Posts Tagged ‘Philip Roth’

Place shaping was among the list of words and phrases which earlier in the year, the LGA said councils should avoid using.  We might not like the term but the concept is well-embedded.  Indeed, in the Comprehensive Area Assessment, Whitehall has sought to develop a model to measure the outcomes that successful place-shaping might bring about.

Reading Philip Roth’s novel, Exit Ghost last week, I came across what strikes me as a better way of summing up what we are all about.  The novel’s narrator, Nathan Zuckerman has returned to New York after an absence of eleven years in which he has lived in virtual seclusion. But returning to New York, ‘did what it does to people – awakened possibilities.’  In essence place-shaping is about the scope that councils have to awaken possibilities – be it through schools, libraries, creating opportunities to participate in sport and cultural activities, ensuring decent housing, or enabling people to live independent lives.  Awakening possibilities means tackling the seemingly intractable challenges associated with low social mobility.  That is the business that we are in and is why we should resist attempts to portray local government as dull and bureaucratic.

The notion that councils are all about awakening possibilities is not incompatible with the central idea in a Demos paper published this month, The good society is messy and unpredictable because it vests power in people.  In the paper, Richard Reeves and Philip Collins argue that people ought to be free to live as they would like, to lead independent, flourishing lives.  For people to be able to do this, they say, requires: 

  • Freedom from the tyranny of custom;
  • A sense of possibility;
  • Good levels of literacy and numeracy;
  • A reasonable degree of freedom from ill-health.

 Within the context of a transference of power from what they describe as ‘the bureaucracy’ to the people, Richard Reeves and Philip Collins argue that, ‘it would be desirable to see local democracy flourishing under the aegis of local mayors charged with executive authority to run their town or city. The police and most institutions of the health service should be accountable locally.’  Views differ about the elected mayor model, but I think the debate about whether policing and health should be locally accountable or integrated through partnership working is an important one, which perhaps holds the key to place-shaping.


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