Paul Evans kindly asked me to write a post for the Local Democracy blog. I came up with one called How Close is Local?
I live in a house on a street, in a village, within a parish, that is in a district, a parliamentary constituency and a county too. I’m also close to a city which I visit, sometimes attend meetings but am not officially connected with in any way. I work on a regular basis in London, too.
All of these areas could legitimately be described as local – yet if I were to create project based on locality I would probably have to pick at most two or three of these to focus on. Would this still be legitimate though, and would it mean alienating people for whom local means something different?
Read the rest at Local Democracy.
8 thoughts on “How close is local?”
Knowing who is governed is as important as knowing that those people govern themselves.
This goes back to a conversation I had with a community development worker some years ago. He was of the view that local authorities need to stop looking at communities from the perspective of geography. There was a time when you could put a location manager in a neighborhood and that would address those needs. But the needs of communities are diverse and increasingly un-geographic. Obviously there is a geographic element (especially when it comes to things like contingency and emergency planning) but in terms of a lot of community development, the needs are different.
I think this is an interesting point though. I’ve spoken about hyper-local media on my blog. Maybe we need a new word that means hyper-local for needs. Tonight, I’m not going to Leeds Twestival and feel I could be missing out, in the same way I would have felt if I’d not gone down to to see the lads at the local. What’s local to me is not always my geography – but also my community.
I think I’d argue the opposite and suggest there’s a strong need for local authorities to give a lot more consideration to local as being those places where people live in the same locality.
Definitely there are many communities of people that aren’t local and the web is able to bring these closer together in some regards, but that’s quite different than being local.
Local communities are fascinating in all sorts of ways – not least that they often do include people made up of varied backgrounds, cultures etc. etc. – that requires a different approach in how you provide support and deliver services than if you are supporting a community of interest.
As for what would I define as local personally, I’d say at a stretch my district. We’ve spent the past few years working with groups throughout the country asking them to consider the needs of their local area – for groups that include members that live far apart (like city wide or county forums) they find this is extremely difficult to do.
I don’t mean to do away with the geographic local at all – I agree completely that where local people can teach each other and experience different cultures it’s of great benefit. I was once involved in a project where local migrant workers taught polish to local people on the estate where bad feeling was building against them, which created some the best community cohesion results I’ve seen.
However, where we’re trying to engage and strengthen communities, I think local has another dimension. I know a lot of people who don’t engage locally but do engage in their various interest communities. The question is, how do you harness that engagement into engagement with public services? I think online technology does offer an opportunity here – if people are on facebook to network with their friends they meet at local gigs, why doesn’t the council’s Leisure Services have an input there…which in turn sign posts people to non-music related council services?
The reason is, I believe, that local authorities are concentrating all community re-generation budgets entirely on geographic communities. While I think it is essential that physical, community facilities exist and there are plans in place to strengthen the geographic element, I think it’s equally important that the non-geographic communities are enagaged and developed.
I’d never thought of the latter as locality working until Dave’s post – which made me think, do we need to re-think local on various terms, not just geographic?
I think this does already happen in terms of support and links made to sporting groups, the arts, cultural groups etc. I’d guess the emphasis in regeneration budgets is because problems are so much more complex in those geographic communities and so where people don’t necessarily have much in common besides their postcode there’s a need to find ways to build relationships, develop understanding and so on.
I think the thing about people not engaging locally is really important and that’s why I said initially I’d argue the opposite. I think there’s a real need to encourage people to get to know and respect their neighbours, particularly while its increasingly easier to get by without having to know or engage with anyone who lives near you.
It could be interesting to see how the use of online communities of interest could be used to strengthen very local relationships too. For example networks of people that work from home who could use online networks to organise working in places together or sharing resources, or like netmums discussions that mums use for coordinating meetups at local playcentres etc.
I agree and I think the opposite is true too – local physical networks, via connectivity, can bring something that is effective locally that was previously only effective on a wider scale.
For example,Charles Leadbeater’s ideas in City 2.0. The idea that you could have a local community hub, for want of a better word, where adults worked, teenagers and children learned in a communal environment, using sound connectivity to link in with peers (I use that word carefully, as they may not be the same age group, just peers in their subject/ability/whatever). So, you have local people working locally, despite doing very different things. The only difference from today being that when it came to coffee break, they’d meet their next door neighbor and those 3 hours spent traveling to work via the supermarket could be spent popping to the local shop in the lunch hour or the pub in the evening, to spend the travel money saved on a pint.
I know it really isn’t as simple as that, but I think the models of using online to get people engaging and using online to get engaging people active locally are really important.
Thanks for this Mike and Dave, I’m finding it a really valuable discussion.
ah yes – could be loads of good stuff from that kind of thinking. Encouraging the use of local businesses & products, combining the world wide connectivity to the connecting locally. It does build a strong case for giving much more consideration to the potential for online community development to support local community building.