On Sunday, at the wonderful Stainsby Festival, I went to an event called “Land of Promise”. It was a plea from the heart, that our planet and our communities need planned action by society as a whole. Most of our politicians tell us that coherent planning for the common good is too difficult, that we should leave things to the private sector. However, this mindset would have been alien to our grandparents, whose generations not only debated how the good society would look, but fed their vision into planned action that transformed our country for the better over the last 120 years.
For example, the garden cities, planning standards which ensure that housing developments have sufficient indoor and outdoor space to live well, public control of land development rights, the postwar building drive (achieved by a nation bankrupted by the war: “austerity” is a feeble excuse), and the National Parks, all come from this vision. (And incidentally most of these things are under imminent threat from our present government, which not only refuses to contemplate a coherent vision for the future, but is intent on destroying the achievements of past vision.)
Pioneers who had huge influence, but whose ideas are largely forgotten today, include Ruskin, William Morris, Edward Carpenter (who lived just outside Chesterfield) and Ebenezar Howard, father of the garden cities movement.
Other countries show us that positive vision can translate to large-scale action. In Germany, new mass housing is not only energy-neutral, but energy positive, as a matter of course. Energy generation is being re-municipalised (as in Hamburg) or taken into community control (with 650+ energy cooperatives). (Ironically, at the same time as Greece is being told to privatize these public assets!)
So where is this vision in our country, right now? Well, the Transition movement certainly has vision: the Transition Handbook, and many other publications contain many envisionings of what good, sustainable, convivial communities would look like. If this vision was joined with a coherent national direction, we could solve our current crises, and our children could live well.
If this all sounds rather heady, the interweaving of history with poetry, and some of the most inspiring songs ever written, superbly performed by Chris Ellis and Rosie Toll, engaged the heart, and left us feeling empowered. We know what to do, we have the resources to do it: all we need is to harness the will !
The stories of the show are based on the book – also very good – by Hugh Ellis and Kate Henderson: “Rebuilding Britain: Planning for a Better Future” I was very impressed with the authors, and with their organisation – the Town and Country Planning Association – any organisation that is inspired by both Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land is Our Land” and Si Kahn’s “What you do with what you’ve got” –has to be good! I’m trying to track down the CD of the show – watch this space.