understand their perspectives, iv incorporate community concerns in any scheme examining the future and management of commons. Via Planning bulletin.
Local sites and civic involvement Last Friday Hugh Flouch and I organised a Networked Neighbourhoods roundtable discussion on civic involvement and local online in London. We took advantage of the presence in town of US e-democracy pioneer Steven Clift to bring a few interesting people together for some easy-going discussion and share some early findings from our London study. Unaware that I was about to be knocked back by a short bout of flu (as I type this, coincidentally and characteristically, here's the Next-Door-Neighbour at the back-door asking am I better) there was even less chance that I might come up with any particular insights at the time; but it was at least a moment to try and relate local websites to the community organising and civic involvement expectations of Big Society. Among the points I hope I managed to put across were these: The transformations to co-production of local quality of life and to a more conversational democracy are not trivial, but they are both within the legitimate aspirations of neighbourhood online networks. When we look at these sites and the effects they appear to be having, I don’t think we should be looking necessarily for effects that shore up the old ways of doing representative democracy. Nor should we be looking for the strengthening of strong ties and the creation of close-knit communities: local sites support fluid, overlapping networks of weak ties that incorporate sufficient trust to get things done. Those ways of getting things done might extend to Alinsky-style community organising, but you wouldn’t conclude from our material that the link is strong. I think it’s fairer to say that we can see a latent demand for informal, controlled-commitment involvement in local issues – people are creating as well as responding to local opportunities, online. These sites are places that accommodate the unclubbable alongside the clubbable. We’ve yet to appreciate the benefit of that. Essentially, these sites change the acoustics of the public realm: the voices of local people are increasingly audible, not because a few people shout louder but because conversations are generated, accumulate, and are transparent. The pic of myself and Steve Clift was taken by Hugh and I rather like the reflected cycles round our heads. There's a short report on the session on the Networked Neighbourhoods site here.

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