All posts from: September 2009
It’s time for environmentalism (low carbon, questioning of growth, biodiversity and energy reduction) to become part of the mainstream.
Environmentalism now needs to imbue and diffuse through every aspect of public policy. For this to happen we need the local government practices such as planning, urban design, and economic development to start working as if they were driven by environmentalists.
In short the art of place making has to be the new environmentalism.
Two recent bits of work has confirmed this thought.
Two weeks ago I was in Melbourne, invited by VicUrban, the Victoria State development agency. This physical led development company, as part of its business planning, had a four-day exploration of place making in all its guises.
With contributions from different speakers and a series of workshops, VicUrban moving from its physical development roots are now working toward a broader conceptualisation to its work, ensuring sustainability, resilience and low carbon.
What emerged over the four days was a growing recognition that these aspects are not just add ons to their work, but cornerstones, and the very substance to what development should be all about.
Whilst in Australia, I also met with government departments and smaller independent organisations. In this I was particularly enthused by Village Well, a place making consultancy who embrace environmentalism in a way which sees place making, in these times, as the offspring of environmentalism.
For Village Well, addressing environmental challenges is about making better places.
On return, I was part of a development panel to Humber Economic Partnerships and Hull and Humber Ports City Region, organised via the Northern Way. Whilst myself and fellow panel members were more explicitly focussed on economic development, I was struck by how attempts to reshape the Hull and Humber ports city region, and the discourse used, had its background in environmentalism as regards sustainability and the move to a low carbon economy.
However, whilst there is some great work being done, the language of growth, recession, recovery and the desire to deal with immediate skills and labour market issues, did mean we were some distance from a tipping point in which the place making of the localities within the city region became wedded to notions of environmentalism.
Many people and organisations, including the Hull and Humber ports, Local Authorities of Hull,East Riding, North East Lincolnshire and North Lincolnshire are grappling with a central conundrum, achieving economic success and social fairness, married to working within environmental limits.
However, there is no silver bullet, there is only hard graft within those place making disciplines which are at the forefront of this. Hard graft which means these disciplines are recreated, imbued with environmentalism.
Social change does require environmentalism’s deep ideology, its social movements and its activism to become part of the social norm and be part of the local governments ‘corporate brain.
By this I am not talking about it becoming diluted. For example the collectivist, social progressive ideology which inspired the national health service and free health care at the point of need, did not, when fully formed in 1948, become just free healthcare-for some, or free health care-but only sometimes. Its central ideological pillar was not diluted.
It became part of the ‘corporate brain’ as to how our state should function. We have to now believe that we are on the cusp of seeing the central facets of environmentalism become part of the norm, part of everyday practice.
It needs to be mainstreamed.
Like me, many economic development and regeneration people within local government are only environmentalists by logic and/or because of pressing needs. For us it has never been an ideology, it is not instinctive. We were and still are busy dealing with rundown areas, poor skills and unemployment.
However, our disciplines are changing and we need to speed that change along. We need to start applying the concepts of environmentalism into our working practice everyday as a matter of course. For me, how we do economic development is about reconceptualising growth.
Planning is about reducing carbon footprint and localisation. Urban design is about greening the city. Empowerment is about environmental activism. Development is about sustainability, Cohesion is about one planet and Gaia.
These cornerstones of place making must now be the foundations of the new environmentalism.