Blessed are the Place-makers

Whose place is it anyway?

I’ve long puzzled over the phrase, ‘knowing your place’ – most frequently deployed to (uh oh, here’s another) ‘put someone in their place’.

Both express a need to assume some authority over those who should be ‘put back in their box’ whilst those in command carry on being commanding despite inconvenient ‘un-called for’ reports.

Having long retired from what was then a deeply hierarchical organisation modelled on the military (and one that struggled with innovation), I now much prefer the delight of locally talented pools of people who really do know their places and appreciate their habitats in fine detail.  Between them, they also know a thing or three about almost any specialist topic you’d care to mention.  This Community Capacity – the resident energy source that sustains the places we inhabit – can be seen as a great asset or an annoyance, but either way it cannot be ignored.  Community Capacity plays a significant role in explaining why some places thrive whilst others decline.

There is no doubt that Council Officers are a dedicated bunch, loyally devoted to their chosen areas of expertise.  Nursing a community can be as much a vocation as, well, nursing.  There’s also no doubt that they labour under the constraints of dwindling resources and edicts handed down by higher command – moderated or amplified by the local governors, elected Councillors.  But the central high command sees only averages with little contextual awareness of the real place-makers or the expertise and wisdom embedded in each community.

The reduction of Local Authorities to some corporate branch office status, with little or no municipal autonomy, completely (and, for the centrists, conveniently) corrupts a fundamental tenet of any social democracy – shared responsibility.  No wonder few now bother to vote in local elections.  Council Officers, however, know well the risk of ignoring the Community Capacity – as evidenced by a string of deeply critical judicial reviews, painfully expensive legal proceedings and enforced revisions of central guidance and regulation.  To be fair, the ‘I was just following the rules’ defence may seem unchallengeable when misinterpretation of the law is endemic but not when citizens most affected are sufficiently expert and determined to seek justice.  But all that takes considerable time and money.  Far better, then, to see Community Capacity as an asset to be invested in correction of flawed central edicts or in moderating the otherwise unequal pressures of commercial lobbyists.

In the jargon of the English Local Government sector, the value of Community Capacity is discussed as ‘community-powered councils’  – as if this was some sparkling new concept . . . such is the extent of decay in local empowerment.  Fortunately, some Councils already know whose place it is and can see great value in investment and encouragement of active residents.  Releasing and energising those hidden talents, their local wisdom and mature expertise, can make a massive difference even in societies that, sadly, do not yet have municipal autonomy enshrined in constitutional law.

* David Brunnen is media liaison officer for Fareham Liberal Democrats. He writes on Municipal Autonomy, Intelligent Communities, Sustainability & Digital Challenges.

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One Comment

  • Simon Banks 26th Nov '21 - 9:27am

    Interesting. People do tend to try to define who they are or (not necessarily the same) what makes their image of themselves. An army sergeant is an army sergeant. Someone from Birmingham is a Brummie. A Shia Muslim is a Shia Muslim. None of these can completely express who we are – and that’s the difference between indentitarianism of right or left and liberalism (well, one of the differences). But we are social animals and the kind of debased liberalism that views us as units operating in the market and ignores community, impoverishes. In particular, if you live in a place and intend to stay a while, you and the place are richer if you act like an active citizen. Of course, communities can also be non-geographical.

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