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 best to these smaller neighbourhoods. It is in these places that our local community has the potential to flourish.

People feel increasingly swamped in the modern world. Life is frenetic. So much appears out of our control. We feel largely disenfranchised from national politics, resigned to the environmental calamities awaiting us, and intimidated by crime and anti-social behaviour. Generally, we worry about an uncertain future….

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

But what is an urban village?

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

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. It might be a small distinct part of a larger town. There’s no hard and fast rule, but you should be able to define what you recognise as your village – the small area that you identify with.

Defining our village

It’s important that we try to define and reinforce these smaller neighbourhood spaces. Doing so helps give the local community a sense of identity, a sense of self, of pride, and helps us feel part of something. It creates a sense of ownership. These are all great ways to motivate people to get involved, to drive their desire for something better.

Building up the village

We need to surface the village. We can use history, local folklore, culture, a greater awareness the existing local public domain. More information about what is happening in our hyperlocal 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 community place. Leaders create the actions that make the changes. 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-pick for an hour and by doing so set a great example.

The village network

We need to know who 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 all or some of them can’t work together to improve your village. Making it a more tangible thing.

Making it real

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

Find things you can all work on. A cause of some kind is very empowering.

Villages and councils

In a borough with a large central town, you can take the view that it is surrounded by these small villages and adapt how you relate to communities on this basis. Villages can drive local government. They can form one of the important structures within our societies.

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 a village level. For too long we’ve expected the answers to come top down. The missing element is what comes from the local community.

The local fix

If you work together as a village you can get on top of local issues. You can push crime down. You can have more prosperous retail centres. You can have a nicer place for your kids to grow up.

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.

It’s much easier to understand our local environment than the immensity of the global biosphere. We can audit it, and then create a plan to improve it. We can come together to cleanse it of plastic litter. We can make sure our local rivers stay clean. We can start protecting and restoring our local green spaces. We can encourage our communities to make their own homes and gardens much friendlier to the environment. Our gardens and urban green spaces have an important role to play. (This is one of the reasons we like the concept behind London National Park City).

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. We also have Nextdoor – which has made this hyperlocal space its DNA. They seem to get it, and they are working at a local level to try to bring together some of the elements we’ve spoken about here. On their own these platforms are great, but they generally cut a sliver through each community. A more all encompassing approach has to be taken that brings all this together. This is the village network and the power of leadership.

Your village

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. Create a village network. 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. Create the apparatus of a village. 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, 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.

Simeon Linstead
https://startwithlocal.org.uk

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


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