Whatever your opinion upon policy initiatives like the Big Society, the challenge remains - throughout the world - to deliver small, inexpensive and compelling ways to improve the prosperity of people and their communities.
We've just finished designing plans for two places in the U.K. that aim to deliver practical, inexpensive projects and services that make change, supported by comprehensive business plans.
This is one of the things that we do - work that has translated in to organizing an army of professionals and local people to deliver a new bridge in Castleford, West Yorkshire:
The first stage of Digital Butetown, an initiative in Cardiff that through digital participation seeks to support a supply chain of skills to a new creative district that will grow around a new media production centre, the BBC Wales Drama Village:
Or The People's Supermarket, a new co-operative shop in the London Borough of Camden, the driven venture of Arthur Potts-Dawson, Kate Wickes-Bull, Todd Wilson of Transition Bloomsbury and an army of members and advisors.
One of our recent plans recommends five strands of action over the next three years to cultivate new and existing local activity in a sunny but declining seaside town.
Themed to health and well-being, the strategy centres on the development of child-friendly services, innovation for independent business, re-purposing derelict buildings and improving access to beaches.
A key feature of this plan - and others - is a structure and process that fosters non-profit as well for-profit enterprise and early investment by the private sector.
The first fuel of private money is often mixed with earned revenue, government subsidy, gifting, exchange or sweat equity.
In an article in the Financial Times this week [subscription required], Graham Allen M.P. and Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs discuss the opportunity and challenge of creating an economic case for using private sector finance to fund early intervention in the delivery of public services.
In the work that we do, delivering early intervention in goods and services in the public realm, there are different kinds of arrangements that we've used - and here are some ideas that currently we are looking at:
- create a themed public-private investment fund, seeded by a financial endowment from a real estate company, that enables the start-up of projects and services external to development sites but that internalizes return through rent-paying tenants or the supply of services to the development in the future.
- re-version the idea of a Business Improvement District and offer private and public sector stakeholders and occupiers of an area the chance to invest in a fund devoted to the provision of local social, economic, environmental and cultural services. The return: closer control of the quality, direction and cost of those services.
- redeploy obligations on real estate developers linked to planning gain to financing or equity-investing in local services, delivered by non-profit or community enterprise
- incentivize real estate companies to buy up sites or invest in non-profit operations away from their site as part of a larger Tax Increment Financing arrangement, enabling them to benefit from improved trading performance induced by their investments, not just increased tax revenues.
All of these ideas are predicated upon private investors seeking longer-term return, seeing the 'public realm' as a network and flow of goods and services - not just packets of land - and valuing equity and social business as drivers of economic recovery.
It's deeply nerdy but perhaps some of the new wiring, as well as equation that needs to be considered, if the private sector is to support civic change.
In a word: incentive.Images courtesy of 1.Not known. 2. Not known. 3. Wakefield Council/Channel 4 Television. 4.FAT for igloo Regeneration. 5. Author. 6. Soapbox. 7. Author.