Tap into existing community networks

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Tap into Existing Community Networks

General ambition

Emerging initiatives need to ensure they connect to and learn from existing community networks that are working on similar issues. This can involve the sharing of (human) resources, learning from individuals from community initiatives elsewhere, and knowledge sharing about organizational structures, problem solving, and electronic tools. Consulting experts in the field could also be important here, especially in the beginning of a project. It can also be helpful for initiatives to tap into networks that have experience in similarly structured interventions or share a common ideology. Beyond learning outcomes, this could provide an integral basis of support for emerging projects.

Learning from other communities can support emerging initiatives with the resources and expertise to increase their legitimacy and gain political and public support. There is also much to gain for organizations to teach others: sharing knowledge with newer projects strengthens networks within and between communities, bolsters an organization’s reputation and legitimacy, and offers opportunities for additional organizational support.


Foodsharing, Berlin

Citizens rescuing and sharing food in Berlin: Foodsharing groups tapped into the resources of the national network to develop locally, especially they used the same online platform as well as the same principles and organizational structure. Social resources were also used to gain legitimacy as Foodsharing is well known in the food sector. This helped regional groups to develop partnerships with food retailers of supermarkets or possibly to gain support from local institutional actors, such as community centers, as hosts for public fridges (Q13). Moreover, Foodsharing was able to successfully become established in Berlin because there was already a thriving sharing economy in the city (Q26a). Tapping into communities engaged in sharing economies for services, mobility, clothing, etc. provided the adequate public engagement foodsharing needs. Lastly, Foodsharing has been able to extend beyond its organizational network to support initiatives starting up elsewhere. The group YUnity originates from Foodsharing and develops online platforms and tools that enable others to start their own food sharing network (Q31a).

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Vauban neighborhood, Freiburg

Housing Cooperative Networks in Germany inspired to some extent project proponents. Specifically, they benefited from the expertise of the cooperative confederation regarding economy, law and tax policy (Q26b & Q27b).

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Community Land Trust, Brussels

The ability of many (15) community associations to self-organize and present a united appeal for the establishment of the CLTB was very important for the intervention’s emergence. Additionally, CLTB learned from experiences in experiments for alternative affordable housing in and outside of Brussels (Q26).

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Bürgen Energie Berlin, Berlin

BEB is supported by a large number of alliances including cooperatives, ethical banks and renewable energy companies. The cooperative expanded fast in numbers and donations through synergies with the networks established by other energy cooperatives and movements in the field of energy and politics. Schönau Cooperative has been instrumental in the success of BEB by passing on knowledge and expertise. Whereas, in order to reach out to people and inform them about the cooperative they worked together with the media, a network summit called “NetzGipfel”, and took part in demonstrations and other events to inform people about their initiative and to get more participants.

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Superblocks, Barcelona

Superblocks in Barcelona: The Urban Ecology Agency is led by Superblocks visionaire Salvador Rueda, and was an important source of expertise in designing and implementing this project in Barcelona (Q15). The City Council also engaged multiple community networks through the creation of neighborhood working groups (Q14). Local residents and stakeholders were important representatives. Their participation supported the design of individual Superblocks with respect to the neighborhood’s character and was critical for gaining public support of the project.

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Relation to justice in urban sustainability governance

This enabling governance arrangement tries to overcome injustices caused mostly by the Weak(ened) civil society and Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities as well as Unquestioned Neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism.

Weak(ened) civil society as a driver of injustice refers to the ways in which collective civic groups that share common interests (other than the state, the market, or the family) are either not constituted and impactful enough to influence and benefit from sustainability efforts or are indeed constrained by interventions that carry sustainability objectives. Tapping into resources of existing community networks can reinforce and strengthen the organization and help access the benefit of sustainability efforts. Beside, forming alliances with other movements increases legitimacy as well as (generally) public support which helps to overcome regulatory or political barriers.

Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities as a driver of injustice refers to the ways in which (access to) useful information and know-how around sustainable urban interventions, and their benefits, is not shared effectively or equally among social groups, sectors or disciplines and thus constrain the potential for both sustainability and justice. Tapping into resources of existing community networks includes sharing information and skills. It allows grassroot groups to stay informed and to learn about sustainability urban interventions and increases opportunities to engage and benefit from them.

Unquestioned Neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism as a driver of injustice refers to processes of privatization, commercialization, budget cuts and state withdrawal from various sectors and how they can undermine urban sustainability, guided by an ideology of unfettered economic growth which often aligns with austerity policies. Creating alliances with other community networks can provide grassroot initiatives with resources (human, financial or organizational) from which they are deprived. However, in this context, relying on internal community resources may be at risk of reinforcing the roll back of the state, that is, the delegation of regalian responsibilities to citizens and to voluntarily-run organizations.

This enabling governance arrangement is also related to the approach of Co-learning and knowledge brokerage as it aims to facilitate the circulation of ideas, understandings and cutting-edge research across a diverse set of actors in society.

Critical reflection

Connecting closely to already existing initiatives may deprive newly emerging initiatives of their distinctive and innovative character and may limit their appeal to particular social groups. Another downside of this enabling governance arrangement is that it may contribute to a roll-back of the state. Strong community networks operating in a certain domain (food, housing etc.) can alleviate state deficiencies. As far as they In replace the state in its responsibility to organize the provision e.g. of sufficient food or housing, such initiatives may be instrumentalized in line with a neoliberal logic by compensating or even fostering a roll-back of the state. This relates to the driver of injustice: Unquestioned Neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism. Also, it cannot be assumed that initiatives are willing to share their information or novel expertise if they perceive others as potential “competitors” (for public funding, participants, etc.). Furthermore, since many initiatives for sustainable and just cities are unique “trailblazers”, the advice from other community groups may be limited. Much of the learning has to still come from the context of the initiative itself.


Repowering, London

Inner-city community energy in London: As a pioneer organization, Repowering offers professional services such as legal, structural, financial, and marketing aid, to other upcoming community energy projects. However, there is an ongoing internal debate regarding what information Repowering is willing to open-source and what they maintain as exclusive expertise that should be protected (Q32). Furthermore, Repowering had limited expertise to draw from in the sector and therefore had to learn through the process of innovation. From an interview: “It wasn't like we got an answer from other people and they helped us out. It was the other way around. We trail-blazed the whole sector" (Interview with Otero) (Q26).

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Covid-19 connection/How does this enabling arrangement play out under the conditions of a pandemic?

In the context of the pandemic, some public institutions engaged in supporting a variety of economic sectors but did not provide adequate assistance in many social sectors. Civil-society organizations have complemented deficiencies in public social assistance especially in the sector of food and housing by providing meals or temporarily housing for those in need. Tapping into resources of existing community networks provides such emerging local initiatives with ‘internal’ resources (i.e. as internal to the community) that the public sector is unable to provide them with. This support allows community groups to survive and pursue sustainability and justice goals in cities in a context of selective governmental interventions.