Knowing Your Place – Local Fabrics

5 Apr

Local Fabrics [part 1 of a nine-part weekly series]

Why do some places thrive whilst others decline?

How can we shape the future of our communities — the places we call home, the places where we work, the places where we relax?

This nine-part guide to knowing (really understanding) the fabric of communities will explore those questions.

Questions of local prosperity and wellbeing are now far more prominent for many reasons — not least because so much more is known about the huge diversity of local economies and the very different needs and priorities of people who spend time in them. Awareness of these complex local fabrics — each one woven differently — prompts questions over the adequacies and limitations of centrally-driven top down policies.

The flood of new local insights stems from better data and deeper analysis. The realisation (or rather acceptance) that national pictures do not adequately describe the UK economy is a challenge for Whitehall. Tabloids may decry post-code lotteries. Funding formulae handed down from Whitehall are bitterly contested. Local leaders campaign for greater empowerment — some even arguing for ‘city sovereignty’. And, in the Brexit context, questions of national, regional and local identity and belonging are under the spotlight.

International relationships and high policy arenas may seem way out of reach and, for many people, it’s the stuff closest to hand that is important in any quest to ‘take back control’. In this series, therefore, the focus is entirely on local communities and what can make them healthier — prosperous, engaged and sustainable — in a world where the free flow of data demands careful application.

Great cities may be keen to adorn themselves with ‘smart’ technology to further hone their inner workings. Old mechanistic approaches to economies are, however, being supplanted by thematic models — exemplified by Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’ and Marianna Mazzucato’s ‘Entrepreneurial State’. These describe, safe places for policy makers to intervene on socioeconomic issues without straying beyond ecological boundaries. The new economics are also delightfully cross-sector with themes cutting across the old silos that fuel so much of central policy and ‘industry’ regulation.

Conventional economic analysis and management is rooted in vertical sector silos, geospatial metrics and demographics. The more-qualitative themes that create local fabrics and bind communities together are the cross-cutting place-making threads shown in figure 1.

Each of the horizontal threads will be explored in the next eight weekly episodes of this place-based series.

Because all places are different these themes will have variable relevance for the community that you know best — the place that you call home. But the activities and priorities that create these threads are all indicators of community cohesion and future prosperity.

The UK economy is only the aggregate of local placed-based activities. Any sense of national cohesion depends on the strength and design of these local fabrics.

These indicators are not new — they are distilled from years of observation. They are at the root of ‘intelligent communities’ and derive from the long-term observations of a global think-tank that gathers annually to celebrate forward-thinking communities.

The episodes will be published weekly throughout April and May 2018 with the full set complete before the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) next gathers in London to ask again ‘Why do some places thrive whilst others decline?

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