E) Tap into existing community networks

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Examples from real world governance interventions:

General ambition

Emerging initiatives need to ensure they connect to and learn from existing community networks which are working on similar issues. This can involve the sharing of (human) resources and learning from individuals of other community initiatives elsewhere, as well as learning about concepts, structures, organisational issues and electronic tools (like e.g. the Foodsharing platform connecting food donors to savers). Consulting experts in the field could also be important here, especially in the beginning of a project (e.g BEB learning from re-municipalisation experts from Schönau).

Learning from other communities and benefiting from their resources as well as gaining expertise often also increases their legitimacy and helps community networks and ideas gain public as well as political support.

Examples

Foodsharing, Berlin

Foodsharing groups tapped into the resources of the national network to develop locally, especially they used the same online platform as well as the same principles and organizational structure. Social resources were also used to gain legitimacy as Foodsharing is well known in the food sector. This helped regional groups to develop partnerships with food retailers of supermarkets or possibly to gain support from local institutional actors (e.g. that tolerate public fridges - not in Berlin!)(Q.13).

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Vauban neighborhood, Freiburg

Housing Cooperative Networks in Germany inspired to some extent project proponents. Specifically, they benefited from the expertise of the cooperative confederation regarding economy, law and tax policy (Q.26-b ; & Q.27-b).

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Community Land Trust, Brussels

The ability of many (15) community associations to self-organize and present a united appeal for the establishment of the CLTB was very important for the intervention’s emergence. Additionally, CLTB learned from experiences in experiments for alternative affordable housing in and outside of Brussels (Q26).

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Bürgen Energie Berlin, Berlin

BEB is supported by a large number of alliances including cooperatives, ethical banks and renewable energy companies. The cooperative expanded fast in numbers and donations through synergies with the networks established by other energy cooperatives and movements in the field of energy and politics. Schönau Cooperative has been instrumental in the success of BEB by passing on knowledge and expertise. Whereas, in order to reach out to people and inform them about the cooperative they worked together with the media, a network summit called “NetzGipfel”, and took part in demonstrations and other events to inform people about their initiative and to get more participants.

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Relation to justice in urban sustainability governance

This enabling governance arrangement tries to overcome injustices caused mostly by the Weak(ened) civil society and Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities as well as Unquestioned Neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism.

Weak(ened) civil society as a driver of injustice refers to the ways in which collective civic groups that share common interests (other than the state, the market, or the family) are either not constituted and impactful enough to influence and benefit from sustainability efforts or are indeed constrained by interventions that carry sustainability objectives. Tapping into resources of existing community networks can reinforce and strengthen the organization and help access the benefit of sustainability efforts. Beside, forming alliances with other movements increases legitimacy as well as (generally) public support which helps to overcome regulatory or political barriers.

Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities as a driver of injustice refers to the ways in which (access to) useful information and know-how around sustainable urban interventions, and their benefits, is not shared effectively or equally among social groups, sectors or disciplines and thus constrain the potential for both sustainability and justice. Tapping into resources of existing community networks includes sharing information and skills. It allows grassroot groups to stay informed and to learn about sustainability urban interventions and increases opportunities to engage and benefit from them.

Unquestioned Neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism as a driver of injustice refers to processes of privatization, commercialization, budget cuts and state withdrawal from various sectors and how they can undermine urban sustainability, guided by an ideology of unfettered economic growth which often aligns with austerity policies. Creating alliances with other community networks can provide grassroot initiatives with resources (human, financial or organizational) from which they are deprived. However, in this context, relying on internal community resources may be at risk of reinforcing the roll back of the state, that is, the delegation of regalian responsibilities to citizens and to voluntarily-run organizations.

This enabling governance arrangement is also related to the approach of Co-learning and knowledge brokerage as it aims to facilitate the circulation of ideas, understandings and cutting-edge research across a diverse set of actors in society.

Critical reflection

For one, closely connecting to already existing initiatives may deprive newly emerging initiatives of their distinctive and innovative character and may limit their appeal to particular social groups. Another downside of this enabling governance arrangement is that it may contribute to a roll-back of the state. Strong community networks operating in a certain domain (food, housing etc.) can alleviate state deficiencies. As far as they In replace the state in its responsibility to organize the provision e.g. of sufficient food or housing, such initiatives may be instrumentalized in line with a neoliberal logic by compensating or even fostering a roll-back of the state. This relates to the driver of injustice: Unquestioned Neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism.

Covid-19 connection/How does this enabling arrangement play out under the conditions of a pandemic?

In the context of the pandemic, some public institutions engaged in supporting a variety of economic sectors but did not provide adequate assistance in many social sectors. Civil-society organizations have complemented deficiencies in public social assistance especially in the sector of food and housing by providing meals or temporarily housing for those in need. Tapping into resources of existing community networks provides such emerging local initiatives with ‘internal’ resources (i.e. as internal to the community) that the public sector is unable to provide them with. This support allows community groups to survive and pursue sustainability and justice goals in cities in a context of selective governmental interventions.