There is no doubt in my mind that community based and bottom up approaches to enterprise support like those pioneered by Ernesto Sirolli and subsequently developed and transformed by projects like Bizz Fizz and on a much more modest scale Elsie, provide significant clues to the emergence of truly sustainable and enterprising communities.
What happens when you take a £3m violin, a virtuoso violinist and a platform for them to perform?
Well, the answer is – it all depends. If the platform is the mass transport system of Washington DC or the Concert Hall with tickets going at $100 and more.
At least two lessons to reflect on here:
The first is pretty prosaic and pertains to that classic of the 4 Ps of Marketing: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. You have to get all four right. A brilliant product is nowhere near enough.
The second is more metaphysical and probably best captured by Weingarten:
“If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that — then what else are we missing?”
Buildings are expensive things to run. And these days fewer of us need them as places to go to work. Or at least we don’t need to go to just one of them. And we don’t need to pay rent.
Yet there is a vibrant industry driven by developers, politicians and consultants bringing semi derelict buildings, especially in poor communities where regeneration cash is easier to come by, back to life as managed workspaces, incubators and start-up hubs.
When money is being sought to kick these schemes off the business plans always look achievable. This occupancy rate at these rates per square foot, taking a contribution from the community cafe, with fixed costs of x and variable costs of y, within z months we will be generating a profit and re-investing in the local community. Money is raised work is done and with hard work and good luck the building is eventually opened.
Except it is rare that members sign up as expected, rents are hard to collect in an economy where most cities have millions of square feet of empty office space. Fixed costs are usually higher than projected as budgets over-run and interest repayments are higher than anticipated. That break-even point always seems to be ‘just around the corner’ even as social objectives for the building get thrown out the window in pursuit of revenue.
So lots of money, usually intended to help people living in deprived communities, goes into the pockets of consultants and developers and into interest re-payments on loans and the community gets a building that continues to swallow up revenue as the various parties who supported its development and staked their reputation on its success do all that they can to keep it open. Including setting rents that frequently act as major barrier to access to local people.
Of course it doesn’t always work out like this.
Some communities can stand the overheads associated with such developments. Typically they are vibrant, affluent and well-educated, with disposable income to invest in ‘community share issues’ with no real need to generate a financial return. Hardly the intended beneficiaries of regeneration cash. But even in these communities, building based regeneration is an expensive, risky and demanding endeavour requiring a lot of know-how and goodwill to keep the show on the road.
If we are restoring a building for its own merit then that is fair enough.
But, there is a world of difference between a pretty building and a building that is doing a beautiful job.
If there were any single person in overall charge of the task of supplying shirts to the world’s population, the complexity of the challenge facing them would call to mind the predicament of a general fighting a war. One can imagine an incoming president of the United States being presented with a report entitled The World’s Need for Shirts, trembling at its contents, and immediately setting up a Presidential Task Force. The United Nations would hold conferences on ways to enhance international cooperation in shirt-making, and there would be arguments over whether the United Nations or the United States should take the lead. The pope and the archbishop of Canterbury would issue calls for everyone to pull together to ensure that the world’s needs were met, and committees of bishops and pop stars would periodically remind us that a shirt on one’s back is a human right. The humanitarian organization Couturiers sans Frontières would airlift supplies to sartorially challenged regions of the world. Experts would be commissioned to examine the wisdom of making collars in Brazil for shirts made in Malaysia for re-export to Brazil. More experts would suggest that by cutting back on the wasteful variety of frivolous styles it would be possible to make dramatic improvements in the total number of shirts produced. Factories which had achieved the most spectacular increases in their output would be given awards, and their directors would be interviewed respectfully on television. Activist groups would protest that “shirts” is a sexist and racist category and propose gender- and culture-neutral terms covering blouses, tunics, cholis, kurtas, barongs, and the myriad other items that the world’s citizens wear above the waist. The columns of newspapers would resound with arguments over priorities and needs. In the cacophony I wonder whether I would still have been able to buy my shirt.
Taken from: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Company-Strangers-Natural-History-Economic/dp/0691146462