Can local community cooperation be scaled up to create a participatory city? Neighbourhood-led pilot project the Open Works thinks so
n February 2014, a pilot project was launched in West Norwood, south London, mobilising 1,000 people to reconfigure their neighbourhood for everyday benefit. In partnership with Lambeth Council, the Open Works united residents of the neighbourhood to create 20 new, community-led initiatives – from orchards and gardens to a youth ideas incubator; from craft groups to communal kitchens.
“The idea was to test whether high-density, mass community participation can be scaled up to create a participatory city. And we believe it can,” says Laura Billings and Tessy Britton, co-founders of Civic Systems Lab, the organisation behind the Open Works. “Community participation should be the starting point in any community development, not an afterthought.”
A follow-up report found that the small amount of seed-funding from Lambeth Council had indeed been successful in achieving “bottom-up” change, building valuable social capital between those usually outside of each other’s networks. The one year Open Works pilot came to an end earlier this year, but amid a backdrop of massive cuts to council funding across the country – Lambeth has lost over 56% of its budget since 2010 – a number of the projects have failed to stay afloat.
So what lessons have been learned about the value – and challenges – of rewiring the neighbourhood in such a community-minded way? Here are the thoughts of some of the initiatives that remain in West Norwood, remnants of a pioneering experiment that the Open Works now hopes to test out elsewhere in London. […]