REVIEW: Cormac Russell and John McKnight — The Connected Community (BOOK)
“As the authors of this book, we continue to believe in a capacity oriented, community-driven approach to most social and economic challenges and possibilities, because of everything both of us have seen in our work across thousands of neighborhoods around the world, not to mention our review of the historical record,” write Cormac Russell and John McKnight. Their new book is titled The Connected Community: Discovering the Health, Wealth, and Power of Neighborhoods. “Both our experience and history confirm that significant community development takes place only when local community people are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort.
That is why Connected Communities are never built from the outside in. Having said that, we firmly believe the state has a vital role to play in supporting and supplementing community wellbeing…The harsh reality is that for most neighborhoods around the world, especially where inequity and structural racism are felt deepest, collective health, wealth, and power must start from within the community. We argue that this is true for most modern neighborhoods if they are to enjoy satisfying and sustainable outcomes. Put simply, there is work for communities to do, and if they do not do it, it will not get done. There simply is no proxy for community.”
Any book worth its ideological salt makes its topic, however complex, feel narratively simple. Russell and McKnight succeed on this front with flying colors. They’re relentlessly thorough, and wholly revealing about the issue’s multidimensionality. Yet they do it in deliberately simple word choice, so the widest possible audience can understand. On issues like this, in the public’s distinct interest, that’s not only effective, but highly commendable. “In a world facing so many global crises, it is understandable to have doubts as to the power of local people to influence climate change, rising unemployment, economic challenges, and the ever-growing issues of loneliness and poor health.
The dominant story is that local efforts don’t amount to much; real change happens in faraway boardrooms, not around kitchen tables and local shorelines. The future of our local economies and built and natural environments relies on what happens on Wall Street; not on our street. Our welfare is in the “invisible hand” of the marketplace, not in the hands of hardworking local businesses and the neighbors who act as patrons to the local economy by choosing to ‘buy local’,” write Russell and McKnight. “The same people who dismiss local economics also sneer at those engaged in the sharing economy, where, for example, car sharing in neighborhoods is chosen over car ownership.
In this book we argue that the story that topdown big institutions are our best hope is half baked; that story is written on a promissory note that has bounced over and over again. It is a story that has run its course, and in doing so has run us and our planet into a brick wall.”
They add, “But there is hope. Take climate change, for example. Much of the energy we use to light our communities, run our cars, heat our homes, and power our local businesses comes from giant, distant, toxic, and nonrenewable sources of energy. The very real alternative is for local place-based communities to plan, finance, and produce their own local, renewable energy that is reliable, safe, and sustainable, and to do it in ways that bring a net financial return back to the local economy.”