The place where we live influences our lives in a big way. We forge relationships with neighbours, local businesses, community groups, and local services. The place where we live is an important part of our identity. The decisions of the Council shape our space – our footpaths, lighting, open spaces, roads, amenities, car parking, community facilities, housing, and whether our community is a good place for people with disabilities, children, older people, – the very fabric of our daily lives. That is why local government matters. That is why residents, as citizens of local communities, need to be connected and feel connected to those who manage our local area and decide where our money is spent. Right now that connection is too weak, and people say they have a sense of being the passive by-standers as others whom they do not know make decisions they cannot influence.
The elected councillors should be the bridge between communities and administrators. They should make sure people get timely information about the work of the Council, and details of budgets and spending decisions. They should help to gather people’s views about local needs and make sure those views are the bedrock of local planning.
It is frustrating to hear the membership of the Council being talked about by some as a place for ‘hopefuls’ with ambitions to do ‘bigger things’. What could be bigger or better than working to improve our local life?
Let’s sweat the small stuff!
What strikes me very strongly when I am talking to local people across in Dundrum, Churchtown and Ballinteer is the modest nature of people’s expectations. They are not looking for huge expensive projects or massive developments. Small things would make a big difference to their quality of life. There’s Pauline, who is an older woman with severe arthritis. A wheelchair car parking space outside her house would be a great help. She has been looking for this for years. Helen walks to school with her children every morning, and is really upset about broken footpaths and the risk they pose for trips and falls. Yvonne has preschool children, and would love if there was some play equipment on the green space outside her home; she isn’t looking for a huge investment in a large playground – just a slide and swing, and maybe a little climbing frame. John is an older man who tries to keep the shores on the street clear of leaves but finds it difficult. He wonders if the Council could do one big annual clean up in the Autumn.
There has to be scope for a planned approach to small neighbourhood projects. That is what participatory budgeting is all about – modest allocations to projects selected by local people, where the costs would be far outweighed by the community benefits. Let’s try it.