The Compendium for the Civic Economy: a quick genealogy… / by Nick Ierodiaconou

So the Compendium for the Civic Economy is now at the printers and will be launched on Thursday with NESTA and Cabe – for visual evidence of the printing process, see pictures below (taken last week). We’re in countdown mode, but thought it’d be good to tell a bit about the genealogy of this book. We started talking about this idea here in the office in late 2009 / early 2010. On the one hand we realised that projects we had been involved with over the past few years, like Demos’ Urban Beach in Bristol and the Hub, all suggested a way of practicing spatial interventions which did not fit comfortably with the dominant urban policy narrative of the time – but which opened up powerful possibilities, experiences and conversations. On the other hand we recognised the deep crisis of purpose in the world of regeneration and place-making – a crisis that had become glaringly obvious in the wake of the financial crash, but that of course had been latent for a while, the inevitable result of the woefully thin value often created in the real-estate driven ‘regeneration’ projects of the past decade.

So we wanted to make manifest a wider range of initiatives, projects and ventures that collectively showed a glimpse of the way forward.

This was all about operating under a different set of parameters. After the crash, the absence of ‘big public’ or ‘big private’ funding made ‘more of the same’ classic physical infrastructure-driven projects not just pointless but actually pretty much impossible to achieve. So what were instead the projects that were relevant, viable, purposeful to pursue? We had organised an early series of debates about this together with the Architecture Foundation, and it also became the question that led to our book project and its 25 detailed case studies. The case studies range from citizen-built edible public spaces andmember-led supermarkets to new communities of practice for social entrepreneurs, and from locally funded superfast broadband and self-commissioned housing to peer-to-peer ride sharing websites. What the book shows is how these are based on the initiatives of an increasingly wide range of civic-minded pioneers in the private, public and social enterprise sector, and that crucially they are built on local strengths – whether existing or latent social networks, people’s skills and aspirations, or dormant physical assets.

In the office, we sometimes spoke about this project as a ‘critical coffee-table’ publication – because we realised it needed to be both highly illustrated and analytical. After all, we wanted to show, on the one hand, the tangible quality of the projects that we had researched, and on the other hand reflect on what is required to create the fertile ground for this economy to flourish and grow. Therefore we aimed our book to help build an evidence base of existing projects, and to give pointers to the kind of policies, attitudes, prototyping projects and conversations that local leaders (whether in Local Authorities or otherwise) now need to engage with if they are genuinely going to unleash trajectories to build new shared wealth.

The result? It’s in print, see below, and to be launched on Thursday. And more importantly, it is part of an ongoing conversation – we build on the research and / or practice of a wide range of people like Robin Murray, Tessy Britton, Umair Haque and organisations like Space Makers or those collected in the Spatial Agency project – to name just a few. Our book is part of a discourse that itself is flourishing and becoming ever more powerful – in sum: to be continued…

JB