All places, even countries - as brilliantly satirized in this image - are distinctive clusters of people, communities, organizations, institutions, beliefs, tastes, personal and public mania.
Go out on to the street, slip on a pair of psychological x-ray spex, forget the physical ways in which we organize ourselves and start to see the city as a zoo that encloses a multitude of social, economic and personal struggles.
Convention has it that the best, most effective form of strategy-making and public engagement in the development of real estate is to consult widely, draw differing strands together and then forge a consensual route forward.
This approach may have been proven to work but the prospect of a hung Parliament in the U.K. and the coalition-building that will follow may throw in to question the effectiveness of continuing to take a consensual 'everyone-gets-something-and-no-one-gets-nothing' attitude.Does the current approach to engaging people in development just now capture all of the energy, commitment and excitement that people invest in their lives?
Maybe there are other ways to gather, collect and maximize the sum value of the social, commercial and personal struggles that make up urban living.
I'm just starting a process around the development of a large site in a major city in the U.K. that's directed towards putting together a forward plan of actions that help the real estate developer and local government create a world-class creative and socially innovative place.
What I am planning to do is yes, gather opinion, yes, build consensus and yes, create a forward plan but also to scope the design of what U.K. policy guru Geoff Mulgan (inelegantly) called in a recent book a horizontal support.
In the generation and delivery of public policy, a horizontal support is not so much a framework for action or set of 'bottom-up' initiatives but a vehicle that acts as an engine of participation - think of it as a 'platform' that over time gets populated by people, organizations and activity and enables change.
Inspired by investment vehicles like public-private partnerships and websites that act as network agents of content like Wikipedia, I've set up such 'platforms' in the past - for example, aggregating partnerships of public, private and Third Sector organizations that have enabled urban regeneration and loose emergent clusters of people framed by the common cause of growing their own food.
In a few weeks' time, a group of us are to experiment in another way and open The People's Supermarket. This is a start-up social enterprise that as our new Facebook page says, aims to turn a vacant retail store in central London in to a place that allows a community to come together and take charge of the food they buy and eat. Think of it as another kind of bearer and trigger of social value and change.
I need to 'visualize my lines' for the new piece of work linked to city development but am thinking up a kind of floating entity - a bit like a 'magic carpet' (!?!) - that enables social and cultural innovation to cluster and grow but forms its own consensus and keeps the creative and commercial struggle of people and their enterprise alive.
- a loose local organization that acts as a market-maker for ideas and aspirations
- an investment vehicle with power to assemble and is backed by creative, social and commercial assets
- a local stock exchange that provides trading facilities for commercial, creative, community and other groups and has the power to issue equity investment in new social, creative or community enterprise
If you have inspirational examples of initiatives that work this vein, I'd love to hear them.
I'll share what I come up with, so long as my vagueness takes a solid form!