I live in a small town. Here's how things work in my small town. Old people who have lived in the town for decades get together and pack out all the groups who decide upon and implement important local decisions. They then make decisions that suit themselves, based on their values, experience, biases and so forth. At least eighty percent on average of these decision makers are men. Young women from the community, that is, women who live, work (or not - there's a lot of poverty and an embarrassing lack of jobs in my small town), raise children in the town, are largely ignored. Most of the decision makers went to school together at the same time. They are cohorts of each other. An increasing proportion come from outside the town, mostly from England. They are often relatively affluent retired professionals or professionals who still have some skin in the game. Of course I can't blame retired or semi-retired people for wanting to make things better, even if I don't want to be helped across their road. I would imagine that there's a blend of wanting to put something back into the world, socialising with your cohorts and possibly seeing oneself as a kind of elder, someone whom the people in the community respect, nod to on the high street and talk about respectfully.
Then we have elected representatives from 'The Council' who frequently come in over the top and tell these groups what they can and cannot have. I practice this means that decisions are made outside of local 'democratic' structures and imposed upon the community. There would appear to be very little in the way of questioning, demanding or holding these officials to account, which is what I would expect from a democratic balance of power between community and 'public servant'. With one caveat on the holding to account - the people keep voting these officials back into office. I've yet to work out why this happens. It's like asking to be beaten up and robbed every few years.
The small groups (actually group because they're largely the same people) therefore slow things down or block things. By things I mean progressive ideas around local democracy, the arts, creative placemaking, cultural development or any events and proposals that might get in the way of their agendas, personal or collective, how they believe the town is or should be. The inertia and blocking are often be done unwittingly, though this doesn't lessen the blow. These behaviours are akin to a habit, more specifically a habitus (Pierre Bourdieu), the norms, values, attitudes, and behaviours of a particular social group or social class.
I read a lot about this kind of thing. This is a double edged sword. I would consider myself to be an anarchist with a small 'a'. In practical terms this means that in small communities like mine I want to see horizontal structures of governance as opposed to top-down models. To be fair to people I don't believe the movers and shakers in my small town realise that they don't actually live in a democracy, so how on earth should I expect that they'd be able to avoid blindly replicating the structures they see in 'big' government and swallowing the prevailing right-wing media narratives? It's all the more problematic in that I've observed excellent practice elsewhere, in fact not far at all from where I live, in a region with many similarities to my own. This excellent practice came about over more than a decade because of a very few individuals with a shared vision, which gradually evolved into a complex and nuanced approach to placemaking.
Living as I do in a socially conservative town, probably at the extreme end of the scale, I can't expect to easily find people who believe in social progress at the grass roots level of community development and who are prepared to take action. It doesn't help that I've just finished The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow. The book covers a lot of ground but the main thrust is that for thousands upon thousands of years human communities have experimented with social organisation, adopting this, rejecting that, going back and fore or moving on to something new. The idea that we are somehow at the end point of a qualitative evolutionary trajectory with respect to democracy, equality, representative decision-making and so forth is not backed up by the archeological and anthropological evidence.