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Power to our neighborhoods! Residential associations put decision-making power where people live.

What's the best way to combat the apathy of today's citizens and improve their social life? For Baltimore lawyer George W. Liebmann, the answer is to expand the power of what he calls "sub-local" groups--the little clusters of people who live in the same neighborhood.

In his newly revised book Neighborhood Futures, Leibmann envisions a decentralized American government that funnels decision making and no-strings-attached grants and vouchers to newly strengthened community organizations. Liebmann wants to revive the body politic with the localism that was prevalent in colonial and revolutionary America.

Liebmann argues that federal bureaucratic solutions have alienated many citizens, and they now feel disconnected from a faceless and professionalized bureaucratic society. So he advocates empowering sublocal institutions like neighborhood associations, residential community and condominium associations, individual schools, and individuals (through vouchers) to give citizens participatory power in meeting their own local needs.

The growth of residential communities and condominium associations in recent years demonstrates people's desire to engage in sublocal communities that offer participatory opportunities. Today there are several hundred thousand residential community and condominium associations established by private deed covenants, governing about a quarter of the American population, writes Liebmann. He says this trend represents a "move away from big-lot development, in which each family had a large yard, to smaller individual lots supplemented by common areas for recreation and other activities."

Liebmann would like to see neighborhood associations given authority over such issues as local trash collection, neighborhood-wide planning, traffic-flow rules, beautification, and urban renewal. The associations would collect property tax revenue, a small percentage of federal income taxes, and user fees for common grounds such as parks and swimming pools.

To further the goal of local control, Liebmann supports the charter school movement in the United States, as well as various European models where individual schools are controlled by boards composed of parents, teachers, and a minority of administrators. Interestingly, the U.S. trend in school management has been toward consolidation of schools. In contrast, Europe has largely decentralized school control.

Neighborhood Futures argues that local entities can best provide "labor-intensive services such as day care, care of the elderly, primary education, street governance, and block redevelopment." But Liebmann acknowledges the need for mechanisms of oversight, whether to combat corruption or balance inequalities. Overlapping jurisdiction, in contrast to deregulation, "was Madison's solution to the problem of majority tyranny," he writes.

John Stuart Mill once noted that people in a commercial society will be "essentially mean and selfish," unless their public spirit is cultivated by extensive participation in government. For Liebmann, the federal bureaucratic solution cannot cultivate community unless it uses grants, vouchers, and other mechanisms to empower local and sublocal communities, schools, and neighborhoods.

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Source: Neighborhood Futures: Citizen Rights and Local Control by George W. Liebmann. Transaction Publishers. Revised edition 2004. 189 pages. Paperback. $29.95. Order from the Futurist Bookshelf, www.wfs.org/bkshelf.htm.
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Title Annotation:Government
Author:Mosson, Gregg
Publication:The Futurist
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:490
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