A series of subsidised houses could help tackle regional inequality—and begin tackling the structures that mean some places benefit from the networks of globalisation while others are left outby Eric Lybeck / April 15, 2019 / Leave a comment
In 1882, the Old Town Edinburgh ward of St Giles was among the most impoverished parts of the city. It was also the site of the University of Edinburgh, then celebrating its 300th anniversary—just over a century after the peak of the Scottish Enlightenment which had bestowed upon the nascent industrial revolution its moral warrant.
How could these two conditions—poverty and progress—exist together in the same place? The university stood mere blocks away from the squalor of the slums accommodating populations “left behind” by the rapidly developing industrial economy.
By 1890, the civic sociologist, Patrick Geddes, had a plan: inspired by social innovations in Whitechapel, Marylebone, Liverpool, Rochdale and his own experiments providing co-operative student accommodation, he purchased a derelict mansion next to Edinburgh castle. Architects and builders added six new flats to what would be called ‘Ramsay Gardens.’
Geddes gambled that he could attract enough of the middle classes from fashionable New Town to Old Town. This relocation would encourage the integration of the knowledge emanating from the university as academics, students, professionals and graduates socialised with the artisanal classes, working poor, servants and casual labourers, including children and women supporting families or working themselves.
This is the winning essay of this year’s Bennett-Prospect Prize for Public Policy. To find out more about the prize, click here
Geddes’ innovative approach to civic renewal is best captured in his demand: “Think Global, Act Local!” Indeed, his theory of the global and the local was no mere catchphrase. Geddes saw the city as a space that connected entire regions with populations around the world.
The emergent atmosphere of cities and universities synthesized cultural, intellectual, economic and technological dynamics in ways that transcended—yet drew upon—the historical relations between town, country, village and city.
Contemporary scholars of globalization know only too well that, increasingly, global cities and their cosmopolitan residents connect with one another through networked interactions—but how often do our cities integrate with the surrounding area
Think Global, Act Local
In the USA, political scientist Kathy Cramer has observed how citizens of rural Wisconsin were for years becoming resentful of know-it-all ‘elites’ in Madison and Milwaukee. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild observed similar sentiments and grievances expressed by Louisianans in the lead up to the Trump election.
We in Britain saw popular distrust in “experts” marshalled by campaigners during the Brexit referendum, reflecting a cultural, economic, social and political bifurcation between those living and working in knowledge economy centres, like cities and university towns, and those folk who increasingly feel left behind.
My research into the long-term growth of the modern university since 1800 explains why this bifurcation is occurring and why rates of educational qualifications—for example—are so highly correlated with voting ‘leave’ and ‘remain’.
The journal I founded with University of California Press, Civic Sociology, draws on Geddes’ example to solve problems locally and regionally by connecting the knowledge of academics with those populations that feel ‘left behind’; in other words, by acting locally to think globally.
Indeed, we might draw from the Edinburgh example one particular solution for academics and other white-collar professionals to the question: “how do we enable left-behind places to catch up?” Simply put, we move into those places—thereby creating mixed, diverse communities no longer disconnected and isolated from the progress and innovation at the heart of the globalised knowledge-economy.
The Idea: CRAFT Houses
At present, the incentives and organisational patterns characteristic of the fourth industrial revolution do not automatically encourage the migration patterns, networks of exchange and capital investment necessary to encourage growth in most non-metropolitan areas. This is why so many feel, and often are, ‘left behind’ economically, socially and culturally.
The policy solution proposed here would support the establishment, development and extension of a reconstructed form of university settlement or residential college suited for a twenty-first century economy.
The proposed sites, called ‘CRAFT houses,’ would establish nodes in an integrated and coordinated regional network re-connecting towns and cities.
The houses would be places of residence, generally in the countryside, market towns or deindustrialised suburbs. Residents would share common spaces and services, including kitchens and dining rooms, transport, nursery and laundry services, depending on members’ interests in saving time and money through collective consumption.
In addition to the common spaces within the CRAFT houses, hubs would be established within cities, providing members with quiet and social spaces to read, work and even rest or sleep overnight when necessary.
Integration not gentifrication
Each house would ideally have members from a range of professions and occupations whose functions would be useful to the house, the network and the community at large.
For example, a lawyer could help with contracts, while a tradesperson or builder could facilitate property improvements that would accrue to the entire group.
While not exhaustive, the CRAFT acronym was co-developed in workshops that took place in Exeter, Devon earlier this year, involving civic sociologists, city council officials, architects, tech entrepreneurs, financiers, philanthropists, artists and more.
The term stands for the range of professions, or ‘vocations,’ we wanted to start with:
C – Communications and Law
R – Research and Teaching
A – Art and Architecture
F – Finance and Trade
T – Tech and Sustainable Engineering
The ownership model of CRAFT houses would be cooperative, thereby ensuring that rents would be kept low in perpetuity. The mutual ownership model would further incentivise young professionals interested in accumulating capital while renting to co-locate with others in similar professions to otherwise less desirable locations (which would, in due course, become more desirable).
There would be restrictions on how that capital could be spent, ensuring the value went back into the region: through purchasing family homes locally, for example, or investing in start-ups developed by CRAFT members.
Reconstructing Professions to work together
One appeal of cities is job-related insofar as early professional careers tend to require durable connections to the profession one seeks to enter. Accordingly, in addition to junior members living in the CRAFThouse, a senior membership council consisting of leading figures in the professions noted above would serve as a coordinating board and community of advisors, thereby ensuring junior members retained access to a network of professional mentors active locally, regionally and globally.
Thus, both the ‘cooperative’ and ‘coordination’ functions of a firm identified by Spencer Thompson in his study of worker co-operatives would be embedded in such a way as to minimise a need for ‘management’ in the traditional sense—paving the way for self-governing modes of cooperation, coordination and integration.
These new institutional practices would not only benefit the members of the CRAFT houses, but the community and region generally, as these provided linkages across the emerging network also coordinated according to sustainable principles of ‘bottom-linked’ rather than ‘top-down’ governance.
By providing space to live, work and innovate, the sites would become hubs for university activities related to social impact and for educational, research and employment activities related to—for example—the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
The project would encourage growth in both the knowledge economy and would provide jobs and infrastructure at the level of the ‘foundational economy,’ which are essential to re-establish in these regions. Lawyers and architects can get involved in redevelopment of community buildings; artists and playwrights would draw culture out from the city, while reconnecting with those populations with whom they have lost living relationships.
The functional diversity of members of the CRAFT houses would provide an innovation (and capital) dynamic that should translate into new start-ups, technologies, social enterprises and so on.
Similarly, by engaging, living and working with local teachers in secondary, primary and adult education, the network would re-establish linkages between knowledge and society in regional schools where policy environments have been otherwise characterised by low-trust and disinvestment.
Experiments in sustainable lifestyle practices and technologies could also be developed to encourage biodynamic relationships with nature—all the while members remain fully ‘plugged into’ the knowledge economy.
(Mostly Local) Policy Support
The CRAFT houses are the associational form, but to flourish and integrate across regions the network would require policy support, particularly from regional and local governments.
The specific recommendations a supportive government might pursue would include:
a) donation in part or full of buildings, possibly abandoned or underused spaces, including properties in both non-urban towns/villages and some space within central city locations that would function as ‘hubs’;
b) flexibility in terms of zoning, including changing single-use permits to mixed-use residential/commercial/educational properties;
c) student loan repayments and/or deferral of council tax to incentivize graduates to relocate
Nationally, a government contribution could also involve purchase of buildings, ideally via direct grant, or through a National Investment Bank funding cooperatives and social enterprises.
An historic (and admittedly philanthropic, not government) example might be recalled in the Carnegie Corporation’s funding of public libraries in the late nineteenth century, in which Andrew Carnegie offered to build libraries if local communities were willing to fill them with books and staff.
Similarly, if governments purchased buildings in ‘left behind’ regions, the CRAFT house network and local communities could determine creative ways of putting these to good use.
Further policy support could be determined on a case-by-case basis depending on local circumstances and need. Each CRAFT house would be ‘co-developed’ with local governments, key stakeholders and experts within and beyond the emerging network.
Indeed, this is precisely the approach civic sociology recommends: retaining awareness of the particularities of place, history and people, while encouraging civic participation and self-organisation.
Which Left-Behind Places?
In recent policy discussions of ‘left-behind’ regions, equivalences are made between, for example, non-metropolitan regions and multi-ethnic urban neighbourhoods, each of which are characterised as exhibiting similar issues relating to socioeconomic class, cultural activities and low ‘civic participation.’ Not only in Britain, but around the world, there are, indeed, commonalities between these patterns of neglect or ‘losing out’ on the progress made in a globalised knowledge economy.
However, as the Brexit vote revealed, we can see a clear differentiation between regions that supported the campaign to leave the European Union and those regions that voted to remain, which included many of the multi-ethnic neighbourhoods in greater London, for example.
CRAFT houses would, therefore, work best in non-metropolitan ‘left behind’ regions which have particular characteristics: their populations are older, whiter, less educated (in terms of proportion with level-4 qualifications and above) and subsist on lower incomes.
How some places thrive—while others are neglected
My analysis of these multiple dimensions of deprivation suggests these patterns are not accidental if we consider them in terms of the long-term history of the emergence of modern higher education since the nineteenth century. First, we can note that internal migration patterns indicate students and young professionals move around more than others.
As these cohorts of young people enrolled in higher education reach 50 per cent target levels after 1997, we see net migration out of less urban regions resulting in the overall demographic profile of these places as being ‘older’ relative to the cities and university towns to which they have moved. (This is in addition to the younger profile of external migrants into similar urban spaces).
Further, since those older generations were not expected to attend higher education unless they were amongst the 15 per cent who then entered professional occupations, these older populations will also have lower rates of level 4 qualifications.
Lastly, since university graduates remain mobile, chasing graduate-level employment where this work is done, this additional internal migration occurs within and around global cities, university towns and other areas connected to the knowledge economy.
Thus the four characteristics noted—age, race, education, income—are related to one another on a regional basis, not an individual basis. It is, then, unfortunate that much of the discourse around these issues assumes or implies ‘white working class’ people are ‘stupid’ and thus voted to leave the European Union in 2016.
Rather, as studies have long showed, folks that remain in these regions have less identification with Europe, as many will have few economic or cultural interactions with the globalised, knowledge economy when compared with those members of the educated and professional classes living in more dynamic, multi-ethnic urban spaces.
Linking up regions and disrupting patterns
This regional bifurcation, which has developed over a long-term as the industrial economy shifted toward a post-industrial service and technology-based economy, is what needs to be overcome through the policy and social-enterprise model proposed here.
The CRAFT house network would effectively disrupt the internal migration patterns of young professionals, incentivising them to move to rural areas and market towns. The policy goals would not be dissimilar from those advocated in the 2000s in terms of the value added to cities by the ‘creative class.’
However, these policies have been hit-or-miss outside the big, global metropolis, and have led to problems of gentrification, segregation and inequality—as even the architects of these ideas now recognise.
The difference between the proposed CRAFT house network and the more traditional urban policies introduced into cities in the 2000s is its intentionality; its linkages between professions and occupations; and the potential for viral expansion built into the associational form.
These aspects were derived from analysis of the ‘linked ecologies’ between states, markets, universities and professions as articulated in Andrew Abbott’s work on universities as environments for professions in 2005, which recognises any settlement or project connecting actors in these ecologies must serve the interests in each—though not necessarily for the same reasons.
Similarly, we draw on theories of the ‘triple-helix’ and social systems theories to integrate the university not simply as delivering an ‘innovation’ function, but also performing a regulatory and capitalising function in local and regional contexts that are disconnected from the knowledge economy.
The CRAFT house, in a sense, provides a central hub performing several functions that are differentiated in cities, which would become synthesised, integrated and made accessible in the outlying regions.
From the Old Town to the new century
We thus return full circle to the work of Geddes in Edinburgh at the turn of the twentieth century.
In the twenty-first century, we confront very similar circumstances: global economic growth and intellectual progress still does not benefit everyone. Geddes realised that the only way to truly connect with left-behind regions was to move himself, his students, his family, and his friends into them. He drew these practices into his brand of civic sociology, which we are reconstructing in Britain, the USA and around the world.
For if we can solve these problems at a local level, under circumstances which are ultimately traceable to long-term trends in the global, knowledge economy, we might be able to translate our means to other regions—encouraging new, integrated forms of inclusive growth.