Thursday, 05 March 2009

The liberation of new questions You may find yourself fed up with talk about the recession, but beware, that pose could be passé. I think people are starting to find it healthy discussing it now. We're stimulated and liberated by the permission to ask questions that didn't occur to us before. And the ones we were asking before may now have slightly different force. There I was this morning meeting up with Ingrid Koehler from IDeA and Steven Feldman of KnowWhere, exploring the contribution of new ('social') media to local government generally and the community empowerment agenda specifically. Steven came up with this: 'How do you bridge the gap between those who care a lot about a place, and those who care a bit?' In the context of the current cultural shift where thinking and behaving collectively is becoming acceptable again, it's a much more significant question than it might sound. I was thinking about it while I made my way across London to a conference session organised by the Academy of Urbanism and Demos, on 'the resilience of place' in times of economic and social stress. Mostly architects, whose unrivalled tradition of wide-ranging argument always appeals to me. And here I felt able to appreciate the part of Steven's question that is about time. Lots of people who 'care a bit' don't have the time, at the moment of need for their effort or expertise, to contribute. As Steven would rightly assert, digital technologies have a part to play here. But in the few minutes when I was speaking to the seminar, I needed to ask this: in a recession, what is time when it is not necessarily money? One thing I think we can anticipate in the downturn is a boost for timebanking. Maybe that's where we'll reinvest our trust. During the seminar there was much talk about 'the creation of value', 'new understandings of value' and so on. I was starting to wonder what it meant, when John Worthington closed it out by observing pithily that 'Value is only as good as your values.' Finally a short parable. At our meeting this morning, Steven, Ingrid and I found and discussed a common scepticism about online petitions. Across town later, at the end of this afternoon's debate, Stephen Hill from C2OFutureplanners told a story about a local petition in his neighbourhood. Someone knocked at the door to talk about a local planning issue, he said, and they had a long conversation about possible design changes close by. Eventually closing the conversation and offering to sign the petition, Stepen noticed that not many names were listed. The explanation from the visitor was that he'd not got very far because every house he called at, he had a long, revealing and rewarding chat just like this one. And there's a value in that, which we're not very good at recognising.

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