“Never do for people what they can do for themselves.”
Government and its partner agencies tend to violate this Iron Rule of community organizing but they can’t address all of a community’s needs on their own. Needs are growing more rapidly than government resources. And, increasingly complex social and environmental issues can’t be resolved by agencies in the absence of community even if they have unlimited resources.
Government tends to be both too centralized and too segmented to relate to communities. Top-down decision-making doesn’t accommodate the community’s voice and cookie cutter programs and regulations don’t respect unique neighborhood design or community culture. Professional experts often discount the wisdom of communities, and they work in silos that make it difficult for them to share the community’s more holistic perspective.
It is hard to argue against the concept of a community taking more ownership and responsibility for its future. If anything has shown that people have the power to make a significant difference it has been the response to the earthquakes. There is a fresh vigour amongst the residents’ of Christchurch, a desire for positive action to improve the quality of life in the city.
The St Albans Community Strategy focuses on efficient and sustainable community-driven action
SARA recognizes that the St Albans community has untapped resources as well as unmet needs. Through the St Albans Strategy we wish to empower and partner with local residents to facilitate them identifying themselves as citizens rather than ratepayers and see the government as an extension of themselves.
Through the strategy not only will many more resources be available to address local needs, but the solutions will tend to be more creative, holistic and appropriate.
The idea is to use social capital and existing community resources and organisations to strengthen community development, advocacy and resilience.
The St Albans Community Strategy and its 20 project system is based on the Newlands Model of community development, which Jarod Coburn developed while in Wellington.
The projects are the culmination of nearly a year’s work in the St Albans area and involved surveys, consultations with the St Albans Residents Association management committee and a select group of residents and representatives called the Panel of Eight.
There are four programme areas (each with a manager) to cover:
A mentor will work alongside those managers to get the system set up and running and to assist with finding people with the right skills to get involved or up skill where necessary.
Under each of those four areas are listed five projects. They don’t need to be all done at once and they are not meant to usurp what is already being done in the community. Beautifying Edgeware Village might be looked after by an organisation that already exists. These projects are also similar to the areas identified in the council initiated St Albans conversations earlier this year.
Built projects include: public swimming pool, places for citizens to meet, socialise and learn together, safer roads and footpaths, beautifying Edgeware Village and improving Warrington shops
Services include enhanced information flow, assisting groups to find places to meet and run events, library services, community safety patrol, and Civil Defence/resilience
Recreation project areas include A River Park linking to sister suburbs, a community food production programme, youth driven arts events, community art and culture and a fitness trail around the outside of Malvern Park
Strategic projects include lobbying for a tram link to the central city, organising activities to uplift citizens, developing a sense of place, sustainable living options and improving housing stock.
Some or all of these will take their first steps in 2013. Some are small projects and others large. Some will require a lot of talking and others will be more hands on. Plenty of opportunities for community involvement.
Those working on the projects will be the ones to make decisions about what happens. It is not meant to be a top down process and is not being driven by SARA or any other body. The only SARA involvement will be getting the programmes set up and assisting when funding applications need to be signed off.
St Albans has been at a low ebb in the decade, following the loss of the community centre, an abrasive relationship between CCC and certain residents’ representatives, divisiveness in the community and needs something positive to mend a broken community.
This strategy has a good chance of making a real difference to St Albans. If it is implemented as Jarod intends, develops as the community members have the energy to undertake projects and as long as it does not retreat to a top down’ command and control’ model, it will go a long way towards helping rebuild community in St Albans.
Looking forward to some uplifting that doesn’t involve tectonic plates.