Recovering the Lost Art of Citizenship

The locus of civic engagement is where we live in our local neighbourhoods. 

A book review by Walter Mulkewich:

In the past year, the Shape Burlington process started a community wide conversation about civic engagement in Burlington.  Shape Burlington’s successor organization, Shaping Burlington, is continuing that conversation by promoting the eight recommendations of the Shape Report, and now has presented to City Council its model for an “Engagement Charter”.

With its clarion call, “City Hall must reinvent itself”, the Shape Burlington Report emphasized how citizens can more effectively be engaged with City Hall and its decision-making processes. 

But, effective civic engagement is not only about City Hall reinventing itself; it is about local residents rediscovering the lost art of citizenship.  That is essentially the topic of the recently published book, Local Motion

This book is about civic engagement in Toronto, but its ideas and examples cross municipal borders – certainly to other GTA cities such as Burlington.

The setting for the book may be the swamp of anger, resentment, and diminished expectations that characterized the recent Toronto municipal election – an election that was fought on clichés of gravy trains and value for taxpayers rather than lifting up a vision for better urban and civic life. 

Local Motion is about how ordinary citizens who are passionate, stubborn, and committed are already the basis of real change in Toronto.  The sixth of the uTOpia series by Coach House Press about great ideas for Toronto, Local Motion examines how citizens can take their own initiatives and become involved in building a better city.

The fourteen essays by on-the-ground journalists explore what makes Toronto tick and stall.  They give examples of citizens who make things happen, how citizens can be involved in the budget process, how the voting system can be reformed, how citizens can navigate local bureaucracy, and get the attention of the media.   An interesting essay is how citizens can use music to further civic engagement.  The essays are both hopeful and inspiring.

The introduction of the book sets out a fundamental understanding of civic engagement: “What your city can do for you is important; the flip side, what you can do for your city, is the other half of the deal.  It needn’t be as extravagant as building a hospital:  You can organize a neighbourhood picnic, fight the demolition of a beautiful building, run for City Council, even just pick up some litter.  We can’t wait for the politicians to do these things for us.  The way to make our city better is to do it ourselves.”

Burlington has had a strong history of citizens making a difference in many areas of civic life.  We can rediscover that history, build on the Shape report, and move on to rediscover the lost art of citizenship. 

In beginning and end, the locus of civic engagement is not in the rooms and corridors of city hall, but where we live in our local neighbourhoods. 

Local Motion is an interesting read.

Local Motion, The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto,
Dave Meslin, Christina Palassio, & Alana Wilcox,
Coach House Press
, 2010
221 pages

Walter Mulkewich, a former Mayor of Burlington, former Co-Chair of the former Shape Burlington Committee, and a member of Shaping Burlington.  

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

1 comment to Recovering the Lost Art of Citizenship