Community Management And New Urban Culture


People have taken a more active role as creators of the urban culture in recent years. The urban space is no longer seen as something that only public sector and private companies are allowed to use. Events and projects are not just something that professionals do for the public. In the new urban culture, you don’t always have to have a lot of money and the help of a big organisation to create something meaningful. The new urban culture is open-minded, quick, created with a minimal budget – and done by the community itself.

There are many reasons to why this new urban culture was born, but one of the most important ones are the development of communication technologies and the spread of social media – especially Facebook. Before, it took a lot of work and many meetings to get people organized, but nowadays, thanks to social media, you can have people who didn’t know each other from before, organising big projects very quickly and easily.

Facebook has made spreading the word and marketing the projects much easier. Before, this required handing out flyers and posters, but nowadays new phenomena and events can be advertised through social media, without any costs, to much larger crowds.

A good example of this new urban culture is Cleaning Day, which was organised to make the recycling and selling of old stuff as easy as possible. The idea is, that during that one day, people don’t have to travel long ways to flea markets to get rid of their old stuff, but that they can sell them in the streets, in the parks, in the yards and at their homes. Cleaning Day got started on Facebook, where it also quickly spread. A bunch of volunteers started to work, and so this event was first held in May 2012 – only a few months after the initial idea.

The event, organised twice a year, has become more and more popular over the years and has had participants in over 100 cities all over Finland – and also in some other countries like Japan and Russia. To organise this event, and other social innovations and events, an organisation called Yhteismaa (Common Ground in English) was created. The event at first, however, was created without any organisation, or even an idea of one.

This article examines the new, communal urban culture in theory and in practice through the case example of the Cleaning Day. It seeks to answer the following questions: How have the ways of communicating changed and how does this change affect communal action? What is the communal creative process like and what does it require from the community manager? What makes people participate and what kind of roles do they play?



The New Dynamics Of Communication and Communal Culture

The new urban culture is strongly connected to the enormous change that has happened in the media in recent years. Traditionally, communication has been divided into two categories: the one-way, public mass communication (TV, radio, newspapers) and the private communication of individual people (conversations, phone calls, letters). The communication channels were either one-way or two-ways and relatively controlled. A person could be sure that their message remained relatively the same.

The internet and the social media have changed the situation in a substantial way. Private communication can now be public to the whole world, and people themselves have gotten a much more active role in the field of mass communication. The process of communication can now involve many different people. The channels of communication and the content is no longer controlled by just the media professionals, as the previously passive receivers have now started to create content and share information. Communication has also become much quicker: the internet and smartphones allow people to broadcast their message at all times and from any location.

Because of the media convergence, people spend less time as just the consumers of the traditional media, which leaves them more time to engage in social and productive activities. The media researcher Clay Shirky has named this time saved from being the receiver as cognitive surplus. Thanks to the new ways of communication, this surplus can now be used into active and communal actions.

The development of the internet and social media has created many important cultural changes. Many hierarchical structures are questioned, and participation and openness are becoming more and more important values. Whereas last century was the century of hyper-consumption, is the current century the century for communal consumption.

It’s not only the changes in media, but also the growing awareness of the environmental issues and the financial crisis and its consequences that direct people into working together. As the world is becoming more and more global, the meaning of locality has increased. At the same time the cities are built to be more dense, which makes collecting the critical mass needed for action much easier.

The new collective culture is much more free and that way, much more approachable. When it’s easy for people to face one another, it is also easier for them to get organized, which decreases the need for different official organisations. Instead of organizations creating everything themselves, they are now more and more co-creating, enabling and creating the possibilities for the communal action.


Cleaning Day is a good example of this new, participatory urban culture. It was created very spontaneously based on a Facebook conversation, without any official instance, and it was created by enthusiastic people, all of whom didn’t even know each other from before. Even though in the end it was a very small group of people who actively took part in the making of the event, the planning and the creation of the event was very open. Anyone could have an impact on how Cleaning Day would turn out.

The same process is still going on: even though Yhteismaa organises the event, the actual makers of Cleaning Day are the people participating in it. The people and their actions also affect how the event will develop in the future. What’s left for Yhteismaa is facilitating the event: hosting the website, negotiating with the officials, finding partners, marketing, reporting about the event and guiding and helping the people.

This article examines the new, communal urban culture in theory and in practice through the case example of the Cleaning Day. It will seek to answer the following questions: How have the ways of communicating changed and how does this change affect communal action? What is the communal creative process like and what does it require from the community manager? What makes people participate and what kind of roles do they play?


Communal Creative Process

In the traditional hierarchical structure the power is often concentrated in the hands of only a few people. This shouldn’t have to be the case. Instead of just a small group of people developing and defining the actions of a community, anyone should be able to take part in it. This way the community can reach its full potential and many different points of view can be accounted for.

This phenomenon that I call communal creative process is characterised by it progressing in waves: sometimes there are a large number of people taking part in the innovating and the possibilities can seem endless, but in order for the ideas to become reality, the core group has set some kind of boundaries and  develop procedures for the community. Within these guidelines the members can then continue to create new ideas and move the entire community in a new direction.

By putting their resources together the community can achieve much more than its members individually. For the community to reach its full potential, the activities have to be motivating and open, and the members have to have a real chance to make a change. The communal creative process is more difficult to manage than a process made individually or in a small group, and it requires the participants to have the ability to deal with insecurity.


With Cleaning Day all the members of the community were involved from the beginning to plan the concept. Because we were creating something completely new, there were many points of views presented which were all taken into consideration. At some point the concept had to be defined more precisely, so that the members would have a better idea about their roles. After this definition made by the core group and the entire community, all members were again engaged in the planning and in the action – within the new boundaries.

The same has been repeated in the short history of Cleaning Day many times. The initial negotiations with the Public Works Department of the City of Helsinki were held by the people who started the event. After that the people have followed the instructions from these negotiations to the best of their abilities and spread the information about them to other cities, as well. Cleaning Day is constantly changing: people have given it different forms in different parts of the country, the logos which were given without any restrictions have been transformed into different local versions. The event has sparked completely new, local projects, such as fund-raising for the Helsinki Mother and Child Home Association.

Why Do People Participate?

Reasons for people to get involved in communal activities are diverse. One might find it most important to improve the local environment, another might want to help out other people, while another one might just want to do something meaningful. Some people might want to get new friends, to earn money or to improve their CV. The situation is affected by multiple factors, whose meaning differs between people and situations:


Rewards. It’s important that the rewards from being a member of a group are greater than the time and effort put into it. What these rewards are, can be very broadly understood. They can be communal, such as helping out neighbours, making something meaningful or improving livability. Or they can be individual, such as feeling good, gaining financial profit or having fun. Communal activities are also often defined by their existence as a part of something bigger.

Cleaning Day is often very rewarding. The sellers can easily get rid of their unwanted stuff and make some money at the same time. The buyers can get the stuff that they were after either very cheap or even free of charge. Cleaning Day also gives people an opportunity to spend time with your friends and neighbours. The effort people have to make is very little. On the other hand, a bad weather or the lack of participants can make the effort much greater than the rewards and the interest in the event is threatened.


Relationships. Relationships are also a big reason for working together. The existence of the group makes it possible to do something that you couldn’t do alone. Getting new friends and gaining power through getting new connections can encourage people to work together.

Anyone can sell their stuff at anytime, but in order for the stuff really to get sold, you have to get the critical mass to join in – and the community of Cleaning Day does just that. On the day of the event the sellers often gather to specific places not just to attract more buyers but also to spend time together.



Roles. People want to be a part of a group where their role and their contribution is appreciated. It is important that every member of the community has their own role that they find pleasing. It’s important to trust people and that they can work in a way that’s most natural to them. Forcing people to certain roles can cause people to detach themselves from the community. It’s good to have different roles and changing from one role to another should be made easy.

Most of the participants of Cleaning Day take part in the event voluntarily in the roles of a buyer or a seller. The sellers themselves decide where and when they sell their stuff, as long as they follow the general guidelines. They are free to use the graphic material of Cleaning Day, which anyone can use in the way they want. Some of the participants have also gotten into attracting other people to join Cleaning Day, founded their own Facebook pages to negotiated the permissions with the city. This they are also actively encouraged to do by Yhteismaa. Others organise a flea market within their own apartment building together with their neighbors. The activities are not limited by Yhteismaa, which is why Cleaning Day has gotten many forms throughout Finland and other countries.


Results. Results are the best way to make people participate. In case the action doesn’t lead to anything, the members of the community lose their interest very quickly. This is why it is very important to celebrate even the smallest of results.

At Cleaning Day people get very concrete results by selling or buying stuff. In the broad sense the spreading of the event and the prices it receives are worth celebrating.


Appreciation. People often experience that they don’t see their own values reflected at their workplace or in their neighborhoods. Through communal action it is possible to get the appreciation of people around you.

The participants of Cleaning Day are brought together by their interest in recycling and flea markets. When people all throughout the country gather together to buy and sell old stuff, the participant’s values are supported by a large crowd, even if the people in their everyday lives don’t share these values. Cleaning Day is contributing to making these values more largely accepted and desirable.


Recognition. People want to be recognized for their work. In case their role is not valued or they feel that they’re doing their work in vain, they often tend to leave the community.

At Cleaning Day the people who work for the event can be recognized for their work by the other members of the community but also through the interest of the media. In case people don’t get excited for the event or even dislike it, the persons trying to promote the event are in danger of losing their enthusiasm.


The Roles in Communal Action

To find a role for every member of the community is vital for the whole community. What these roles are and how you do them depends a lot on the situation. Based on my own experiences I have divided the roles of communal action into five groups: community manager, active actor, occasional actor, active participant, occasional participant.

The borders of the groups aren’t always so clear, and people can move quite flexibly from one group to another. What’s important for the communal action of the group is that new participants are from the start given an important role in the community which means that they don’t have to start from a certain hierarchical position. The only group that is difficult to join is the group of the community managers. In the following the groups are described in general terms as well as through their relation to Cleaning Day.


1. Community manager

Even though communal action is characterized by the absence of traditional hierarchy and a high level of democracy and openness, there community always has to have one or more community manager amongst them. They work as mediators between the groups, develop the activity and look after the whole community. They are deeply committed to the community, have the strings in their hands and guide others, and by doing so create different possibilities for the members.

At Cleaning Day: the founders of the event and Yhteismaa. Their job is to decide on the general guidelines of the event based on the feedback received from others, to facilitate the making of the event and to guide and to help other members of the community.


2. Active actor

The people actively involved in the community’s activities who are ready to make a lot of effort for the community. They unpromptedly participate in defining the guidelines of the activities, decision-making and activity. They are strongly committed, and ready to invest a lot of time and effort for the community. The group of active actors can include people working in very different roles. The common feature is however that they have power in defining the future direction of the community. Active actors can also create completely new activities in the community and around it.

At Cleaning Day: people actively contributing to the event in different neighbourhoods, districts and cities. This means hosting a Facebook page or -event, contacting the city officials or one’s neighbours, sharing information about the event and trying to attract new participants to join the event. The creators of the website of Cleaning Day can also be included in this group.


3. Occasional actor

This group includes those who are ready to work for the community and make some effort for it, but only on an occasion. They enjoy taking part in communal action but need clear tasks and procedures. Occasional actors contribute to developing the activity to some extent, often however only when you specifically ask for their opinion.

At Cleaning Day: the sellers, the people marketing the event in their own groups of people, the supervisors of the recycling points.


4. Active participant

The overwhelming majority of people belong in the group of active and occasional participants. The active participants often feel close to the community and want to take part in its actions, but are willing to sacrifice very little time and effort for it. They can also participate in the developing of the activity to some extent.

At Cleaning Day: the buyers regularly attending the event and the recyclers. They often advertise the event by sharing it to their friends.


5. Occasional participant

This group takes part in the activity of the group occasionally or by chance. The occasional participants are not ready to make effort for the community. Their commitment to the community is weak and momentary, and the reasons are largely individualistic.

At Cleaning Day: the people who by chance or through the active participants end up buying stuff


How Do You Take Care of the Community?

siivouspäivä24.3.kuvaajaJaakkoBFor the community to remain vibrant, you have to take care of it, and in this task, the community manager has a big role. Respecting the members and giving them the opportunity to participate and influence the action is vital to the whole community’s well-being. You have to allow differing opinions and in fact encourage them, because they challenge old patterns. There is no one right way of doing things, because people see the meaning and the functions of the community in different ways. People belong in the community for different reasons and work in it in different roles.

Even though the community needs someone to guide it, the role of the community manager shouldn’t be dominating but enabling. You have to keep the power distance as small as possible and keep the communication relaxed. It’s important that the community manager can show signs of insecurity, where others feel that they are actually needed and heard. At the same time the community manager needs to have a sense of leadership, confidence and safety – they have to be the one who the members can rely on.

The community manager has to be present in the community and listen to the members, in good times and especially bad. They have to react to things quickly, so that people don’t lose their interest in the community. On the other hand, one should avoid going to the extremes here: making decisions too quickly can lead to members not feeling validated or powerful enough.

In a traditional organisation there’s often a lot of knowledge and information to which only a small group has access. What’s important for communal action is however the open sharing of the information. While you can’t necessarily share all information with the whole community, you should still aim for the activity to be as open as possible. When the information is easily available, the members trust and value the activity more. Also the need for help is much easier to recognize in this situation and thus the participation is easier.

There is no community whose members will stay the same forever. Especially in a free-form community people often work only for short periods of time or very irregularly. In order for the community to be created and remain vibrant, it has to constantly get new members. Joining the community should, for this reason, be easy at any stage.

The structures and the procedures of the community become stabilize with time, which makes the roles more clear. This can make participation easier, but joining the community more difficult – at least if you want to do something else than just participate. The activity demand some kind of framework to achieve concrete results, and balancing between these two extremes – the informality and the clear structures – is not always easy.


Closing words

Communal action goes often in waves. It begins often very quickly but when it reaches the crest of wave it can also disappear very quickly. This is often the case because the community managers or the actors get tired of the workload put upon them, and new people are not taking their place. When the novelty is over, the structures stabilised, and the activity demanding but routine, one can feel that the benefits of being a part of the community are too small compared to the effort you have to make.

In case the community is well taken care of, participation is easy with even a short amount of effort and the rewards are achievable, can the community grow and continue on for a long time. However it’s not always possible. And it shouldn’t be. When one wave breaks, the next one is being created somewhere else.


The article was originally published in Finnish as a part of a larger project called Vyyhti, aimed at promoting networks, entrepreneurialism and collaboration in creative industries.

Read the original article (in Finnish)