Creating the villages of the future (in cities and suburbs)

Village green

The villages of the future need to develop right here in our cities and suburbs. This may sound contradictory, particularly when we’re hearing about plans to make cities bigger, and to intensify suburbia.

At Start with Local we believe in the power of the urban village – the power of taking our local-life back to a scale that is human again. If we don’t do this our community-life risks getting swallowed up in a busy impersonal sprawl.

Small is beautiful

When Nextdoor, the local social media platform, launched in the UK, they based their local areas around existing electoral wards. These wards may have at some point have born some correlation with old village parishes. Nextdoor understood that people relate better to these smaller neighbourhoods. It is in these places that our local community has the potential to flourish.

People feel increasingly swamped by the modern world. Life is frenetic. So much appears out of our control. Generally, we worry about an uncertain future….

….but giving people back their ‘local’ is a great starting point for a positive change, and the urban village is fantastic way to achieve this…

But what is an urban village?

Right now you probably call it your neighbourhood – but seeing it as a village gives the concept more strength and purpose.

It might well have a distinct topology, or physical edge. It might contain a small row of shops. It might be a housing estate. It might have its own name. There’s no hard and fast rule, but you should be able to define what you recognise as your village.

Building the village

We need to surface the village – its narrative. We can use history, local folklore, culture, and a greater awareness the existing local public domain.

We should find ways of celebrating what we have. Start working to protect and improve the community assets. Take back our public spaces. Support our local businesses. Work together.

Leadership

Leadership has a big role to play in solidifying the village as a connected vibrant place. As local residents we should start to feel we can all take on leadership roles – you don’t have to set up a residents’ association, you could organise a tea morning in your road, or just go out with a litter-picker for an hour and so set a great example.

The village network

We need to know who the village leaders are – the councillors, the local ward police, the community organisers, the local influencers, the serial moaners, and the busy volunteers. Create a network. So much of this is hidden from the very people who live there.

Find out what organisations are present in your village – schools, doctors surgeries, scout/guides, churches, residents groups, neighbourhood watch, other community groups, local police, councillors, sports clubs, and the local businesses. These groups all form the community within your village. And there’s no reason why some of them can’t work together to improve their village.

Making it real

The more we solidify the sense of village the more real it becomes. The stronger the community. We learn to connect to get things done. We feel less isolated. We start being prepared to invest something of ourselves back into the local community.

Change can start with local

We know that change can start with local. We know that if every local neighbourhood started to take control – determine their own destiny – that it would change the world.

Some of our big problems – social isolation, poor health, crime, the state of the environment – can all be partly tackled locally at the village level. For too long we’ve expected the answers to come from the top down. The missing element is what comes from the local community.

Even the problems with the environment have a local fix. If every community on the planet decided to fix their local environment and the way they personally relate to the wider world, we’d go a long way to help tackle some of the damage we’re doing.

What tools do we have?

Good positive leadership is the most important. It’s in your hands.

Beyond that, social media has huge potential to work as a positive force in the hyperlocal space. It can connect people effortlessly. It can help communities organise themselves. It can create a sense of identity – people love local histories. Facebook is now seeing itself as much more of a community platform. I rarely post up for my personal network anymore – more of my posts are about the local community.

Hopefully just by talking about your neighbourhood as a village has made it feel more intimate, more tangible.

To get your village up and running – use all the tools available to you. Work with your local leaders. Become a local leader. Network like crazy. Use the various social media tools. Facebook groups, Nextdoor, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp. Create a local newsletter / magazine. Create a website where the information about your village can be housed – so often all that wonderful local history disappears in social media newsfeed or gathers dust in a local library. Run events. Get other local people involved. Set an example. Make sure it is not driven around some cult of personality. Find something that people can be passionate about – a local park, a shopping parade, or tackling litter.

An important (in-fact critical) thing in all this, is that as much as your work is about the end results – the nicer park, or the more vibrant shopping parade, it’s actually more about the journey, involving the whole community in deciding its own destiny and being involved in delivering it.

This is a big subject and we’ve just skimmed the surface here. We think that councils, community leaders, local businesses should be viewing the world through a hyper-local lens. It’s a great place to start positive change – and social impact.

We love local talking about LOCAL. If you fancy a chat, then drop me an email simeon@startwithlocal.org.uk

Simeon Linstead
https://startwithlocal.org.uk

Founder and CEO of Start with Local. Simeon@startwithlocal.org.uk


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