Why we need neighborhood squares. Part 7: For democratic engagement

By Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard

The multi-functional neighborhood square acts as a catalyst for participatory, representational government. Civic and political discussion among diverse users of the square involves the expression of far greater diversity of opinions than is heard within the private realm. The power of the community to organize and act as a body to protect the common good is immensely strengthened by the availability of a successful neighborhood square at its heart.

Extremely valuable in fostering civic engagement is a civic facility opening off the square that can be used by community groups for public meetings, neighborhood societies and theatrical performances. A theater audience at intermission will mill around in the square discussing the production, and after the show, will repair to a wine bar or restaurant for supper or a nightcap. Attendees at a community meeting may eat at restaurants on the square before or after an event to prepare their contributions to the discussion, and to discuss the meeting’s outcomes.

The great diversity of users and the varied viewpoints and opinions that come together on the square, combined with the presence of a civic facility, mean that community issues can be discussed and vehemently debated on the square.

Small booths and tables often appear, offering information on local ecological issues, chronic illness self-help groups, gardening advice, climate change strategies, or disaster preparedness.

During city elections, information on the various candidates may be available. Candidates themselves will be seen in the square and may speak at debates in the adjacent civic meeting room.

Encouraging children to play a role in the community, the local primary school might give a concert or performance, or an elementary class might demonstrate their eco-friendly innovations and inventions on the square.

Through the social life on their neighborhood square, a community becomes empowered to maintain their special neighborhood character, their identity and quality of life, and to take action as a body to protect social and ecological sustainability.

Turn to Part 8: Joy