“45° Change”: What could happen when communities meet institiutions?

I had a very interesting talk yesterday with Colin Miller, an experienced and now retired community developer who leads the Deeper Democracy group. Colin wrote Rethinking Community Practice nearly a decade ago, and is still very interested and engaged in how change can happen in communities and in wider society.  Colin introduced me to the idea of ’45° Change’, first set out in 2017 in a pamphlet by Neal Lawson.

The idea is that change across society cannot be thought of in simple top-down OR bottom-up ways.  It’s not even both top-down AND bottom-up, because institutions and communities work in fundamentally different ways.  The difference is reflected in the ‘institutional triangles and community circles’ way of thinking which we’ve included in our Village Builder course over the past few weeks.  Institutions work with hierarchy to produce goods and services for users and consumers, while communities act in a much flatter horizontal mode of connection and mutual action.  So what happens when vertical institutions meet horizontal communities?  One possibility is that we get 45° Change.

Village In The City is about helping people to develop micro-local communities.  So we’re primarily interested in helping you to grow community organisation in your neighbourhood.  The question will arise, at some point, about how these community groups interact with local government and other institutions which have a role in what goes on locally.  What the 45° Change people led by Neal Lawson, Caroline Hartnell and others have recognised is that this is unlikely to be played out on either the top-down institutional model or the sideways community model, but will very likely have to see new ways to interrelating and working developing as both parties seek to find ways to go forwards in everyone’s interest.

Institutions are not very likely to be interested in giving away their power in the first instance, and so much of the way will have to be forged by enlightened voices on both sides.  Communities and other horizontally-oriented groupings have a leading role to play in developing new ways to work.

You can read a good short summary on the Rethinking Poverty webpage, and download the full pamphlet from Compass, a cross-party group for those who want to build a Good Society.

So – what ways have YOU found to connect with local government and institutions in your neighbourhood?  What’s working? What issues are you finding?

The Future of Work – and a brighter future for your community?

Yesterday saw the publication of The Future Of Work, a key report created by Nationwide (the world’s largest building society, and a key UK employer) along with Ipsos MORI and many other contributors. Nationwide gathered 30 leading UK organisations to understand what the workplace could look like in a post-Covid world, and used these findings to help shape the report. It looks at how the pandemic has impacted different generations and demographics and how people might want to work in future.

The key conclusions about work are, unsurprisingly, that there will be more working from home than before the pandemic. More interestingly, the report is clear that while many people would like to work from home more, they don’t think their employers will be as keen. Many homes are not well-suited to working, and so a rise in suburban ‘hub’ workspaces might be envisaged. Some ‘office’ time will likely still be required, and younger workers will need this more to build their work networks and relationships. There are also wellbeing challenges from too much Zoom time.

The report has an intriguing section, ‘Revenge of the suburbs?’, on the impact of all this on local urban communities. If people are commuting less, they have more time – up to six week per year more time – to do something closer to home. The report talks about the demand for local services like cafes, delis, gyms and hairdressers increasing (and indeed we have been seeing this in the lockdown already).

This is all great potential for Villages In The City.  If there are folk spending more time in their local neighbourhood (rather than rushing off to town to work), then perhaps they are interested to join in and develop those communities? That’s where we come in.

Ex-commuters often have excellent skills garnered at work, in communicating, working with others, creating graphics and publications, running websites and all kinds of things which they can use to create and help the neighbourhood.  The thing is, getting involved in a community isn’t quite the same as leading a team or running a project at work.  The skills are closely related, but you need to deploy them in a slightly different way and with a different outlook.

For example, creating accurate and rapid ‘minutes’ or notes after a meeting is a good skill.  What’s the purpose of these minutes – usually to hold people to account. That is how controlling organisations or institutions work. It’s in the minutes, and if you don’t do it we will shout at you/ridicule you/look disappointedly at you/mark you down. In helping to lead or participate in a community, there are other ways to encourage people both to commit to taking a (maybe small) action, and encourage them along with support, interest, encouragement and applause. What gets done is more to do with what is in people’s hearts than in the minutes.

If you would like to develop community in your own neighbourhood, Village In The City is here to help and support you, whether your interest has been sparked by spending more time at home in lockdown (as was mine) or whether you’re tuned in already to the benefits of having a network of connections in the streets around you.  We are have a growing bank of resources, experts, webinars, support calls, our own online community and online courses (coming soon) – all for people like you.

It’s easy to start to get involved.

  1. Sign up for information at http://villageinthecity.net
  2. Read our Manifesto and Charter (to see how well it resonates with you)
  3. Join our online community (free) and say hello – we’re looking forward to welcoming you.

Village In The City is led by Mark McKergow, a former itinerant author, coach and consultant who is building community in his own neighbourhood in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The Village In The City project is currently supporting neighbourhoods as far apart as the USA, Austria, Belgium and Bulgaria as well as around the UK. You are invited to join us whether you’re an experienced community builder, just wanting to get started, or a professional with ideas to share. 

Co-housing: building community in shared space

Richard Lucas of TEDx Kazimierz in Krakow, Poland has joined our Advisory Board (thank you Richard!). He has shared this excellent TED video from 2017, featuring Grace Kim talking about co-housing, an innovative way of building community within shared space.  Richard writes:

“Greetings from Krakow, Poland – This is my first post. I was sharing information about this great project with my TED Circle this evening. with guests from Canada , Germany, Israel, India, Poland, Romania and the USA.  We were discussing Kim Grace’s thought provoking TED talk on co-housing which is a different approach to designing and living with community as a high priority. The links with the manifesto Mark drafted are obvious.”

About the talk: Loneliness doesn’t always stem from being alone. For architect Grace Kim, loneliness is a function of how socially connected we feel to the people around us — and it’s often the result of the homes we live in. She shares an age-old antidote to isolation: cohousing, a way of living where people choose to share space with their neighbors, get to know them, and look after them. Rethink your home and how you live in it with this eye-opening talk.

The 15-minute city: a new picture for urban living

The idea of a ’15-minute city’ is arriving onto the scene from several sources at the moment.  The Weekend FT published this piece by Natalie Whittle examining the idea of having everything you need within a 15 minute radius (walking or by bike) of where you live.  She reports what many people are experiencing: working from home gives a new attention to one’s immediate neighbourhood. This trend has been rapidly accelerated by the COVID pandemic, with French car giant PSA (Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall) moving non-production staff to permanent home working. Carlos Moreno of the Sorbonne in Paris created the idea of the 15-minute city, and is advising Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. Paris is one city which is already experimenting with much-improved cycle routes too, which helps atmosphere and health as well as keeping a local focus. The 15-minute neighbourhood idea has also been picked up by Camden council in London, with this article in Medium. There is also another longer article on Bloomberg by Patrick Sisson.

One point made in the article is particularly relevant to Village In The City advocates and supporters.  Moreno says “we don’t want to recreate a village; we want a create a better urban organisation”. Us too.  One persistent criticism of micro-localism is that it would constrain people to a small area around their houses. Of course, this is not the case.  As cities develop, there will still be things we can’t get within our immediate neighbourhoods. I play saxophone in a big band, and I am unlikely to find a top-class group within 15 minutes walk.  However, what a great basis for a life, to know people around you, be familiar with local suppliers and meeting places, to smile and greet people in the street. Having a life in your village is not an opposite of being active on a wider scale – it’s more of a necessary counterpoint.  It balances our attention, provides a wider network of connections (including cross-generational and cross-demographic) and offers the chance of a rich life on the doorstep as well as on the train or plane.

Want to start building your village? We’re here to help.  Go to our Building Your Village page to find out more.

Village In The City is a post-COVID initiative to help you build micro-local communications and communities where YOU live.

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