5. Community-based management
Management of the public realm is changing. It’s also becoming much less straightforward. There are two themes to cover here. One is how complex these arguments need to be. The other is community-based asset management and what’s being called the sharing economy.
I started this post thinking I’d stay away from the complicated arguments that need to be made. I haven’t the access or time needed to collect the data, chase down answers and so on. That’s why I settled on emotive, impact-focused ideas.
But the complicated ideas show up anyway. Given the state of national finances, and the multiple demands on public resources, decisionmakers at all levels are trying to come up with ways of maintaining public services and resources. It seems as though there’s no political will to challenge Whitehall’s centralised view on localism; no willingness to reject centrally imposed revenue and spending limits.
Instead of kicking against the traces, some local authorities are trying new approaches to public service delivery. There are little experiments in doing things differently. These might include corporate sponsorhip of fitness programmes (just don’t mention Coke Zero). Or they might focus on supporting 3rd sector organisations in delivering support services. Or there might be new ways of providing access to resources for community-based organisations. In Birmingham’s case, there’s also an awful lot of foot-dragging on the part of members and officers unwilling to take steps in new directions. The avenues that might be grasped with both hands are being pushed to one side.
So I reckon part of my work is to keep pushing for innovative methods; keep asking about opportunities for us to get involved, and gain access to resources. To a certain extent I’m calling that community based asset management. It could also be called the sharing economy.
What is the Sharing Economy?
Here are some snippets from folks in the know:
There has also been a revival of non-monetized initiatives such as tool libraries, which arose decades ago in in low-income communities. These efforts are typically neighborhood-based in order to enhance trust and minimize transportation costs for bulky items. New digital platforms include the sharing of durable goods as a component of neighborhood building (e.g., Share Some Sugar, Neighborgoods). These innovations can provide people with low-cost access to goods and space, and some offer opportunities to earn money, often to supplement regular income streams.
The theory of ‘collaborative consumption’ is defined as ‘the reinvention of traditional market behaviors—renting, lending, swapping, sharing, bartering, gifting—through technology, taking place in ways and on a scale not possible before the internet. It includes three systems: product service systems, collaborative lifestyles and redistribution markets that enable people to pay to access and share goods and services versus needing to own them outright.
A lot of the discussion centres on merchandise and commercial services. But there are much deeper and older ways of managing land and access to resources through sharing. These include things like open access to data, land reform, and a rediscovery of the Commons.
This essay is a good starting point for the whole book Wealth of the Commons. In part, this argues for a reconstruction of the public sphere through citizen-led, voluntary activity in managing public spaces. There’s a sizable bunch of people across Birmingham willing to give these ideas a go, but from my perspective it’s been a talking shop, with no allocation of resources, no commitment to act.
BCC could really pull a finger out, get some of these initiatives going, and find they can reduce costs and preserve the public realm.