Wednesday, 24 August 2016

How do cities learn to become sustainable?

Alistair Sheldrick - University of Manchester, UK
James Evans - University of Manchester, UK
Gabriele Schliwa - University of Manchester, UK


Cities are key players in the drive towards global sustainability and are increasingly seeking to learn from experiences elsewhere when planning programmes for positive change. I first became interested in the topic of policy learning and sustainable urban transitions through the ESRC-funded Manchester Cycling Lab research project at the University of Manchester whilst completing my Masters study there in 2014. The project was established with the aim of providing research that would facilitate Manchester City Council and Transport for Greater Manchester’s (TfGM) Vélocity programme and help turn Manchester into a cycling city. 

On reading the Vélocity promotional material I was immediately struck by the prominence of intentions to emulate and establish ‘learning relationships’ with a few German cities – most notably Berlin. As an urban geographer I was particularly interested in this apparent departure from the obligatory nod to Amsterdam or Copenhagen in favour of a new exemplar cycling city.  

The study originally set out broadly to explore what exactly Manchester could learn from Berlin’s experience and possibly consider how and why particular places - such as Berlin - emerge as examples to follow in urban governance more widely. Despite a lack of existing critical research on cycling in Berlin, I didn’t foresee the study challenging the existing consensus in policy, academic and grey literature that attributed Berlin’s cycling renaissance largely to local pro-cycling policy interventions. I was, in fact, actually planning to use this as a point of departure for any findings. 

However, the first few interviews in Berlin brought this consensus immediately in to doubt. When asked about the factors that have driven Berlin’s cycling renaissance since c1990 - from local bike shop employees to transport consultants - everyone who was interviewed failed to mention any form of local transport policy as having a significant impact. Even a Senior Transport Planner from the Berlin Senate expressed regret at the long-term lack of impetus, investment and influence the city authorities have had over cycling participation. Instead, the study identified four prevailing causal factors – none of which can be attributed to pro-cycling policy interventions. 

These four factors include: 
1. the relative cost of cycling, 
2. the relative convenience and speed of cycling, 
3. Berlin’s particularly fashionable, ‘hipster’, and environmentally aware population, and 
4. the city’s pre-existing urban form.

Despite this rebuke of the existing consensus, the fact that the city has implemented a strategic cycling plan since 2004 can’t be totally ignored. However, when examining the driving factors behind Berlin’s remarkable cycling renaissance since c1990, the city authorities’ efforts to promote cycling can be summed up as being too little and too late. Crucially, the article argues that pro-cycling policies in Berlin should be seen as reactive - responding to maintain an existing trend - rather than driving it from the start. 

The first part of the article uses Transition Management Theory to understand time and multiple-actor influence in the development of large complex systems (such as urban transport systems). This theoretical lens supports the conclusion that Berlin’s cycling renaissance was not guided by policy from an early stage, but was in fact made possible by a pre-existing context and forces unrelated to local cycling policy. Put into the context of Manchester’s current position, policy learning from Berlin’s experience will likely be limited as policy intervention here is developed under completely different geographical and cultural preconditions. 

The second part of the article considers the processes leading to Berlin’s prominence in Manchester’s Vélocity bid in the first place. Here Policy Mobilities research is drawn upon to analyse how and why the narrative of the Berlin experience was chosen and communicated. The article argues that Berlin’s inclusion in the Vélocity bid was motivated by the need to display Manchester’s ambition and competence in what was a competitive bidding process. 

The article offers a novel integration of Policy Mobilities and Transition Management theoretical frameworks. It seeks to influence further connections between these two previously distant bodies of work to offer innovative findings. For cities to effectively guide sustainability transitions, it is vital that planners and policy-makers have sufficient and appropriate knowledge at their disposal. We hope this article and research topic will encourage the reader to adopt a more critical consideration of the production and communication of policy knowledge and the forces and actors who influence these processes. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Distribution Dynamics of Property Crime Rates in the United States

Alessandro Moro - Ca’ Foscari University, Italy 



My paper “Distribution Dynamics of Property Crime Rates in the United States” analyses how property crime is distributed across the US states and how this distribution changes over time. This possibly explains why the perception of criminal activity is considerably different and changed in recent decades, especially in some states.

I’m a PhD student in Economics at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, and I have been always interested in the study of different violence phenomena adopting quantitative methods and agent-based models.

In this work, in particular, I used a non-parametric statistical approach called “Distribution Dynamics” to investigate how property crimes changed across space and time. The paper detects two distinct phases in the evolution of the property crime recorded by FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports data on the 48 continental US states.

There is a phase of strong convergence, from 1971 to 1980, in which the property crime rates of the different US states tend to converge to a common value; but then we observe a period characterised by “divergence”, from 1981 to 2010, in which the differences between the states with the highest property crime rates and those with the lowest ones were exacerbated. These two distinct phases have not been highlighted by the existing literature and, in my view, there are technical merits in using flexible non-parametric methods in place of standard regressions. It’s not easy to provide reasons for what data tell us: the analysis hints that the increasing inequality across the US states in terms of income per capita and state police, started at the beginning of the 1980s, may play a role. This empirical evidence is consistent with the predictions of a proposed simple two-region model that explicitly outlines the channels through which the property crime dynamics is affected by economic inequality. I like simple models despite their obvious limitations: they are clean, sober and almost simplistic but help us in understanding data, that come with no life and meaning. Models enrich data with a story, which is really needed to draw implications and ponder possible actions.

An important policy insight that can be derived from this paper suggests that significant income disparities are translated into different concentrations of crime: poor states have lower resources to fight crime and, consequently, they exhibit higher crime rates. Since the presence of crime discourages investments and lowers income, these states are trapped in a vicious circle.  Therefore, mitigating the effects of inequality, say with cross-state compensations or other measures, in terms of financial and police resources, may help avoiding both the concentration of crime activities in specific regions and the emergence of self-reinforcing gaps between poor and rich states.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Commoning and the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015

John Crossan - University of Glasgow


Over the last 40 years, many people with an interest in the matter have understood ‘the commons’ as a resource and/or a failed resource management regime. This is in part due to Garret Hardin’s highly influential 1968 article The Tragedy of the Commons, which presents the parable of a shared pasture on which no single herder has a “rational” incentive to limit their grazing activities. The result is selfish overuse by each herder and ultimately the ruination of the resource. The solution to avoiding the tragedy of the commons put forward by the author is the allocation of private property rights to the resource in question. Proponents of neoliberalism have enthusiastically applauded Hardin’s thesis. 

Scots law up until very recently mirrored this limited understanding of the commons. It reduced common assets (all assets - including land, buildings and artefacts - that were once gifted to the territorial administration known as the Burgh and are now under the ‘stewardship’ of highly centralised local authorities) to a resource and as such made them highly susceptible to the wants and needs of the market. Recent legislation in the form of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 has the potential to revitalise, protect and extend the commons. This new Act also has particular relevance for the urban environment. 

Commoning          

Before looking at the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 in a little more detail, let’s consider an alternative version of Hardin’s tragedy. An enlightened observer understands the commons as more than simply a resource, and a re-reading of Hardin’s parable illuminates this fuller understanding. While Hardin identifies a resource in the form of a pasture, he omits any sense of community and management structure. The herders are competing and isolated individuals with little or no contact with one another. As Lewis Hyde points out, Hardin’s tragedy is “The Tragedy of Unmanaged, Laissez-Faire, Common-Pool Resources with Easy Access for Noncommunicating, Self-Interested Individuals” (2010: 44).  

The commons must be understood as both user and producer space where the users and producers are one and the same. For example, individuals and groups in need of particular services have long employed disused land in the UK as food growing sites and recreational spaces. Similarly, derelict housing has been reclaimed by squatters and housing co-operatives. The added dimension of production moves our understanding of the commons onto more politically radical ground than the idea of a resource administered by the state or any other external authority. David Bollier argues that the commons must be understood as a “living social system of creative agents” that counters the “faux regularities and worldview […] of modernity…”. He writes: 

The complicated reality is that a commons arises whenever a given community decides that it wishes to manage a resource collectively, with an accent on fair access, use, and long-term sustainability. This can happen in countless unpredictable ways (Bollier 2016: 7). 

In this sense we see the commons as a process – what historian Peter Linebaugh calls commoning. In creating a verb for the commons Linebaugh is describing a set of relationships between people, resources and organisational processes. He writes, “I want to portray it as an activity, not just an idea or a material resource” (Linebaugh 2009). The struggle for the commons is a struggle against forces – political, economic, and cultural – that separate communities from the activity of managing their resources. 

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015

There are three major elements of this Act, as summarised here by the Scottish Community Development Centre: (1) strengthening of community planning, to give communities more of a say in how public services are provided; (2) new rights enabling communities to identify needs and issues and to request action to be taken on these; (3) extension of community ‘right to buy’, for the purpose of gaining greater control over assets. It is the most recent development in a long line of legislative initiatives concerned with Scottish land reform, stretching back to The Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act of 1886. Of particular relevance to discussion of the commons in an urban context is, firstly, that the Act promotes a community-centric approach to land reform and, secondly, that it extends pre-existing legislative and financial support (established in 1999, in the form of the Scottish Land Fund, for assisting rural communities to acquire and develop land and buildings) into the urban environment. Thus, through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, Scottish urban communities have a legislative framework in place and some financial support to enable them to have a greater say in the management of urban land and buildings. Implementation of the provisions of the Act is very much in its infancy. How it plays out in the messy realties of urban life remains to be seen. But I suggest the following as points of consideration regarding revitalising commoning practices in the management of urban resources. 

When discussing the Act, there is a tendency for people to get hung-up on the ‘right to buy’. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it further entrenches the hegemony of the private property model. For example, a community group buys an underused public building and its lands. The process of sale privatizes that resource. Secondly, outright community ownership leaves the owners vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. This may result in the reconstitution of the traditional private property model, if the community group is forced to sell to individual or club based owners motivated by profit maximization. Thirdly, the right to buy in the city could result in extending the privileges of already privileged urban groups. Those communities with higher levels of social and financial capital are better placed to navigate the legal landscape of acquisition and post-acquisition development. Finally, from a practical perspective, the overinflated price of urban land and buildings make community buy-outs in cities and large towns on a scale witnessed in rural Scotland highly unlikely . 

More promising by way of enacting and sustaining an urban commons are a range of measures in the Act that offer the possibility of producing robust partnerships between community groups and other institutions, such as NHS trusts, municipal authorities and housing associations. For example, participation requests allow a community group to make a request to a public service authority to permit the group to participate in an outcome improvement process. This might take the form of community group delegates sitting in as members of planning boards on a range of matters, from designing new social housing complexes to designating areas of land to be ring-fenced for urban agricultural activities. This moves us from a culture of consultation to one of active participation. It has the potential to empower communities by making them active participants in the management of the city and it offers a level of protection from market forces that is missing from a model of community land ownership as an extension of the private property model. 

What we might see developing in Scottish cities is a form of community-centric partnership governance. Resonating with the concept of progressive localism, which reimagines local–central governance relations as “mutually-productive and enabling” (Featherstone et al. 2010:2), this form of partnership holds much potential for protecting and extending Scotland’s urban commons. 

[1] For example, Community Land Scotland, an NGO set up to provide a collective voice for community land owners in Scotland has 69 member groups, all rurally based. 

References:

Bollier D (2016) Commoning as a Transformative Social Paradigm, available online at http://thenextsystem.org/commoning-as-a-transformative-social-paradigm/

Featherstone, D., A. Ince, D. MacKinnon, A. Cumbers & K. Strauss (2012) Progressive Localism and the Construction of Political Alternatives, Transactions in the Institute of British Geographers, 37, 177-182.

Hardin G (1969) The Tragedy of the Commons, Science 162, no. 3859 (Dec. 13, 1968), pp. 1243-1248

Hyde L (2010) Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Linebaugh P (2009) The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All, Berkeley: University of California Press 

Scottish Community Development Centre (2015) Briefing: The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, available online at www.scdc.org.uk 



Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Protest in the city: Urban spatial restructuring and dissent in New York, 1960–2006

Patrick Rafail
Dept. of Sociology, Tulane University

http://usj.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/07/28/0042098016661464.abstract

Why does protest happen where it does? Though there is widespread agreement that accessible space is a necessary ingredient of protest mobilization, we know surprisingly little about how urban space is used by activists. This is especially true for how the built environment of cities intersects with protest, and how this relationship evolved in the face of neoliberal policymaking. In “Protest in the city,” I analyse the historical evolution of protest spaces in New York City at more than 6200 demonstrations, rallies, and other forms of collective action taking place between 1960 and 2006.

Protest spaces speak to fundamental and pressing social issues. They tell us about the relationship between individuals and the state, how power is distributed and grappled over, and shed insight into the impact of urban policy decisions that strongly shape how and when people act together. I argue that the urban built environment can produce attractors and detractors that either push dissent away or pull it in. In particular, I focus on: (1) physical spaces, including public parks and privately owned public spaces (POPS); (2) centres of power, which are areas in close proximity to powerful institutions; and (3) colleges and universities that are traditional hotbeds of activism. Taken together, these three elements go a long way in explaining where protest takes place, and how the spatial patterns in collective action are linked to broader neoliberal changes that have brought out extensive urban privatisation.

The data used in the paper come from two sources: first, all New York City events in the Dynamics of Contention, which contains information on all protests reported in the New York Times between 1960 and 1995, Second, I collected data using a comparable methodology that includes events from 1996 through 2006. I geocoded the location of the events to census tracts, allowing me to place them in time and space, and linked the protests to databases on public parks, POPS, City Hall, courthouses, colleges and universities, and demographic characteristics, drawing from a wide variety of sources. The end result is one of the most detailed, temporal and geographically referenced databases of protest activity and the spatial context surrounding events that has been examined at the time of writing. 

Zuccotti Park, a privately owned public space in the financial district of New York, NY.

Photograph by MusikAnimal, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After analysing where protest occurs, we see a striking pattern. Protest has noticeably shifted away from public spaces towards privatized spaces. POPS are present in between 1.7 and 4% of census tracks, yet these are home to more than 25% of protest events. Protest is also more likely in spaces in close proximity to powerful institutions or to colleges and universities. Overall, I show that the neoliberal restricting of protest has dramatic consequences: over time, protests are more likely to take place in spaces that are hostile to mobilization, and have weakened protections when it comes to the individual rights to assemble. 

Friday, 22 July 2016

‘Where the Rivers Meet’: Welcoming immigrants in Dayton, Ohio

Jacqueline Housel, Colleen Saxen and Tom Wahlrab


Compared to 1970, the size of the immigrant population in the United States quadrupled by 2014, growing from 9.6 million (4.7% of the population) to 42.4 million (13.3%) (Zong and Batalova 2016). With this surge in the immigrant share of the population, public attitudes towards immigrants have been mixed. In fact, the environment was largely unfavorable towards immigrants nation-wide in 2011 when the Human Relations Council in Dayton, Ohio discovered that some considerable numbers of immigrants to the area, as well as others, were being denied their rights for housing because of ethnicity or race. This discovery led to a community-wide effort to engage in conversations about local immigration.  This conversation centered on the question: “What is possible if Dayton became a city that intentionally welcomed immigrants?”  These conversations helped produce a consensus that Dayton “wanted” to be immigrant-friendly. After ninety days of work, the community completed a welcoming plan, “Welcome Dayton,” endorsed by the Dayton City Commission. This plan was an invitation to all – the receiving community and immigrants – to commence new welcoming initiatives and strengthen those already in place. 

Welcome Dayton immediately brought a great deal of attention to the city. National media outlets wrote stories about Dayton’s new policy, often characterizing Welcome Dayton as a laudable and strategic move by a post-industrial city to revitalize itself economically. Cities from around the country began looking to Dayton to learn how they could enact similar policies. Even The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (2013), a popular American television show featuring political satire, got in on the action, airing a spoof about US immigration policy featuring Dayton’s city manager. 

Meanwhile, we observed an outburst of home grown initiatives, many of which were never explicitly planned or sanctioned by the city, but seemed to emerge organically through the actions of individuals involved in the ongoing conversation within the nascent Welcome Dayton movement. Many spoke in emotional detail about how much it meant to them that their city would take a stand to support immigrants. We observed that Welcome Dayton reached out and advocated for all immigrants, not just those with the greatest promise for contributing rapidly and significantly to the local economy. Clearly, this initiative needed to be investigated so that the city could understand the mechanics of the process that led to Welcome Dayton, and we wanted to produce an understanding at a level that would allow these processes to “travel” successfully to other communities and to other potentially divisive issues.

Therefore, we formed a collective of researchers and practitioners – all previously involved and familiar with local immigration issues. Over the course of two years, we observed many Welcome Dayton initiatives, interviewed key stakeholders, and read materials from a variety of fields about immigration. In studying Welcome Dayton, the authors found the concept of resourcefulness (McKinnon and Derickson, 2012) to be most useful. While the success of immigrants is often attributed to their ‘resilience’ or their ability to adapt to local circumstances, in the case of Welcome Dayton, we observed a degree of resourcefulness in the community members to reflect on and ultimately change local circumstances. 

As we investigated emerging initiatives of Welcome Dayton in light of resourcefulness, we identified the presence of what we called intentional recognition which we defined as “individuals collaborating to create an environment that encourages, amplifies and sustains community resourcefulness” (Housel, Saxen, and Wahlrab 2016). In our paper, we describe the practice of intentional recognition in the context of the conversations that propelled Welcome Dayton and its subsequent initiatives. We investigated the qualities that characterize conversations as intentionally recognizing individuals as valued and connected through a shared humanity, as full partners with agency, and with inherent potential. We believe that the work of Welcome Dayton is more shareable as a process not only to cities leaning towards welcoming immigrants, but also to encourage communities to take on the hard work of entering difficult conversations about issues that most matter to our communities. 

References:

Housel J, Saxen C and Walhrab T (2016) Experiencing intentional recognition: Welcoming immigrants in Dayton, Ohio.  Urban Studies Journal OnlineFirst (July 1, 2016): 1-22. 
McKinnon D and Derickson KD (2012) From resilience to resourcefulness: A critique of resilience polity and activism. Progress in Human Geography 37(2): 253-270.
Stewart J (Producer) (2013) The Two Faces of Illegal Immigration (10 Oct 2013) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Comedy Central. 10 Oct 2013  Available at: http://www.cc.com/video-clips/u60haq/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-the-two-faces-of-illegal-immigration (Accessed July 2016).
Zong J and Batalova J (2016)  Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States. Migration Policy Institute Spotlight, 14 April. Available at: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states/  (accessed June 2016).

Notes
  1. ‘Where The Rivers Meet’ is the title of a Playing for Change video (2014) created in Dayton, Ohio and produced by David Sherman, Michael J. Bashaw and Sandy Bashaw.  Available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHtZS0DuKCo (accessed July 2016) 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Analysing urban change over 100 years

Joe Hurley, Gavin Wood and Lucy Groenhart


How and why do urban landscapes change over time?

Our research approach experiments with new ways of investigating cities over long time periods to better understand the drivers of change. This can improve our understanding of how planning interventions and infrastructure investment can address contemporary urban challenges.

The key idea motivating our research is the observation that over the long run urban land uses change slowly and unevenly. This reflects inertia, land ownership patterns, and built forms that are costly to retrofit, or demolish and clear. When change does occur it is triggered by institutional interventions (such as infrastructure investment) or exogenous shocks (such as natural disasters or new technologies), and erupts in bursts that are unequally spread across the metropolitan area. 

The researchers used fine grained data records based on individual land parcels, available via historical rate records, to investigate these ideas. We assembled a panel data base consisting of parcel level records, over a 100 years period at 10 year intervals, for two streets in Melbourne, Australia. The data base contains 2474 records, digitised from historical records held at the Public Records Office of Victoria.  This image shows the hand written rate books that are the primary data source.


Image of the hard copy rate records. Courtesy of Public Records Office of Victoria.


The research uses descriptive analysis of change and continuity over the 100 year period, as well as a logistic regression to explore the drivers of change. The descriptive analysis depicts the changing nature of the land use mix over time for the two streets. The following graphs illustrate these changing patterns:


Cardigan St and Bouverie St % of properties by land use, 1870 – 1970. Author provided.


There are three features of urban building and land-use patterns that we investigated as potential drivers of change.

1. Fragmented ownership patterns result in small scale developments that tend to persist in the long run, while unified land ownership is conducive to redevelopment and land use change. We found, however, that consolidated land holdings, where one entity owns two or more adjacent properties, proved to be an unimportant influence on land use change. 

2. Concentrations of home owners are associated with resistance to land use changes that threaten the values of their homes, and the character of their communities. We found the presence or otherwise of owner occupied lots are unrelated to urban change.

3. Built materials which are costly to demolish and clear for redevelopment can tilt the cost benefit calculus in ways that favour inertia. This was strongly supported by the analysis with land occupied by wooden buildings nearly 4 times more likely to change land use than brick buildings. Vacant land was over 8 times more likely to change use.

This research has developed a novel approach that combines historical method with quantitative analysis of property records to examine urban continuity and change over long periods. If this approach could be replicated using larger sample designs, it would reveal more robust insights into the determinants of urban change, with potentially important policy implications. 


Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Community organizing: Beyond sweat equity

Heather Watkins

http://usj.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/07/07/0042098016651552.abstract

Urban community organizations are a highly ambivalent form of local politics. “We’re not political,” I was told by almost every research partner – yet in the supposedly “post-political” times of New Labour’s “Third Way”, community participation was invested with unusual political significance.  For some, community organising was a way of turning older forms of solidarity into “social capital”, reviving civil society by drawing groups into a new network of public and private welfare providers.  The 2010 Conservative-Liberal Democrat government then seized a moment of public distrust to present the Decentralisation and Localism Bill 2010 as no less than ‘a new constitutional arrangement’, in which personal ‘responsibility’ replaced any guaranteed local state provision of services.  Yet for others, it was seen as part of a long tradition of experiments in social economies - Diggers and Ranters, Owenite co-operative villages, workers’ communities, Chartist Land Plans – most of which involved a degree of conflict with the state.
  
The main objective of the research was therefore to explore the relationship between contemporary urban community organizing in practice, and both “mainstream” and more contestational political discourses.  The most critical issue was to restore some structure and history to the study of where “social capital” comes from, and to investigate what happens when this engages with a consensus-based, market-friendly form of local governance. I was lucky to find three community action groups in the East Midlands as fieldwork partners: two of these (The Lenton Centre, or TLC, in east Nottingham, and North Notts Community Arena, or NNCA, in Worksop) arose from fierce campaigns to keep open formerly Council-run leisure and community services, while Sneinton Alchemy in west Nottingham had originated in a project to develop local economies supported by the New Economics Foundation.  What became evident was that for all three, their motivations were rooted in some degree of opposition to, or disaffection with, the state.  There was a championing of shared public space that came from a ‘bodged up’ poorly-planned environment and its deep social divisions (TLC); a fierce autonomy that came from the historic exclusion of the community from that planning (Sneinton Alchemy); and the assertion of a strong working-class identity in the face of the wholesale deconstruction of a local economy from coal, to low wage/zero hours distribution centres (NNCA): ‘In ... deprived areas you have to fight for yourself, don’t you?’ (Participant A, 30 April 2010). It was no coincidence that the community in Sneinton had adopted William “Bendigo” Thompson, a nineteenth century bare knuckle boxer who fought his way out of poverty, as a symbol for ‘standing up for yourself’ (Participant B, 10 March 2011). 



Statue of William “Bendigo” Thompson (1811-1890), bare knuckle fighter, above the door of the closed Hermitage Pub, Sneinton.


Participating in governance, however, subjects community organisations to processes which were often at odds with these shared roots. Under pressure to forget their collective pasts, accused of ‘hanging on to the past a bit too much’ (Council Officer, 16 April 2010), they are also required to “professionalise” – to have a business plan, a hierarchical structure, and Trustees with professional and managerial knowledge.  “Social capital” therefore seems to have conflicting meanings for community organisations: one rooted in internal relationships and values, and one external, fostered by the state – but they directly contradict; as one organiser protested: ‘Why is it that when you get into a position to help people, you seem to get further away from them?’ (Participant C, 20 October 2009).  


Using Antonio Gramsci’s ideas about how collective action develops and is practiced, I’ve argued that community organizing can be seen as a response to a “crisis of authority”, embedded in our most immediate experience of political economy – the changes to the populations, jobs, housing and social structures in the places where we live, which also provide the “good sense” (motivation and a credible alternative analysis) to stand apart from mainstream political framings of community.  Organisers were passionate in asserting that they did not want to be reduced to ‘sweat equity’ (Participant D, 10 September 2009), exploiting volunteer and low-paid labour to replace publicly-funded provision.  It is this “good sense” construction of social capital, based in both internal legitimacy, and difference, which gives groups the confidence to be radical, to avoid being co-opted back into the mainstream as part of a “shadow state”, increasingly resembling what they were trying to change. 


Notes

[1] Eric Pickles, The Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, 13 December 2010.
[2] The industry was still being literally expunged from the landscape: Welbeck Colliery, near Meden Vale, ceased production in May 2010, the surface plant being demolished during 2011.  (BBC 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-12918958).  Thoresby, the last pit in Nottinghamshire, closed July 2015.  Kellingley in North Yorkshire, the UK’s last deep pit, closed December 2015.