Skip to main content
Danish Centre for Rural Research - CLF

Strategic village planning from the bottom up

New book explores how community activism revitalizes local communities. The book is for anyone working with strategic village planning.

By Annette Aagaard Thuesen, , 5/2/2023

English planning researcher Patsy Healey has written the book Caring for Place. Community Development in Rural England.

The book is relevant for those working in strategic village planning, as it explores how and to what extent community activism can help revitalize local life and influence the way more formal governance actors act.

Healey writes from a planning perspective that emphasizes that the future is something we create together, and it is, among other things, her eye for and description of different development narratives that makes the book relevant for planners.

Civil activism

Healey wrote the book to help develop more productive and progressive relationships between government and civil society and to show the value of civil activism in creating places and framing the future. She does this through three different examples of civil activism in the small rural town Wooler, located in the Glendale area.

The three cases in the book

The first example is the Glendale Gateway Trust, a charitable community development organization that works on revitalization, housing development and meeting places. The second example is Co-Ordinating for Age/Glendale Connect, a provider of social activities. The third example relates to the creation of the Wooler Neighbourhood Plan, a local response to an opportunity created by national legislation for local participation in urban development. Glendale Community Trust and the Wooler Neighbourhood Plan are far more formal and professionalized than Glendale Connect, but together they complement each other in community development.

The book is written in an English context, where villages and
and smaller towns are generally much larger than in Denmark, and in a context
where villages and small towns can feel overlooked in a myriad of
authorities of different kinds. Similar examples of civil activism
with different degrees of formalization and feelings of being overlooked can
can be found in a Danish context.

As Healey writes:

- "Buried somewhere in a tangle of governance relations, our area is therefore not recognized as a strong focal point for governance in a formal sense. We have to shout loudly to be heard.

After the Danish local government reform, it is not unusual for a municipality to have far more than 20 and in some cases up to 40 village communities, that have to fight for the municipality's favor without having any real formal position in the governance hierarchy in Denmark. Despite being outside the governance system, Healey considers this kind of activism to be political as it relates to raising issues and creating public assets and services of public value.

Development from the bottom up

Healey finds it problematic that planning by outsiders for rural areas and small towns fails to capture the everyday life lived in a particular geography. In this context, she also mentions the size of the areas, writing that people find it easier to relate to their local community than a larger and less everyday life-related area. And she reveals what is the opportunity space for bottom-up development, where communities emerge as subjects acting for themselves.

All in all, the book is a must read for planners working with strategic village planning and rural coordinators working to develop and support capacity at the intersection of communities and government

Annette Aagaard Thuesen, Rural researcher

Her approach is relational and with an eye for fluid structures, where people network across boundaries - even with actors outside the
the local area. One of Healey's contributions is her articulation of a rejection of the view of local communities as closed systems. The inhabitants of
communities have different attachments inside and outside the community and different and different norms and practices. Healey thus articulates that that even in rural areas it can be an ongoing challenge to create a common voice or project.

Despite these fluid structures, she identifies in her own small rural-urban community, she identifies a civil capacity, about which she writes:

- ...our civic capacity [has] to be found in a culture where we take initiative and work together, and is sustained by the willingness of some people to work across potential fractures and boundaries and to reach out to the potentially isolated. It is built more on horizontal rather than vertical connections and on fluid alliances rather than a formally organized structure.

Striving towards shared solutions

Another of Healey's contributions in the book is the description of a number of contemporary narratives in and about communities. Such narratives are important to keep in mind for planners working on the place development of viable communities through strategic village planning.

The five stories

1. A story about an old market town from a time when the town was an independent center of growth and prosperity based on agriculture.

2. A story of a socially sustainable and independent local community with an ideal of universal support/care.

3. A story of the remnants of rural England with a focus on a specific landscape and historical heritage.

4. A story of a vibrant, active and caring community in a beautiful place.

5. A story of entrepreneurship and innovative activism, trying to shape the future through more corporate and professionalized initiatives.

Healey puts into words how the stories coexist, what they contain and what futures they encode. The degree to which the different stories dominate has an impact on what can be set in motion in communities and how development processes can be initiated.

Healey identifies five stories in her own community. Healey's point in presenting the five stories is to create understanding and progressive inclusive development.

However, she is well aware that bringing people together around shared stories is not an easy task, as the stories are rooted in people's identities. Her intention with the book, however, is to highlight that we should strive for shared solutions involving local capacity, as this will mean better rooted and more sustainable solutions - also for the authorities.

Healey writes in a structured, sympathetic, inclusive way, bringing theory and practice together through carefully selected examples from her own community.

All in all, the book is a must read for planners working on strategic village planning and rural coordinators working to develop and support capacity at the intersection of community and government.

This is a Danish version of a review published in Sociologia Ruralis. Read the English version here.

About the book

The book Caring for place - Community development in rural England is written by Patsy Healey and published by Routledge.

Find the book here

Strategic village planning in Denmark

At the Danish Centre for Rural Research, PhD student Kasper Friis Bavnbæk is identifying and analyzing the experiences to date with strategic village planning and citizen involvement in Danish municipalities.

Read about the project

Editing was completed: 02.05.2023