In the spirit of the Paris Commune(ish), political elections and the debt crisis in the U.K. are forcing those with an interest in real estate and urban regeneration to pen manifestos and articles of faith.
Industry insiders have published several big picture statements, be it the Regeneration Manifesto of New Start magazine, a Framework for Regeneration by BURA or Collaborate to Regenerate, an initiative of several private sector professional services companies.
Setting down a creed fits in to a political environment that's foregrounding social change, led by the Conservative Party and its promotion of the Big Society: a future in which Big Government is counterbalanced by small-scale grassroots civic activism.
In my experience, designing and delivering large-scale, popular social and economic initiatives, effective civic or social activism often needs a framework to succeed. People need permission to act. At the same time what's needed are modest targets and successes - something that the Big Society seeks to capture but many of the articles of faith manage to miss.
Call it Frugal Innovation.
On behalf of a real estate development company, my company has just completed a proposal for the implementation of a series of small-scale social, economic and cultural innovations in a town in England.
Called "A 1000 Little Things", the programme is directed at improving the lives of residents and visitors, supporting and extending the existing work of local government and bringing intended acceleration and benefit to the work of a new strategic property vehicle.
An inspiration for this (and pretty much all of our work) is a form of Frugal Innovation - an approach that the text books say is characterized by a very careful, insightful and economical use of resources, both human and material.
What does Frugal Innovation regeneration-style look like?
One dimension has to be small-scale, inexpensive urban innovations that act as catalysts to change, emphasize repair and re-use and help deliver more efficient and effective public and private sector services.
But don't be too quick to don a hair-shirt. Sometimes the exotic and unusual can change the weather and can cost - much like the £122.00 (€140) tasting menu of super-chef Heston Blumenthal.
Here's a list of the sort of thing that I mean, seven small-scale, practical developments that reverse out of the needs of people who want to effect social and economic change and could help re-wire public life:
- Provide existing community leaders with training in using Doodle or other online scheduling software
- Provide new or aspiring social entrepreneurs/enterprises with a toolkit on how to build members, clients and markets
- Create a movie club with a group of elderly people and turn an old shop in to a temporary cinema
- Co-ordinate providers of grant funding and come up with a standard funding application form for non-profits
- Get local and regional government to post economic and social output indicators on their websites for reference by project partners and taxpayers
- Create a register of accountants and lawyers who want to lend non-profits volunteer support - and shape the offer to support the needs of the sector, not output targets of CSR departments
- Create a directory for cities of locations available for installation art 'tryouts' and band practice
Think of this as an approach that makes new connections, small improvements to local
services and economies and seeks to fill gaps in knowledge and data.
It's a kind of craft approach to the making of cities and towns.There's a modesty here that may irritate and shrinks in the face of macro instruments of change and value, such as the tax and benefits system and new technology.
But for all the principled manifesto-writing around just now, small-scale innovations like these work wonders for creating a micro-climate of confidence and change.
What's more, they follow a minimalist ethic that sits comfortably with a key product of economic recession - counter revolution.Images: all dishes served at Michelin-starred The Fat Duck restaurant, courtesy of great fashion and culture blog My New Favourite Thing.