Neighborhoods and bottom up, horizontal governments, to address our global issues

Howard Goldson | January 14, 2020 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Image courtesy of the author

Most of the important issues addressed in the MAHB blog series are global in nature. Terrorism, population growth, spoilation of earth and its atmosphere etc. Such issues are incapable of being meaningfully addressed by national government (James Tully, Arturo Escobar among others). How then to address them?

This question becomes increasingly daunting in a world where nations refuse to cooperate on the basis of sovereignty and where those same nations fail to meet the needs of their populations; ignore the knowledge and voice of their citizens; thus failing to discover the issues that need to be addressed and to understand solutions that resonate with their people.

Our new century has made the many differences of particular societies glaringly present. Many now recognize that there are multiple social responses to the problems of human societal life. It has become increasingly clear that there is no one size fits all and that we see what Arturo Escobar calls a pluralverse. This accepted understanding however has not changed the quest of the global north that the entire world conform to its model of socialization, economics and politics. Indeed, it is this very insistence of the global north that has contributed to the creation of the global problems we face today.

This new view of the world questions the old assumptions that constitutions and top/down, vertical national government could meet the needs and desires of a nation’s, only recently recognized, diverse and plural population. This is more true for transnational issues that are not constrained by national borders.

I argue that only a bottom/up, horizontal form of governance that accommodates societal differences and negotiates, on equal footing, areas of conflict and areas that demand cooperation can meet the sustainability demands of our present day. 

Using cities as a model I suggest we begin the governmental structure with neighborhoods, intimate by nature and whose residents often share particular social norms. A number of neighborhoods then are joined together based upon commonality to form the next level of government that I call a community. Lastly, I combine a group of communities into a yet larger political construct that I call a city. 

I create a similar set of structures for rural populations using the same nomenclature. In rural areas each category will encompass a greater geography due to less dense population.

In my scheme neighborhoods identify issues that they believe need legislation. These issues may be neighborhood specific or affect other neighborhoods as well. Indeed an issue may be global. Such issue is communicated to the community of which the neighborhood is a part. Upon receipt, the community forwards the request for legislation to all the other neighborhoods in the city and also to its city. In its communication to the neighborhoods, it asks if there is interest in the joining in the request and also asks other neighborhoods to express any desires or concerns with respect to the issue that need further attention. The community on a continuing basis transmits the request and all comments it receives to a legislative body that is created and maintained by its city. 

All the above communications utilize one of two helixes, one for urban areas and the other for rural areas. However the helixes are intertwined, like the human genome, with the result that there are many nodes shared world-wide. The communications of the communities and the cities are available throughout the globe. The idea is to create the possibility for a world-wide response to an issue and plural resolutions of common issues.

The city legislative body, after considering all comments and resolving all conflicts either decides that no legislation is desirable or drafts an appropriate law. The proposed law is then sent to all neighborhoods whose populations are intended to be subject to the law for approval by a super-majority. Such approval must also contain approval of all minorities.

It is anticipated that global issues, thus horizontally communicated, will stimulate all or most of the world’s cities to adopt some legislation to address the major issues humanity is facing, although solutions may differ to reflect difference. It is also anticipated conflicts between cities will have been eliminated by negotiation between the many communities and city drafting boards who participated in the discussions along the helixes.

I appreciate that the directions bottom/up and horizontal are oppositions. I chose to relate the terms with care. I intend to raise the thought that governance should be a heterarchy meaning without any one dominating dimension.

In this blog I have only set forth an outline of my ideas. I have written a paper that sets forth my ideas in greater detail. If you are interested in reading my paper contact me. Howard Goldson,

The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedIn
The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.
  • Howard Goldson

    I agree with John that social change requires individuals to ponder their role in the concepts of both community and humanity. However, it would be error to stop the process there. We are social beings and consequently must examine ourselves in. relational terms.
    I do not salute each person seeing one way as best. We are fundamentally unique (Hannah Arendt) and therefore not congruent. That does not mean we cannot live together in harmony.

  • John Weyland

    thank you howard. bottom up is necessary, and i’d say that it needs to start at the level of the individual, where all the difference resides, to build trust and morality. and then there is process.

    in 2014 MAHB held an essay competition “How Should Humanity Steer the Future”. there were 155 essays. i preferred Charles St. Pierre and Mark Avrum Gubrud yet neither made the top 16?
    however, my main point is that i would have preferred to read one essay that was agreed to by 155 authors. i suspect the same would be true today.
    i agree with Roberto Paura who at the time suggested that we use a Wiki to collect and refine our manifesto and policies. post and reply just can’t get us there.
    i’m sure we can find enough volunteers to do a good job.
    yours sincerley, john

  • Howard Goldson

    Thank everyone for all the comments and criticisms. All were and are relevent and important. In my paper I stress the opinion there is no one perfect way towards good governance. I strongly believe two things. First, the power of government must be local and second that governmental solutions must also be local and diverse in order to reflect differences among populations. I think that such governance can only arise our of constant dialogue and that such dialogue will eventually change the status quo significantly. Isn’t that what MAHB is all about?

  • In the 1970s I and a small group organized a neighborhood assembly and published a newspaper, The Township, dedicated to neighborhood government and based on Jeffersonian principles. The liberals and left opposed vigorously anything that would empower neighborhoods, using the argument that such political decentraliztion would give rise to
    racial discrimination and neo fascist populism. This is today the same argument used by the European left to squash genuine pride in a nation’s culture and traditions. It is a cynical move of course and self serving. It actually is a move to undermine direct democracy. So it will go nowhere. I argue that the nation- state offers the best protection against discrimination and prejudice because it recognizes the rights of INDIVIDUALS, not members of a group. Within the nation- state it is important to not just insure equal protection under the law but to allow maximum freedom. Within this municipalities could safety delegate more powers, particularly those of zoning and taxation, to neighborhoods. But they will not do so. Only the exigencies of climate change and diminishing resources will force localities to become more self reliant. Decentralization of the nation-state economy is vital and urgent because small communities will be more resilient to climate chaos and environmental disasters. But until governments acknowledge this we will be at the mercy of bureaucrats and corporations.

  • Clive Lord

    Nothing wrong with anything in this blog, but an unconditional basic income (UBI) coupled with eco-taxes would help no end to lubricate it

  • Mike Hanauer

    The USA is now at over double a sustainable population, even for a European lifestyle, and growing by over 2 million per year, mostly due to immigration.

    The Census Bureau says we are likely to add 70 million to our US overpopulation by 2060, virtually all due to immigration, if we don’t fix our system. That means another 50 million acres going to roads and development — more than our combined national parks. This must stop or we destroy our country and our devastating ecological footprint will further destroy the world.

    I believe calling something a global problem is a copout. There is no global government to implement global solutions. What exists, indeed all that can work, is for nations and jurisdictions to do the right thing directly, AND set the example for others to follow to solve their problems.
    “Think Globally, Act Locally, Set the Example” is all that works in today’s world.

    Help people where they are. Yes. Encourage them to change things where they are, Yes. Encourage them to come here. No, that is counterproductive in so many ways.

    Did we just call dirty air a global problem? No! We passed the clean air act. What works is “Think globally, act locally, and set the example”.

    I think both compassion and reason are necessary to solve problems, keeping the longer term in mind. Could we both be right?

  • Charles Bensinger

    The concept of a bottom up approach to social/economic problems is sensible, timely, appropriate and truly necessary. The key factor here is “government that accommodates.” This is where it breaks down. I’ve witnessed time and time again how a state governments will blatantly ignore a referendum generated by local communities, cities and an entire state’s population, sometimes by wide margins, because they conflict with key legislator’s financial backers or particular political ideology. They simply ignore the will of the people, no matter how many people participated in the referendum. (Unless it a mandatory Proposition situation like in California) The problem is: political power is disproportionately concentrated in political governing parties — and too often the attitude is “party over community”.

  • Dana Visalli

    Thanks Howard, for this sensible and responsible concept of governance. My bumper sticker expresses one problem with the idea, that would be even with local governance to still feeling somehow beholden to an invisible and distant ‘authority.’ It reads ‘Think Locally, Bomb Globally.’ Which of course is what our so-called country does.