Civic Space

Civic Space is required for there to be any community behaviour.

A street/suburb/village which does not behave like a community, by doing communal things, is not a community, only a cluster of the disengaged.

At this time in the UK there are many such clusters. The influences of wealth, advanced capitalism, private entertainment, media fear-mongering and cars have separated our lives from others, to the point where people see their lives as individual, as disconnected from a wider community. People have lost the habit of giving and taking as part of a community.

 

Activists engaged in community building efforts in industrialized nations see the apparent loss of community in these societies as a key cause of social disintegration and the emergence of many harmful behaviors. They may see building community as a means to increase social justice, individual well-being and reduce negative impacts of otherwise disconnected individuals. (Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_building )

"Civic engagement" can mean not only a set of actions and efforts, but a feeling of belonging, an experience of investment and ownership in the local, regional, national, and/or international political communities to which citizens belong. According to the New York Times, "Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference." (Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civic_engagement )

 

Civic Space refers to any space where a community can meet and perform community values and community behaviours. Any space used by the community will do - pavements, shops, parks, schools, churches and web sites.

One way of destroying a community is to erode all its civic spaces. In advanced capitalist societies our civic spaces are being eroded by private profit. In the hunt for new markets, the logic of profit is driving right down into the smallest spaces, like the sponsored flowerbed, the margin of your newspaper's pages, the verge of a field near a motorway. Every micro space that was previously neutral, or was used by the community, is harnessed to make money for somebody. Whereas before it was a site for the performance of community life, now it is a site for the raising of profit. The next step is that the space itself is rented or sold. What used to be civic space has become a commodity.

Often, those who are making the profit are not members of the community they are eroding, though sometimes they are. Often they live in communities elsewhere, perhaps unaware of destroying in one community the civic spaces that they value in their own. Often they are unable to make the connection, or to understand that what is profitable to them is harmful to the community life of others.

Every time a civic space is taken out of the zone of community responsibility the community has less possibility of enacting community behaviours, of continuing to be a community.

Luckily for us Headingley is full of civic minded people, who volunteer their time and effort. In Headingley we are counter-cultural in these times: we do know our neighbours, we do discuss things together, we do meet up in many different ways. Of course its not always easy, but we do produce, by our efforts, a rich community life. This is what makes us a strong community.