The Deep Place approach to sustainable communities

Identifying the ’causes of the causes’ of poverty

Our Deep Place approach identifies the actual underlying ’cause of the causes’ of poverty as long-term economic inactivity that can exist at a communal level.   Reconnecting those communities and the individuals who live there with employment opportunities is the primary means for combating long-term poverty and social exclusion. This is especially true for young people where collective experiences have created a peer culture with very low aspiration and associated patterns of learning disengagement. The Deep Place approach creates employment potential by examining the locally specific sectors of the economy where growth is possible and where the lower level skills sets required allow recruitment of unskilled people with low levels of confidence and experience. We have termed this the ‘distributed economy’.

Borrowed from environmental analyses in the early-mid 2000s, the term ‘distributed economy’ has not enjoyed currency to date and we propose to advance its use in the context of a more spatially distributed model of the economy. Neoliberalism has generally been highly supportive of urbanisation, agglomeration and concentration of productive capacity. A focus on GDP and GVA as a measurement of economic wellbeing has favoured sectors of the economy that function best within this model, to the detriment of the foundational economy.  The foundational economy is not concentrated in high-tech parks, central business districts or business zones, but rather is distributed wherever the population that use the goods and services provided by the foundational economy actually live.

In the distributed economy approach, economic activity is seen as a more grid like structure in a similar way to utility distribution grids. This is in contrast to the conventional model based on centres of production and peripheral areas. The grid conception allows us to see the ways in which even the most disadvantaged communities are connected to the overall economy. This can focus us on the actions needed to improve economic performance in the lower performing areas of the grid. In our conference paper to the Regional Studies Association in Melbourne, Australia this month we give further details of our ‘distributed economy’ approach, which continues to develop the Deep Place approach, and we hope to publish a fuller article on this soon.

Deep Place in practice

  • We believe a focus on place can be a invaluable tool for making policy decisions, particularly in those policies seeking to address two significant and, we argue, interconnected social policy problems: how to overcome the inequitable distribution of wealth, and the unacceptable concentration of poverty in post-industrial areas; and, how to effectively adjust to a more environmentally sustainable economic model.
  • Since the publication of the Tredegar report we have strengthened our emphasis on the creation of what we call a ‘Coalition for Change’, which must be embedded in the development of each Deep Place Plan.
  • Our Deep Place approach is a methodological model, its application is place specific, meaning that we do not believe that any two places have the same identical challenges and opportunities. There is no standard fix.
  • In contrast to ‘trickle down’ theory we believe economic development must be more widely distributed to create employment at the local level. Concentrating resources in already economically performing areas does not lead to increased employment in marginalised communities through some kind of osmotic transfer of opportunity.

Dr Mark Lang is a socio-economic and public policy researcher in Wales who has, over the last 15 years, held a number of key roles in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

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