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.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Community paradigms as a set of community relations

The relationship between new community paradigms efforts and existing city hall governments, including their political and public agency elements has been raised in past articles concerning other matters but not directly addressed. This needs to be clarified further not only in relation to city hall but all components of a community as a new community paradigm would not be possible if just one component of a community were to undergo fundamental change, all do, both individually and collectively.

A community taking a new community paradigm approach as its path for future growth would not be dependent upon institutions, though it could and would use them. The glue that holds a new community paradigm approach to community building would be a concept of civil society. This concept of using civil society as a platform for new community paradigms was discussed last month on this blog. Taking some relevant definitions from that post, as put forth by the Australian Centre for Civil Society, first what it is not:
The term does not refer to 'politeness' or 'civility' in public life, as important as this is.

It refers to that part of society that is not part of the state, hence the term 'civilian' when used to distinguish a person in civil society from military personnel or state officials, or the notion of a civil offence in law which is an offence between persons in civil society rather than a criminal matter.
What is civil society in relation to new community paradigms?
The term 'civil society' refers to the relationships and associations that make up our life at grass-roots levels of society, in families, neighbourhoods and voluntary associations, independent of both government and the commercial world. Our aim is to strengthen civil society and empower people within it.

As was said in the post on Visiting Innovatitown and Parochialville, this blog is directed toward the individual citizen of a community who has decided to take on the challenge of creating fundamental changes in their community and is seeking resources to bring that about. It is being designed for someone who sees themselves as being a producer of democratic governance and the tangible public policies that come from that and not merely a consumer of those policies.

Civil society as a platform for new community paradigms provided some insights to possible relations with traditional institutional and bureaucratic forms of municipal government. This relationship could be anything from a full partnership, an uneasy alliance, to direct opposition. An effort to implement new community paradigms would, however, need to go further regardless of cooperation of the existing local institutional political power structure.

It would require its own organizational structure. It is not the intention of this blog or the related wiki to create the basis for such a structure. It will work to suggest templates but each community will have to find its own form of structure that works best for it. It would hopefully be based though on the ideas of Community Governance as put forth by the New Community Paradigms wiki.

There will be a change in defining a different role for the citizen or under the concept of civil society reverting to an older role of ‘voluntary participation‘ as opposed to 'volunteering' in one’s community.

Volunteer can be defined as 1. a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking or 2. a person who performs a service willingly and without pay, which may imply placing one's self at the disposal of some institution. This raises its own set of issues but the focus here is taking on a role of greater active participation in not only achieving the community’s goals but defining those goals in an ongoing basis as well.

It seeks to answer the question from the post on Using Online Communities to encourage Direct Democracy for On-The-Ground Communities, How do we reach untapped "domestic reserves of energy" - people who don't vote, don't volunteer, or don't talk with neighbors? With the answer, It starts with participation, respect, and working together toward a common goal.

It does not require authorization or sponsorship by city hall as was shown in the post on the Better Block project, a demonstration tool that shows How to Build a Better Block by temporarily re-visioning an area to show the potential to create a walkable, vibrant, neighborhood center.

It does require, as was said in the post Second look at Making Cities Work, creating an environment from which there is more social capital from which to draw. This will require a good deal of voluntary participation from members of the community.

Voluntary participation is a better term, as defined in the post Civil society as a platform for new community paradigms, than volunteering as it is not limited to formal volunteering in a community through institutions but includes all altruistic forms of social interaction.

Voluntary participation, at its best, is a face to face proposition which means creating social connections within a community, helping to increase the democratic participation being sought.

It would also work to change the relationship with the professional workforce core of municipal governance, the planners, engineers, economic development professionals among others, who implement the supposed goals and objectives of the community.

This relationship has soured over the years because of perceived inequities between public and private compensation. There has also been the rise of a barrier of expertise between city hall and the community. This was touched upon in the last blog post Strong Towns and job creation - navigating between Scylla and Charybdis.

I hold to the belief that there is truth to the Strong Towns view that there has been too great of a dependency on government professionals. This is most often true when such a dependency is enmeshed in a bureaucratic or politically skewed system. A sizable portion of the responsibility of the problems facing communities needs to be laid at the feet of economic development and planning professionals. Individually, though, most people in government are endeavoring to make the community better.

The professionals in the field may complain that the layoffs, budget cuts and recent thrashings found in the media on too generous retirement benefits are unfair (and they are) but it is becoming an increasingly moot point because the fundamental nature of the economy and the interaction between government and citizens is changing.

Communities are either going to a commodified basis of government services in which employees work in a Mac’government role or communities will be pursuing some form of new community paradigms and government professionals will have an opportunity to participate in an emerging creative economy. Many of the old institutions will not be able to adapt to these changes. This will be explored further in future posts, in particular, the relationship between amateur community members and institutional professionals.

Finally, it means a change in working with and building strong relationships with other change-agent organizations and community groups. This is part of the reasoning behind the New Community Paradigms Facebook Connections wiki page. This aspect also needs to be developed further.

Past Posts