Bonding and Bridging the Key to improving Social Ills
On January 24, 2019, the Guardian published his article entitled Mutually Assured Salvation (https://www.monbiot.com/2019/01/28/mutually-assured-salvation/), which tells how one of London's poorest and socially challenged boroughs (municipality in local BC terms) in just one year has engaged more than 2,000 of its citizens to improve the circumstances of themselves and their town. Being Monbiot, he also shows how other places can employ their methods and principles. Places like Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and other BC municipalities should take note.
He reports that the state took over many parts of social welfare in the mid-part of the last century, often to good effect. He characterizes this as top-down protection. But when austerity measures inevitably resulted in the withdrawal of those services at the end of the century, not only did the citizenry loose the services, they also lost their bottom-up resiliency, the ways in which society traditionally took care of itself.
"The best antidote to the rising tide of demagoguery and reaction is a politics of belonging, based on strong and confident local communities" suggests Monbiot. "Those who study community life talk about two kinds of social network: bonding and bridging. Bonding networks are those created within homogeneous groups. While they can overcome social isolation, they can also foster suspicion and prejudice, while limiting opportunities for change. Bridging networks bring people from different groups together. Research suggests that they can reduce crime and unemployment and, by enhancing community voice, improve the quality of government."
Monbiot writes how the Participatory City Foundation researched a set of common principles for successful community
projects and set up a five-year experiment called Every One, Every Day, to explore how to create bridging networks. It involved simple projects with high visibility in physical locations, such as two storefronts that serve as meeting spaces for discussions and projects. They are run on principles of inclusiveness and seek to "attract talent rather than meet particular needs. They are also opening maker spaces furnished with laser cutters, tools, sewing machines and kitchens. The citizens that gathered there immediately sectioned off a childcare area and overcame a major barrier to female participation in new businesses, the lack of affordable daycare. Consequently, they have spontaneously created numerous businesses and projects, many of them inspired and led by women.
"There are welcoming committees for new arrivals to the street, community potluck meals, cooking sessions and street lunches. There’s a programme to turn boring patches of grass into community gardens, play corners and outdoor learning centres. There’s a bee school and a chicken school (teaching urban animal husbandry), sewing and knitting sessions, places for freelance workers to meet and collaborate, computing and coding workshops, storytelling for children, singing sessions, a games cafe. A local football coach has started training people in the streets. There’s a film studio and a DIY film festival, tuition for spoken word poets and a scheme for shutting streets so that children can play after school. Local people have leapt on the opportunities the new system has created."
In just one short year, people that were previously alienated by their neighbourhoods and seeking opportunities to leave have started to express the desire to stay and are increasingly comfortable with diversity that makes up their neighbourhood because they have opportunities to meet each other.
Here in Canada, our own area of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows is no stranger to the strains posed by the collapse of top-down social protection and the loss of the traditional village rally around a cause, due to the well documented shift in social conventions, reduced family cohesion and the new economic paradigms of the digital age. It can be directly observed by the hate speech toward homeless people and people suffering from mental health challenges and addiction emanating from people themselves one pay cheque away from the street. If we were to create a local version of the Every one, Every Day program, we would likely start to heal these rifts and re-learn the community resilience that once characterized many communities, or communities within communities.
What we now need is a champion to serve as the catalyst. Are you that champion?