Chapter 2: Theoretical approaches to neighbourhood governance: searching for lost treasure and comparative frameworks
Hannah Arendt gave the title 'The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure' to the last chapter of On Revolution (1963). In it, she laments what she sees as the missed opportunities presented by successive moments of political fluidity for 'an entirely new form of government, with a new public space for freedom' (ibid., 253). Arendt refers specifically to spontaneously formed citizen councils - communes, soviets, Räte - that emerged in the collapse of old regimes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Before long, these small beacons were snuffed out by emergent post-revolutionary states, with their tendency toward administrative centralization and top-down control. What these citizen councils offered, she writes, was the possibility of a system of local self-rule that could bring on to the public stage a certain kind of counter-elite, selected only by their peers: 'those few from all walks of life who have a taste for public freedom and cannot be "happy" without it' (ibid., 283). Although they are half a century old, seemingly rather romantic, and concerned with political upheaval on an epic scale as much as the quiet workings of everyday institutions, Arendt's words sound a fitting note on which to begin a set of reflections on grassroots-level organizations. After all, those who study the social and political workings of neighbourhoods all seem to search for lost treasure of one kind or another. Like Arendt, they look to the ultra-local level of urban society with some broad redemptive possibility in mind.
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