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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

The South Bronx is a socially excluded urban area that has significantly improved over the last 40 years. It has been revitalized and transformed from a national symbol of urban dystopia into a collection of ordinary working-class neighbourhoods. However, stigmatization remains a handicap; environmental problems have not been adequately addressed; housing is still not affordable for many; unemployment is high, the poverty rate remains extreme and access to good education is a serious contemporary problem. In the South Bronx, the Great Recession hit an area that was already vulnerable, shrouded in a sense of a lack of investment. There is a feeling among residents that public authorities have failed their community and that public institutions should do more for the area. At the same time, though, in recent decades a strong sense of belonging – fostered by the ‘we stay’ movement – has helped to build a community with solid ties and a powerful organizing capacity. This community has struggled, has influenced public policies and has been able to work together with public authorities in order to improve the South Bronx. There is a history in the South Bronx of organizations and interests banding together.

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

In this chapter we review different approaches on social innovation and leadership. Social innovation is usually conceptualized as a way of improving territorial development in disenfranchised neighbourhoods. However, little attention has been paid to the dynamics by which responses emerge, how social impact or scalability could be achieved and, finally, how social change could be effectively accomplished. Bringing together disruptive theories of social innovation and constructionist theories of collective leadership this chapter delves into the context–agency debate. In so doing, we identify the main challenges for the novel approach to analyzing social change that we develop theoretically and empirically throughout this book.

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Social Innovation and Democratic Leadership

Communities and Social Change from Below

Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

This book explores new forms of democracy in practice following the 2011 global uprisings; democracy that comes from below, by and for the ‘have-nots’. Combining theories of social innovation and collective leadership, it analyses how disadvantaged communities have addressed the effects of economic recession in two global cities: Barcelona and New York.
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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

Sants is a traditional working-class neighbourhood. With its character of a small town within a city, Sants has retained a strong sense of belonging among its residents and its social organizations. The area has accumulated the experience of numerous historical struggles and an extremely high level of political activism has developed. Social innovation in Sants is not something new. It is not a response to the post-recession situation in the area, but rather the result of a tradition of collective action from below that is historically rooted, diverse and politicized. Thus, in Sants we can see a tradition of cooperativism, self-management and self-organizing. This is a tradition of alternative action flourishing in the local civil society, which is both distinct from the state and outside of the market. After the Great Recession, new initiatives emerged that have merged old and new grassroots movements and have taken advantage of all the knowledge accumulated through older initiatives in the area. Moreover, the neighbourhood is home to an economically precarious but culturally important class of young, well-educated, politicized people with ideas that go beyond the mainstream. This class of people is playing a significant role in developing some of the social responses.

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

Nou Barris Nord is a segregated neighbourhood that has not overcome its vulnerability. It has been hit extremely hard by the effects of the Great Recession. To really understand what has happened in the area we should not focus on how the crisis has affected it (unemployment, foreclosures and so on) but on how these neighbourhoods were transformed prior to the crisis. The real estate bubble multiplied its urban segregation as a result of a huge demographic replacement, and the poorest population in Barcelona became concentrated in this urban area. The social fabric of Nou Barris Nord was fragmented and its social capital declined, while civic capacity evolved into a general mistrust and hostility between neighbourhood associations on the one hand and the City Council on the other. In this context the emergence of socially innovative responses to problems is not easy. When initiatives flourish, the lack of coordination and collaboration with public authorities hinders their potential social impact. However, we also found in Nou Barris Nord a story of struggle based on the neighbourhood’s tradition of collective action. Neighbours, neighbourhood associations and other community-based organizations have clearly responded to recession effects through solidarity and resistance.

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

Being geographically and institutionally embedded, social innovation has proven to be context-dependent. Social innovation does not emerge anywhere or at any time; not all communities produce the same type of socially innovative initiatives, nor to the same degree. This chapter draws upon the Urban Studies literature on the influence of neighbourhood characteristics on the life chances of individuals to better understand how and why social innovation emerges. We introduce some approaches and concepts, such as ‘civic capacity’, related to how historical and geographical context might enable or constrain community responses that arise from below. At the same time, neighbourhood resilience is explored as a useful approach to understanding the geographies of social innovation. The chapter concludes by raising several questions that will be empirically addressed through our case studies.

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

In this chapter we review lessons from the socially innovative initiatives discussed throughout the book. These are deconstructed and categorized along several dimensions. The four case studies are used to analyse the global–local relations prominent in the post-recession environment, and the responses that have emerged to cope with this new context. On one hand, we focus on the so-called ‘zone effect’ to examine how neighbourhood features determine both resilience and responses. On the other hand, we analyze the leadership practices that are evident in those initiatives. We finally conclude that a multi-scalar and comprehensive combination of three strategies – community capacity building, the development of democratic leadership practices and bottom-linked socially innovative initiatives – is required for social innovation to become a real driver of social change.

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

In this chapter we discuss the effects of the Great Recession in the US and Europe and outline the key responses developed at the macro and micro levels, exploring how social innovation has become a powerful response to evolving social challenges within communities. We also justify our claim that communities matter for fostering social change from below, and then introduce Barcelona and New York as the two cities that host the innovative efforts we chose to highlight in our selected case studies.