Go look at the "Cleveland Model" of local community wealth-building. It's not just about economy, but democracy
An interesting short report by Matt Leach, the chief executive of the Local Trust, on his visit to Cleveland - the inspiration for the Preston Model of local development so praised over the last few years. The steering organisation behind what’s happening in Cleveland is called the Democracy Collaborative.
At the centre of the Democracy Collaborative’s agenda is a belief that we need to change our political and economic systems to strengthen community, devolve powers to cities and regions, broaden ownership and access to capital, and create more equitable and sustainable growth.Something that comes together under the slightly uncatchily titled mission, to English ears, at least, of creating a “Pluralist Commonwealth”.
The Pluralist Commonwealth project – also known by the slightly more accessible label “Community Sustaining System” – has already gained some traction in the UK. The Preston Model - which has been much lauded as a demonstration of new ways in which local authorities and other publicly funded “anchor institutions”, such as hospitals and universities, can contribute to the growth of local economies - is open in acknowledging the extent to which it draws inspiration from the Democracy Collaborative’s work in Cleveland.
But as important to the emerging Pluralist Commonwealth concept is a recognition that fixing our broken systems can’t just rely on reforming local and national financial economies. We also need to mend our democracy, and that needs to start at a local level.
In his latest working paper for the Democracy Collaborative, which should be available later this month on their website, veteran political thinker and long term guardian of the Pluralist Commonwealth vision, Gar Alperovitz, highlights the importance of the parallel project of strengthening civic participation and democratic institutions. Quoting another important political influence, the late American political theorist Benjamin Barber, he notes his observation that:
"Strong democracy relies on participation in an evolving problem-solving community….[it is] literally forged through the act of public participation created through common deliberation and common action and the effect that deliberation and action have on interests, which change shape and direction when subjected to these participatory processes."
He concludes that the process of civic participation is fundamental to the entire project of building a new, functional democracy, and establishing the values needed to underpin its success in the long term.
"If [our] communities and economic institutions…lack a culture of citizen initiative and [support] practice and attitudes that undermine a sense of community - that “we are all in it together” - it is difficult to see how the nation as a whole might ever achieve such values."