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Edward Harkins

Knowledge and Research Associate, SURF edward@scotregen.co.uk

Book cover of "Can neighbourhoods save the city?"Book cover of "Can neighbourhoods save the city?"This book is a presentation of the main theoretical and empirical findings of the three-year multinational research project Social Innovation Governance and Community Building (SINGOCOM), funded by the European Commission. The findings are from sixteen case studies in Europe, and are presented by various urban planners, economists, and other social scientists.

The case-by-case perspectives throughout the book are diverse. These perspectives are, nonetheless, continuously relevant, and contribute to the body of knowledge in the community regeneration and development and social innovation fields.

Studies include:

  • The ‘rare possibility afforded by the community association Associazone Quartieri Spagnolis in Naples of, “checking the dynamics of innovative processes at every stage of the entire life cycle of the association, from its spontaneous appearance in the neighbourhood in the form of a voluntary action, throughout the period of consolidation and institutionalisation as a development agency, to the present day stagnation, in which its role and philosophy are increasingly challenged…”;
  • The community-owned enterprise Arts Factory as a study of renegotiating social relations in the traditional working-class community of Ferndale in South Wales. The researchers describe this as a case study where, “all three dimensions of social innovation…are present: responding to basic needs, including personal development, social contacts, community work; empowerment… through major cultural change; change in power relations within the community and between the community and local authorities.”;
  • The success of the Ouseburn Community Trust, in Newcastle, “in revalidating the Valley [neighbourhood] from a marginal area in the city to a vibrant and culturally rich place for visitors, workers and companies.

The researchers “deal with the question of how a community group can find space to innovate in their environment where local governance practices are to a large extent structured by pressures from national and international scales to be more economically innovative.” It is perhaps debatable as to whether the book succeeds to the extent that the authors assert in establishing that, “There are sufficient signs that socially innovative governance is becoming mainstreamed as part of reformist attempts to find a new socially acceptable gravity point for the state-market-civil social triangle.” The follow-up by official institutions, and government agencies, to the good intentions and commendable recommendations of the Christie Commission on Scottish public services will test how far, “socially innovative governance is becoming mainstreamed.”

The authors, however, do undoubtedly succeed in demonstrating the extraordinary importance and promise of what they describe as ‘quilting’ points or marginal spaces. These are the social, cultural and economic spaces left unoccupied by the global urban order that regulates, assigns and distributes such things. It is in these ‘quilting’ points that: all manner of new urban social and cultural practices emerge; new forms of urbanity come to life; new forms of social and political action are staged; affective new forms of economy are practised; and where creative living is not only measured by the rise of the stock market and pension fund indices.

This is very much a text-book and an academic work. It is recommended for serious students, researching practitioners and policy makers seeking to build a comparative social innovation framework for analysing community development and regeneration.

Can Neighbourhoods Save The City? Frank Moulaert et al. (2011)
ISBN 978-0-415-48588-3
Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group

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54 - Winter 2011-2012

Topics include the future for community empowerment; regeneration developments in Wales; Fourier’s utopian vision; Devolution in Europe

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