How Do We Build a City That Works For Everyone?

I recently hosted a couple of conversations for people in the city of Lancaster, UK, in which we explored this question together: “How Do We Build a City that Works for Everyone?” We framed the conversation (which we had using a ‘World Café’)from two current and important concepts. Firstly, the great work of Kate Raworth in ‘Doughnut Economics’ – how do we create a city that is socially just for the people who live here and that is environmentally sustainable for the future? In other words, how do we ensure we have an economy that is distributive and regenerative by design? Secondly, we drew on the important work of Sandro Galea (Professor of Epidemiology at Boston State) and his concept of the Goldfish bowl as a way of thinking about ‘Population Health’ or Epidemiology (see my last blog). Politics IS health, according to Galea.

 

One of my favourite quotes is from Einstein, when he said that “If I had 60 minutes to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes trying to find the right question and then I could solve the problem in 5 minutes.” It turns out that the question we used itself is problematic at a few levels! Here are some of the questions we found ourselves wrestling with: Do we need to build the city, when it is already here?! What do we really mean by ‘the city’ – is it people and communities or more than that? What do we mean by ‘works for’? That felt to some like we were settling for something that was just enough, maybe scraping by, rather than thriving! And who do we mean by everyone?! This didn’t stop us having a a great discussion, but highlights how powerful the perspectives and biases we bring into the room can be!

 

Despite not having a perfect question, (and hopefully, by the time we host 3 much bigger conversations across the city during 2019, we may have honed something more helpful!), some key themes emerged, through our generative conversation. 

 

  1. Relationships are vital! We want to live in a city which really does “work” for everyone. So, we want to give value to the currently unheard voices and we want to value diversity and inclusivity. Taking time to get to know neighbours and colleagues grows a richness of community. We want to live in a city that values love and kindness in how we treat ourselves and other people.
  2. We need to build on the amazing assets and skills that we already have in the city. If we made space and time to discover and share these skills with each other more, we would develop a richer life experience within our communities. This is an expression of ‘gift economy’ and ‘reciprocity’, which Charles Eisenstein writes powerfully about in his book ‘Sacred Economics’). It builds on voluntary power, and may require a reimagining of how we work and what we value in how we invest our time, energy and resources. We also have so many incredible physical assets in this area, which we don’t tap into enough or perhaps make fully accessible for all who live in the city.
  3. People want to be part of the change, not have change happen to them! This requires much better engagement and democratic discussion about how budgets are spent, for example or how land is developed. Somehow, there needs to be a better safeguarding against ‘invested interests’ and ‘dodgy deals’ with far more transparency about how decisions are made. Such a process, it is believed, would enable far better personal and corporate responsibility when it comes to caring for the fabric of the city and the people who live here, similar to what has been developed in Wigan. There was a recognition that when we talk about personal choice and responsibility that this is much more possible for some people and communities than others. However, it was felt that increasing self-esteem and a sense of belonging would enable more personal responsibility and choice.
  4. Housing really matters. The physical environment is actually causing fragmentation and silos. There were many more questions than answers here – but that’s ok – this is an iterative process, and we don’t have to solve everything in one go. So…how do we create really good social housing? How could we redesign the spaces of the city to encourage togetherness and community? How do protect green spaces in the process and take care of the city’s drainage (strong memories of the recent floods)? How could we ensure that everyone has a home to live in, and what might that mean for both the homeless and also for single people?
  5. We want an education system that really values the unique beauty of each child, treats each one with compassion, mindful of what traumas they may be experiencing and values creativity and activity in education just as much as academic outcomes. We care about who our children become, not just about what exams they pass. So we recognise that we have a measurement problem but we’re not quite sure yet what to do about it! 
  6. We need to invest in our children and young people by providing physical spaces in which our young people can feel safe and not bored! Many have been affected by the closure of children’s and youth centres. If we are to really invest in our children and young people, there was a sense that we also need to provide parenting classes across the board to pregnant couples and through ‘family centres’ and schools across the district.
  7. We want to create a greater sense of value for our older citizens. There were many people present who felt they have things to offer, but don’t have an obvious outlet. Involving those retired from paid work more in the life of the city would break isolation and feed the gift economy. 
  8. Business needs to thrive in a way that really values entrepreneurial gift and allows it to flourish, whilst holding it true to the ideas and principles of the doughnut and the goldfish! How could the business community serve the needs of the city and how can the city enable business to really thrive, creating jobs, whilst caring for the environment and the needs of the people who live here? Kate Raworth’s work could really help us!
  9. Transport systems need to be redesigned to encourage more cycling and walking or the use of green public transport alternatives. Transport routes also need to join up our communities more effectively to improve opportunities for those who live in areas that are currently more financially deprived. 
  10. If we are to really improve health and wellbeing and care for the environment, then we need to see this written into EVERY policy decision. If politics IS health, as per Sandro Galea, then we need to take this seriously and stop making policies which do not care for these things.
  11. We want to be part of city that does welfare well! We think there are many possible new ways of doing things more effectively, as described in Hilary Cottam’s book, ‘Radical Help – Reimagining the Welfare State’. One of the things felt to be important is increasing skills in money management (85% of people living in social housing in this district are in debt to the city council -though this is certainly not only due to poor money management , but an unjust system that isn’t working for the majority). Morecambe Bay Credit Union offers an alternative economy as a way of using micro finance in our local geography.
  12. We need better ways to communicate and connect people together. There is smart, digital technology that could help us here….perhaps a Lancaster portal, that connects us together more effectively and helps facilitate the sharing of our assets and gifts.

 

Wowsers! Not bad for 2 conversations of 90 minutes each! Just imagine what a phenomenal city Lancaster might become over the next 10-20 years, if we set out on a journey together to build this kind of city! What is stopping us, I wonder?! #enoughnow #togetherwecan

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UK, You’ve Had a Heart Attack – How Are You Now?

MIYou might want a cup of tea whilst you read this! I often see patients a week or two after they have been discharged from hospital with a Myocardial Infarction (what we often refer to as a heart attack). In this part of my home county, once someone is diagnosed with having a MI, they are admitted to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where an amazing team of cardiologists literally save their life by putting stents into arteries in their heart that have become clogged up. It has been a phenomenal breakthrough in medical science in the last 15 years and has revolutionised how cardiology services are configured.

New medicines are prescribed to help keep the heart and kidneys healthy and patients are reviewed to see how they are getting on. What I always love in the initial consultation following a heart attack is how reflective a person becomes. Everything in their life gets assessed and reprioritised. Key questions are asked about how much stress they have been under, and why they were living at such a fast pace whilst forgetting about what is really important – living well, relationships, love, beauty, people and connecting with the story of who they feel they really want to be for the rest of their life. It is very rare to find a person who is desperate to get back to business as usual or someone who doesn’t ask some fundamental questions about what life is for. It is possible in some of these consultations to have some of the best coaching conversations a practitioner can ever hope to participate in. Asking some questions of the patient about what they are going to change and how they are going to do so.

And yet, in the UK (and indeed the west), we suffered a heart attack beyond all proportions with the economic crash of 2008. But we have not really reflected on the major warning sign that it was to us. We have a government and financial system intent on “getting us back on track” – and I wonder to what, exactly? It isn’t that the financial system alone, just happened to have an infarction. It’s like assuming that a heart attack happens simply because of a defect in the cardiac system itself – this simply isn’t true. The crash was only a sign of just how broken our entire body is and we would do well to reflect a great deal more about how we are living as a nation and whether it gives us any real sustainability for the future of the planet and the generations to come. Our current response is not only to “get back on track” with where we were, but  to “tighten our belts” (which means to cut benefits left right and centre without regard for the dehumanisation of people in the process). It’s like believing the correct response following an MI is to emaciate and punish yourself, without asking some fundamental questions about how healthy your whole life is.

So, what about about a national health check – let’s look at each system in turn and ask some questions – because the truth is, we haven’t faced the fact that we are in an age of transition in which answers are not obvious and we don’t have any experts who have been to the alternative future we long for. So, we have to learn together and ask open questions that provoke better conversations to help us.

Let’s start with Education. George Monbiot has written a stunning piece in the Guardian about the current health of the education system: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/09/aspirational-parents-children-elite?CMP=share_btn_fb – well worth a read. Our education secretary, Nicky Morgan on the other hand isNicky Morgan intent on more testing of our children and has recently given a speech in which she claimed that arts and humanities subject choices close down a child’s career options and they will earn 10% more in their life if they do Maths at A level – whooppee do dah. For an alternative and altogether more inspiring approach, look to the lovely Ken Robinson:

Couldn’t education become about real learning in which our children feel inspired and find hope for the future?

Ecology – Oh dear – so far a string of broken promises on the environment from the western governments. It turns out that oil and industry is more important than the future of the planet. Is it? If not, what are we going to do?

Defence – undergirding our entire nation are three things: Money as debt (see finance), the state of the exception (see law and order) and military violence. The ultimate trust of our nation rests on nuclear warheads. How healthy is this? How much fear do we have to create as a narrative to believe this is actually a good thing? Do we want that to be the undergirding faith of our nation? And what about the change in rhetoric regarding soldiers who die in war. David Cameron recently referred to soil from the battle fields of WWI (which was brought to London) as ‘Holy Ground’ and he described those who died fighting for the ‘allied forces’ as ‘martyrs’. Is the nation state therefore the ‘saviour’? If it is, what on earth do we mean by this? If not, then is there other language we can find to use about the two world wars without creating a very dangerous worldview?

Housing – 69% of the land continues to be owned by 0.6% of the population and there is a real lack of social housing available in deprived areas. This is causing significant problems for those already under huge financial strain, given the effects of austerity measures. Who does the land belong to and why?

Justice – How many of the perpetrators of crime are victims of a system that left them with little or no other choice but to commit crime? How restorative is our justice process?

Law and Order – our prisons are full to breaking, our police force is being cut and replaced with private security firms. How effective is our law and order system? And what undergirds it? Georgio Agamben cuts through to the heart of the issue in his exquisite book ‘State of Exception’. Underneath the whole of western ‘democracy’ lies the right for the government to suspend the rule of law i.e. invoke Marshall law if deemed necessary. I look at the people movements emerging across Europe right now and wonder how far we are from the ‘state of exception’ being invoked. All it will prove, as we already know, is that democracy is a vain imagination. What is it that undoes ‘the powers’? Could a movement for positive peace, founded on love offer any realistic alternative? If so, what?

Immigration – apparently the answer to our problems is to become more fearful of the ‘other’, create a politics of fear and blame immigrants for our financial problems. We are barricading our doors Syrian Refugeesand building up our walls to ‘protect our way of life’. And while there are currently 4 million homeless Syrian refugees, the UK has welcomed 147 of them in total. Did you know that the entire world population could fit into Texas? Our concerns about lack of space and lack of jobs is really unfounded and we seem willing to ‘love our neighbours’ with great initiatives like comic relief and generous charitable giving, just as long as it doesn’t actually have to affect us and our way of life…..how loving is that? How healthy is love that does not truly cost us and change us?

Health – this whole blog is about it, but 1 in every 5 pounds spent in the NHS is due to poor lifestyle choices we are making. We can’t live imgresexactly how we want if we hope to continue with a health service that is free for everybody. How will we change the culture? Can we find innovative ways of working collaboratively within the system that breaks down the silos in order to work more effectively for the good of our national health? Is privatisation the answer? If not, what are we willing to change/protest about to keep it public?

Government – a majority with 36.4% of the vote? Deeply wrong. There continues to be profound disengagement with the system and a deep cynicism that the current style of government can bring any real lasting change. We need a new politics – what might that be like? Where are the leaders who will choose to facilitate instead of dominate?

imgresEconomy – ah yes, that old chestnut. Do we want an economy in which the gap between rich and poor continues to widen? Do we want a system in which the poor are punished whilst the rich are exonerated for their greedy crimes? The entire western economy is based on a system of debt that requires us to continually grow and expand our borders so that the debt can be serviced. We have become slaves to the economic beast. Where are the alternative experiments emerging? What can we learn from them? Are we brave enough to try something new? I have posted this before, on my other blog – www.reimaginingthefuture.org  but Charles Eisenstein is so worth watching:

The human heart provides us with a great metaphor. The health of our nation(s) is not good. We’ve had the wake up call, and if we’re not careful (this is a warning from a doctor, so take heed), the next heart attack will be even more catastrophic. We have to reflect on where we are and ask ourselves where our current trajectory will lead us. I don’t want to get back on track if it leads us to more depression, destruction and decay. I want to find the road less traveled by – the one that leads to life, hope, love, regeneration, recreation and a beautiful future for our children. So many questions. So much to learn.

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