According to sociologist Richard Sennett (1994), the architectural emblem of our times is the airport waiting lounge; we are the ultimate lonely crowd, with fragmented and fleeting relations with other strangers; lacking any enduring sense of commitment to one another. This chimes with Augé’s (1992) observation that we are witnessing the spread of what he terms ‘non-places’ across the world, such as airports and shopping malls; homogenous environments in which these lonely crowds temporarily dwell, before dispersing once again.
This idea of consumer societies being characterised by a growing individualism, with fragile and transient social bonds, has become a common trope in academic research and writing. Such sentiments are echoed in Zygmunt Bauman’s series of books exploring what he calls Liquid Modernity; societies in which “…change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty” (Bauman, 2000: viii).
Alternative currencies have been around for many years, to the point that they can be seen as a rather old technology for dealing with societal, economic, and developmental changes. Indeed, the first forms of alternative currencies were presented during the cash-poor interwar era in Europe and the US as an attempt to incentivise spending, discourage saving, and keep local economies afloat in a time of severe unemployment, poverty, and uncertainty (NEF, 2015). Fast forward almost 90 years, and similar issues pertain to the vast majority of our cities and towns, not only in the UK, but around the world. Unsurprisingly, alternative currencies are on the rise in various forms: timebanks, time-credit systems, local exchange trading systems, complementary currencies, convertible local currencies that are backed by the national currency, etc. More recently, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have risen to prominence and gained immense political and monetary value as decentralised transactional networks that injected a huge influx of money into a new marketplace that was ready to dismiss the old system of fiat money (Matchett, 2017).
CounterCoin, a new alternative currency developed by a team of economic and social development practitioners, while still in its infancy, is already helping people make a change to the town centre of Newcastle-under-Lyme. We were recently invited to a meeting in the “headquarters” of CounterCoin, the Cultural Squatters community café in York Place shopping centre, in order to join the team spearheading the creation of this new alternative currency. Continue reading “CounterCoin and Cultural Squatters in Newcastle-Under-Lyme”→
Over recent years, TED talks have become something of a global phenomenon; showcasing the work of the brightest brains from all over the World through their series of short, powerful presentations covering a whole host of topics. On 28th April 2018, Macclesfield, in North West England and close to IPM headquarters, hosted their own TEDx event to showcase just some of the forward-thinking ideas, research, and experiences from those with personal connections to the town. In TED’s spirit of ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’, TEDx Macclesfield connects people with a shared link to Macclesfield to spark conversations, share ideas, and help to collectively make positive changes to the town at a local level. The event was organised by Lynne Jones and Jude D’Souza with help from enthusiastic local volunteers. Jones explained the importance of holding such a renowned event in the town:
“Macclesfield (as perhaps any town) is grappling with a number of big issues – town centre regeneration, mental health service provision, local governance and democracy, supporting start-up businesses, and of course Brexit – but there are fewer public forums where real engagement can take place and ideas can be shared locally… The more of us who put something in, however small, the greater the sense connection and the stronger the community becomes. The danger is that we are living in silos more than ever, not hearing from those who hold different views…”
This event was about dismantling such silos, and creating a platform for cultivating a network of local people with a shared passion for making Macclesfield a more thriving place to live, work, and dwell. The event was a complete sell-out, with an audience of 100 local people gathering in Townley Street Chapel- a community hub in Macclesfield. Although the speakers covered a diverse range of topics, the presentations were threaded together by the common theme of how collaboration is key– something which is integral for generating any place’s vitality and viability.
Placemaking is an established practice and research field. Sustainability Citizenship is an emerging concept that tries to understand the different socio-cultural dimensions used in the creation of places, but with a particular focus on: sustainability, social, environmental and/or economic means in the realisation of space(s), created from the bottom up. In our contribution for the special issue of the Journal of Place Management and Development on participatory placemaking, with the title“From placemaking to sustainability citizenship: An evolution in the understanding of community realised public spaces in Bogotá’s informal settlements” (https://doi.org/10.1108/JPMD-06-2017-0051), we discuss “sustainability citizenship” and how it may be a more appropriate concept to understand how urban space is created and transform in informal settlements in Latin America, taking as a example, barrios of Bogotá.
Sustainability citizenship and placemaking are linked through their “process-driven” approach to realising places and use of the citizenry to enact change. In Informal settlements, public spaces are created outside formal planning processes through alternative path dependencies and the resourcefulness of its citizens. Sustainability citizenship, rather than placemaking, can work outside formal planning systems and manoeuvre around established path dependencies, which offers an evolutionary step in the creation and understanding of community realised places in the global south. Continue reading “From Placemaking to Sustainability Citizenship”→
The research community within the IPM is constantly challenging how we think about place and what place means. I am concerned about people (and even their non-human companions!) in places. I have long struggled, as many academics have, with the idea of place-making and the queasy notion of wading into communities and suggesting that these places can be ‘better’. My own PhD research examined communities how they shape their own identities through drawing or resisting place-imaging projects. By spending time with community groups and undertaking participant observation at official and unofficial Liverpool Capital of Culture events (both during and after 2008) I was able to understand how local people performed identities which related to their sense of belonging to their neighbourhoods and the wider city. It considered the balance between creative improvisation and the constraints of social and cultural norms in forming identities.
A bizarre piece of news caught my attention recently: A Kosovarian family was allegedly denied citizenship in Switzerland, not for failing to comply with the formal requirements, but for not adapting to the local norms. The transgressions (according to the article) were that the family wore tracksuits instead of jeans and that they did not greet people in passing. If this is true, it sheds a strange light on the very concept of community, which thus appears inward-looking, conservative and exclusive.
Indeed, I find it increasingly difficult to think of the concept in other terms and I believe we should be careful if we want to use it in any meaningful way. Community, the way I understand it, is first of all a group of people who share something – an idea, a common feature or a place. Place in particular is generally entangled in a strong imagery of belonging (communities are groups of people linked to each other through their belonging to a place), though we can clearly think of non place-based communities (internationalism was founded on exactly this idea). I see several problems related to the above.