The idea of local governance has gained much prominence but can elected local government be sustained in a role as network coordinator alone? To investigate this question this article focuses attention on four societal roles that local government systems undertake. They can support political identity, underwrite economic development, facilitate social welfare provision or act as a lifestyle co-ordinator through the practice of community governance. Tying our investigation to the embedded societal roles of local government in different systems opens up the opportunity for a global comparative perspective. It also supports an argument that a sustainable system of local government is likely to be one that is able to combine societal roles to a substantial degree and those systems left with community governance as their key societal function are particularly likely to find themselves pushed to the sidelines of governing arrangements.