How do we get people to take citizenship seriously? How do we reintegrate the lately divorced concepts of governance and citizenship in order to create more equitable communities in which problem-solving takes a community approach?
The answer may surprise you. In a smart, enlightening blog post published on Sunday, the Project for Public Spaces argues that working to build a strong sense of place amidst a culture of action-oriented dialogue consequently creates a space for “reframing citizenship as an on-going, creative collaboration between neighbors.” Practicing good citizenship is inextricably bound with practicing placemaking, and good placemaking seeks to draw community members into the civic decisionmaking process with a new citizen-centered model known as Place Governance.
In a typical community, “thick silo walls” are built around government to create “an opaque, discipline-driven approach to problem-solving.” Yet in a Place Governance structure, all people who are familiar with and affected by the challenge under scrutiny create a solution together “because they understand that the best solutions don’t come from within narrow disciplines, but from the points where people of different backgrounds come together.” Actors within a Place Governance framework are able to shape their communities and participate within a democratic society that places citizens at its center rather than government.
One of the challenges to making Place Governance a viable structure is ending the practice of limited, exclusive opportunities for civic engagement and instead creating a culture of success around engagement that recognizes people’s efforts and contributions and that encourages them to stay involved. Citizens who are involved in not one, but many, problem-solving projects ultimately effect change in their communities and help imbue their communities with a sense of place; it is citizen’s self-efficacy in creating this place that works to create a sense of attachment and thus an equitable support system.
The outcomes of a Place Governance framework are enticing, yet the project of building such a structure looms large. So let’s concentrate on the first step of breaking down those “thick silo walls” in order to lay the groundwork for creating a culture of equitable citizenship.