This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Breaking through the complications to face the complexities and coming out whole.

So far we have begun to delve into three broad areas, those being the basic physical livability of communities [Livable Communities wiki page], the community-based governance of those communities [Governance wiki page] and creating economic viability from communities [Economics wiki page]. We will be going more in depth into each and exploring how each supports the other two. We will also be developing additional resources at the New Community Paradigms wiki.

It is still important though to be reminded that this experiment in creating a whole new paradigm for the governance of communities will not be easy. It is an experiment because it has never been tried on a large scale. It needs to be recognized that this effort is starting from a very small beginning and is attempting to leverage rather extensive resources. Providing resources is one stage of this process, showing how they can work together is another, but we still need a process by which to implement these in the real world when the reality is that there will be many challenges in doing so. 

One significant potential challenge is dealing with the complications of City Hall politics while at the same time dealing with the complexities of the issues with which need to be faced. This is not to say that all City Halls will be obstructionist or do not fully represent the policy desires of their constituents but the current system of spectator participation in municipal elections every for years instead of real, authentic community participation in establishing policies is falling short of our society's true needs. This is particularly true at the local level.

While there is an intention as part of this effort to find the means of flanking the complications of dealing with a City Hall laying behind a stonewall, there is still a need to face the complexities inherent within any system of governance and the challenges it must face. 

There is an organic complexity found within the communities with which we are dealing.  Jane Jacobs, author of the seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is given credit for having recognized this organized complexity.

This issue has been touched on before with the post Why is this so hard? It's complicated and it's complex but that's OK but actually trying to put this all together even if just on "paper" is certain to bring up even greater complexities.

The goal of new community paradigms is to find ways of recognizing these complexities and finding the means of communicating and addressing them in a manner so that the public at large is not put off or overwhelmed and can deal with them in a meaningful way. This defines a new role for professionals in the field of being communicators and facilitators to a far greater extent.

Della Rucker of Wise Economy Workshop recently did a post on Jane Jacobs’ organized complexity, and why we keep failing to deal with it well from an economic development perspective on what had been a more planning oriented perspective taken in an article by Michael Mehaffy that ran in Planetizen.

Both defend Jacobs against recent critics but also make apparent one of the possible pitfalls to applying complex concepts in addressing complex challenges.  There are not only multiple possible solutions to any problem, some workable in reality, some not, there are also multiple perspectives of those solutions making implementation all the more complicated.
One of the greatest problems in understanding the influence of Jacobs on cities and planning is that she became a victim of her own success. Her complex ideas have been simplified to the point of slogans and urban legends, and she has too often been venerated uncritically.
That attitude is changing and Mehaffy gives Jacobs critics, such as planner Thomas Campanella, economist Ed Glaeser, sociologist Sharon Zukin and Mechaffy's own friend Anthony Flint who suggested that Jacobs was a libertarian with a mixed legacy of NIMBYism a platform for their views.

He then goes on to defend Jacobs.
What I find remarkable about these accounts – speaking as an instructor who regularly uses her texts - is that in almost all cases these were things that Jacobs herself simply never said. She was clearly not against planning, but against failed planning; not against government, but against government badly organized; and not against new buildings, but against rushing monocultures of the new. She was for a deeper tactical understanding of how the "inherent regenerative force" of "self-diversification," as she termed it, can be put to work to provide more diversity of income and opportunity, as clearly has happened in cities throughout history.
Della Rucker of Wise Economy Workshop also appreciates Jacobs insights into organized complexity.
It’s an understanding of “organized complexity,” as she called it – the dynamic inter-relationships of systems, of processes, of self-organization. This was not a mysterious world, but a comprehensible one – it was just a different kind of world than we had been envisioning. A city, certainly, was a different kind of problem than we had thought. And therein she identified a huge obstacle to learning and progress, and one that is largely still with us.
This does not mean that there will be a smooth path in bringing all of this together and delivering on the promise of new community paradigms. This effort requires not only a very substantial change in the way in which economic development is done to benefit the community but also a very substantial way in how the community relates to community governance and local economic development.  This second factor may be the most idealistic part of this endeavor as its objective is to change the way people think about their role in the community but it is still worth the attempt if only to better understand the process.

The point is not to get everyone in any particular community thinking about community governance or economic development 24/7.  It is to open up the perspective of the traditional institution of City Hall and get more members of a community involved in actively creating the type of community they want through direct democratic means. This involves emphasizing the importance of understanding economic development in relation to the long term sustainability of the community.

There is also not an assumption that everyone in every community will be interested. The good people of Parochialville may be quite happy with the way things are in their community and the good people of Innovatitown would likely already have such a system in place.

It is further recognized that even if there is a strong movement to start a new community paradigm process within a community it is, besides being potentially complicated because of political reasons, also a very complex process.

This needs to be broken down and made accessible to a "general" public audience. The quotes around "general" is to make the point that there is no such thing as a community made up of general type people and that there are hidden resources within the public audience that are often left undiscovered under the traditional system of institutional government.

The best way of dealing with complexity is head on in a authentic and transparent way. One advantage in being a web-based effort is that resources are available from around the world.  Gluu is a digital agency out of Denmark with a focus on engaging members of a business, group and arguably a community in delivering ongoing organizational improvement.  They recently wrote an article on organizational complexity and what happens when Complexity brings paralysis.
We don't see it coming. What starts as a simple idea quickly becomes far more complex than anyone imagined. Before we know it all the good ideas lead to a form of paralysis.
The article points out what happens all too often within City Hall these days.  As Gluu points out, the different department functions become siloed and getting anything done becomes more and more complicated, not complex which has the potential for inherent solutions within the complexity, but complicated as the hinderances that are part of the system are often created by the system for its own survival and not the benefit of those it was designed to serve.
If you look at each of the new ways of working and tools in isolation then most of them make sense. They are introduced by smart people with good intentions. The trouble is that when companies employ thousands of smart, highly paid people and then place them into the pigeonholes of a corporate hierarchy, then people do what they get paid for. From each of their pigeonholes they develop intricate systems, structures and processes that they broadcast to their colleagues.

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