Why is our movement so important? What makes it different?
If you want to dig deeper, this is an edited version of one of the best articles we have read, written by the place gurus – Project for Public Spaces. It explains why places, community empowerment, citizenship and democracy are all linked.
The original article is available on this link – https://www.pps.org/article/stronger-citizens-stronger-cities-changing-governance-through-a-focus-on-place
Or read on for the best bits.
Stronger Citizens, Stronger Cities: Changing Governance Through a Focus on Place
Written by Project Public Spaces – www.pps.org
A great place is something that everybody can create. If vibrancy is people, as we argued two weeks ago, the only way to make a city vibrant again is to make room for more of them. Today, in the first of a two-part follow up, we will explore how Placemaking, by positioning public spaces at the heart of action-oriented community dialog, makes room both physically and philosophically by re-framing citizenship as an on-going, creative collaboration between neighbors. The result is not merely vibrancy, but equity.
In equitable places, individual citizens feel (first) that they are welcome, and (second) that it is within their power to change those places through their own actions.
“The huge problem with citizenship today is that people don’t take it very seriously,” says Harry Boyte, director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College. “The two dominant frameworks for citizenship in political theory,” he explains, “are the liberal framework, where citizens are voters and consumers of goods, and the communitarian framework, where citizens are volunteers and members of communities. In other words, for most people, citizenship is doing good deeds, or it’s voting and getting things. We need to develop the idea of civic agency, where citizens are co-creators of democracy and the democratic way of life.”
It is bewildering, when you take a step back, to realize how far we’ve gotten away from that last statement. We have completely divorced governance from citizenship, and built thick silo walls around government by creating an opaque, discipline-driven approach to problem-solving. Busting those silo walls is imperative to creating more equitable communities. Rather than trying, haplessly, to solve transportation, housing, or health problems separately, as if they exist within a vacuum, government should be focused on building stronger place.
“Democracy is not a government, it’s a society,” argues Boyte. “We have to develop an idea that democracy is the work of the people. It’s citizen-centered democracy, not state- or government-centered democracy. That doesn’t mean government doesn’t play an important role, but if you think about government as the center of the universe, we need something like a Copernican revolution.”
Matt Leighninger, the director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (a Community Matters partner) echoes this need when talking about his own work in engaging communities. “The shortcoming of [a lot of community dialog] work,” he says, “is that it is too often set up to address a particular issue, and then once it’s over, it’s over. You would think that people having an experience like that would lead them to seek out opportunities to do it again on other issues, but that often doesn’t happen. Unless there’s a social circle or ecosystem that encourages them and honors their contributions, it’s not likely that they’re going to stay involved.”
Creating that support system is what Place Governance is all about. In addition to their capacity for creating a sense of attachment to place, great public destinations, through the interactive way in which they are developed and managed, challenge people to think more broadly about what it means to be a citizen.
If the dominant framework for understanding citizenship today is passive, with citizens ‘receiving’ government services and being ‘given’ rights, then we need to develop affirmative cultures around citizen action. We should also recognize that elected representatives are citizens, just as surely as we are ourselves. We need officials to focus on creating great places with their communities rather than solving isolated problems for distant constituents. Equitable places are not given, they are made, collaboratively. Everyone has a part to play, from the top down, and from the bottom up. “The default of consumer culture,” Boyte says of this much-needed shift in thinking about citizenship, “is that people ask what they can get, rather than thinking about what they could build, in terms of common resources.”
Governance is social, and citizenship is creative. The only things standing between where we are and where we want to be are those big, thick silo walls.