Wednesday was the day of our incredibly popular Schumacher Lecture, ‘Regeneration for Real’, held in a packed At-Bristol. Kevin McCloud, Rob Hopkins and Tim Smit were chaired by Juliet Davenport, and were each invited to speak about the issue of regeneration ‘on the ground and in your mind’.
Rob Hopkins is the co-founder of the rapidly spreading Transition Network, an initiative to help communities effect positive change in their local areas. In his talk, he introduced six principles of regeneration and some examples of their practical use:
His presentation was sensible and enlightening – and he introduced the appealing idea of ‘engaged optimism’; that is, a combination of hope and action. He observed that, when an idea settles in one place, it can spread very quickly, and stressed the importance of bringing communities together. If we can achieve this, he said, other benefits will flow more easily. While he stated that the next 20 years will be very different to the previous 20, Rob was confident that we have the tools to deal with this change in a productive way.
Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project, was next to speak. His style was much looser; he roamed animatedly around the stage, prompt-free, speaking on a wide range of themes. His no-nonsense, happiness-based approach to building practices was nicely summarised by some of his introductory words: ‘if you can’t get drunk in it, don’t want to dream in it and aren’t inspired to make love in it, for f**k’s sake, tarmac it’. Tim has observed a renaissance of science within the arts-led media of the UK and highlighted the huge amount of people with City and Guilds qualifications, which are often overlooked. He advocated upgrading skills and inspiring those with practical knowledge to ‘dream’ rather than just ‘install’. He proposed a move away from ‘affordable housing’ towards ‘aspirational housing’ – buildings with only a few rooms, but planning consent for more, giving owners the chance to learn the skills to develop their homes. He also spoke about the power of community responsibility, and the idea of self-building in groups. His final words were about the language of the environmental movement. Tim is concerned it has moved away from ‘the poetry of being alive’ (the word ‘sustainability’ took a beating) and advocated a return to the language of beauty. So how is this relevant to regeneration? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. His presentation was often quite tangential. However, though his ideas might seem irrelevant, the cultivation of beauty and the telling of stories can be very important parts of implementing change. And, as Tim highlighted in his talk, the world is interconnected, both literally – he was very enthusiastic about the distributional merits of fungi – and metaphorically.
Ideas of happiness, beauty and storytelling carried over into Kevin McCloud’s talk, and especially into his new project, Happiness, Architecture, Beauty (HAB). He talked about stories of places and buildings, and the importance of sharing local narratives. Kevin warned against the temptation of viewing regeneration as only ‘new and shiny’ materials and forms – maybe this seems more exciting than the old and the tired. Some important elements of building projects were identified as sustainability (after Tim’s scathing comments, this was referred to as ‘the “s” word’), good craftsmanship, diversity and narrative. New houses, said Kevin, should not seem exactly like or completely different from old houses: they should seem like the ‘grandchildren’ of existing buildings. He also spoke about the importance of sharing – Kevin believes that this is what ‘saves the planet’. Multipurpose landscapes were proposed; a new language of building was created; ‘fruity streets’ were mentioned (a lot). He suggested some exciting new initiatives and emphasised the importance of a sense of place when building.
The event closed with some audience questions, and we discovered the importance of human energy, active change – and getting your hands dirty. However, there was a sense of ‘preaching to the converted’, as there has been at a few of our previous events. About half the audience confessed that they were already involved in community regeneration projects. Kevin admitted that it was useless to write for either the Guardian or the Daily Mail – as readers of the former are already convinced, and the latter won’t listen. However, both Tim and Kevin revealed that they were optimists, with Kevin saying ‘it’s not all there, but I see the beginnings of something happening’. The absence of definite answers was justified by Rob when he suggested, ‘there’s a huge power to saying “I have absolutely no idea”’. Information is important, said the speakers, but more important is creativity – both on the ground and in your mind.
If you were inspired by the ideas in this talk, make sure to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts!
by Jenny Hooton, Bristol Green Capital intern