01 January 2011
'Economic globalization has led to a massive expansion in the scale and power of big business and banking. It has also worsened nearly every problem we face: fundamentalism and ethnic conflict; climate chaos and species extinction; financial instability and unemployment. There are personal costs too. For the majority of people on the planet life is becoming increasingly stressful. We have less time for friends and family and we face mounting pressures at work.
The Economics of Happiness describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, government and big business continue to promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, all around the world people are resisting those policies, demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance—and, far from the old institutions of power, they’re starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm – an economics of localization.'
A 'Tetris' of Debt...
The last two blocks to fall into place are just mind-blowing...makes a mockery of keeping an entire continent enslaved by debt, when so much more can be conjured up to fix the mess made by bankers. Appalling.
30 December 2010
'Former environment minister Michael Meacher on the place of humanity in the universe, intelligent design, the survival of the human race, Gaia theory and uncertainties over climate change
Tom Levitt: Your new book is focused on the destination of the human race, but what is our role, if indeed we have one?
Michael Meacher: Well 99.9993 per cent of time since the origin of the universe elapsed before we even came on stage. That doesn't say that it took all that time to produce this wonderful human species but it does seem odd and I think it shows that we are part of a cycle which is continuing. Ninety-nine per cent of all species are extinct - I don't think there is any guarantee of our survival especially if we remain as irresponsible and foolish as we are at the moment.
Irrespective of that I would expect the evolution of life forms to continue alongside and possibly surpass us. But we are an important part of it - we are the first species on earth in all that time that has a sense of morality and spirituality. These are very significant features of the human species which mark us out as very special.
I don't think the whole universe is about us and that's where we come to Stephen Hawking's point about us being exceedingly insignificant because we are on earth - just one of 8 planets in a solar system going round a sun which is one star, just an ordinary star, of which there are 200 billion in our galaxy, the Milky Way. And there are about 100 billion galaxies...
When you think of it in these terms, we are totally insignificant and almost invisible. So you have a contrast and paradox that is the size of universe, beyond are imagination and yet at the same time we are a very unique species. There is something very special about us. You have to somehow combine those two facts. How is it that a species in such a minute part of the universe should turn out to be so significant in the evolution of life forms? I don't think there is any obvious answer.
TL: Does that lead us to believe in a creator?
MM: The religious answer is that God created us in His own image but it does seem very odd that we have a universe of vast size to produce us and that it has taken an inordinately long time to reach this stage of life forms. It doesn't mean it is impossible but it does seem very odd unless you take the view that time is immaterial and we are only at the beginning of it and it will revolve for ever.
I don't believe science has invalidated religion and it can't because they are two utterly different paradigms of existence. Science has enormously increased the wonder of the religious message. It doesn't force us to believe in it but it is compatible with it.
TL: What will happen to humans - can we survive?
MM: We have become very clever in our improvements in technology and engineering over the last 100 years and the level of productivity and extent of exploitation has increased rapidly. But while the earth is extremely bountiful, there are limits to how many resources we can extract without replacing them or enabling them to be recycled and to recover.
We have an overdraft with the earth something in excess of 130 per cent. We currently consume something like 30 per cent over and above what we are replacing and rather like an overdraft at a bank that can't go on.
I don't think we have learnt to keep within the limits. They are quite elastic but there is a point beyond which they will break and then you will get a complete and massive change in the climate in which the survival of human species might not be compatible.
I think with the current rate of exploitation and current disregard for sustainability that our economy and our civilisation has, I think we will easily reach that point in the next 200-300 years.
TL: Will we destroy the earth as well as ourselves?
MM: I don't think so. I think James Lovelock's idea - that when an alien virus invades the human body it fights back and usually manages to surround and destroy the alien - is more likely. Earth will do everything it can to survive with us being the virus it is trying to destroy.
Climate change is one way it is doing it. It is changing the climate - the atmosphere, temperature, ocean acidity and sea levels - all massive changes cumulatively saying to us that we cannot go on as we are. And we cannot go on as we are because we will lose the basic resources which are essential to our survival.
TL: Can we reverse this situation and stop ourselves from heading towards extinction?
MM: We can - we are an intelligent species. The question is whether there is the political leadership in countries to act on what the scientists say. It's not perfect - the description of the atmosphere and the interactions between so many parts of the climate is very complex and I don't think the science is 100 per cent there, but it's 80-90 per cent of the way there, and is being refined all the time. We certainly know plenty more than is necessary to apply the precautionary principle.
The issue is whether there is the political leadership to guide people. The knowledge is there for them but it is the difficulty in actually getting that change in way of life which political leaders by and large are unwilling to press. They prefer to win elections: people in the west like their comfort zones and way of life and political leaders are not willing to press very far.
I think that will only really change when the human races begins to suffer some of the extremely severe consequences of climate change which may be some decades ahead. They will then realise, as we have with the financial crisis, that we are up against the wall and hitting the buffers and we have got to change.
It would be nice if human beings realised those limits and began willingly to act in accordance with them in order to produce more a harmonious relationship with our environment and greater sustainability. But all the evidence is that we are not wiling to do this until forced to. So yes we can change but I doubt whether there is yet the political will.'
'The Fixers’ Collective is a social experiment in improvisational fixing and mending. Our goals are:
1/ To increase material literacy in our community by fostering an ethic of creative caring toward the objects in our lives.
2/ To displace cultural patterns that alienate us from our things, by collectively learning the skills and patience necessary to care for them.
3/ To promote a counter-ethos that values functionality, simplicity, and ingenuity and that respects age, persistence and adequacy.
4/ To encourage our communities to take liberties with designated forms and purposes, resulting in mended objects that exist both as art and within a utilitarian context.'
29 December 2010
'The Big Australia issue has gone quiet since the election but it hasn't gone away. It can't go away because it's too central to our future and, despite Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott's rare agreement to eschew rapid population growth, the issue remains unresolved.
This year Rebecca Huntley of Ipsos, a global market research firm, and Bernard Salt of KPMG, a financial services firm, conducted interviews with business people and discussions with 13 groups of consumers, showing them two markedly different scenarios of what Australia could look like in 2020.
In the ''measured Australia'' scenario, governments limited population growth, focused on making our activities more environmentally sustainable and limited our economic links with the rest of the world.In the ''global Australia'' scenario, governments set aside concerns about the environment, promoted rapid economic and population growth, and made Australia ever more a part of Asia.
Not surprisingly, the business people hated measured Australia and loved global Australia. But even though global Australia was described in glowing terms - ignoring the environment apparently had no adverse effects - ordinary people rejected it. And although measured Australia was painted in negative terms - all downside and no upside - there were aspects of it people quite liked.
The message I draw is that if governments keep pursuing rapid growth to please business they'll encounter increasing resentment and resistance from voters.
Considering the human animal's deep-seated fear of foreigners, it's not surprising resentment has focused on immigration. It's clear from the way in the election campaign both sides purported to have set their face against high migration that they're starting to get the message.
But at the moment they're promising to restrict immigration with one hand while encouraging a decade-long, labour-consuming boom in the construction of mines and gas facilities with the other. And this will be happening at a time when the economy is already close to full employment and baby boomers retire as the population ages.
Their two approaches don't fit together. And unless our leaders find a way to resolve the contradiction there's trouble ahead.
Business people support rapid population growth, which really means high immigration; there's little governments can do to influence the birth rate, because they know a bigger population means a bigger economy. And in a bigger economy they can increase their sales and profits.
That's fine for them, but it doesn't necessarily follow that a bigger economy is better for you and me. Only if the extra people add more to national income than their own share of that income will the average incomes of the rest of us be increased. And that's not to say any gain in material standard of living isn't offset by a decline in our quality of life, which goes unmeasured by gross domestic product.
The most recent study by the Productivity Commission, in 2006, found that even extra skilled migration did little or nothing to raise the average incomes of the existing population, with the migrants themselves the only beneficiaries.
This may explain why, this time, economists are approaching the question from the other end: we're getting the future economic growth from the desire of the world's mining companies to greatly expand Australia's capacity to export coal, iron ore and natural gas, but we don't have sufficient skilled labour to meet that need and unless we bring in a lot more labour this episode will end in soaring wages and inflation.
Peter McDonald, a leading demographer at the Australian National University, argues that governments don't determine the level of net migration, the economy does. When our economy's in recession, few immigrants come and more Aussies leave; when the economy's booming, more immigrants come and fewer Aussies leave. Governments could try to resist this increase, but so far they've opted to get out of the way.
To most business people, economists and demographers, the answer to our present problem is obvious: since economic growth must go ahead, the two sides of politics should stop their populist pandering to the punters' resentment of foreigners.
But it seems clear from the Ipsos discussion groups that people's resistance to high immigration focuses on their concerns about the present inadequacy of public infrastructure: roads, transport, water and energy. We're not coping now, what would it be like with more people?
And the punters have a point. In their instinctive reaction to the idea of more foreigners they've put their finger on the great weakness in the economic case for immigration.
As economists know - but don't like to talk or even think about - the reason immigration adds little or nothing to the material living standards of the existing population is that each extra person coming to Australia - the workers and their families - has to be provided with extra capital equipment: a home to live in, machines to use at work and a host of public infrastructure such as roads, public transport, schools, hospitals, libraries, police stations and much else.
The cost of that extra capital has to be set against the benefit from the extra labour. If the extra capital isn't forthcoming, living standards - and, no doubt, quality of life - decline.
If we don't build the extra homes - as we haven't been doing for some years - rents and house prices keep rising, making home ownership less affordable. To build the extra public facilities, governments have to raise taxes and borrow money. But they hate raising taxes and both sides of federal politics have sworn to eliminate government debt.
The interviews and discussion groups revealed both business people and consumers to be highly doubtful about the ability of governments - particularly state governments - to provide the infrastructure we need. As well they might be.
At present, our leaders on both sides are heading towards a future that doesn't add up.'
I LOVE this guy!!
Sourced from David Engwicht's 'Creative Communities' newsletter, December 2010
'Let’s face it. Community consultation is a failed experiment. All it has done is train-up professional axe grinders, then given them a forum in which to grind their axe. In spite of the best intentions of dedicated, hard-working public servants like yourself, the community consultation experiment has resulted in disengaged residents (apart from the professional axe grinders), lowest-common-denominator solutions, and decision-making mired in endless debate...
‘But,’ I hear you ask, ‘What am I supposed to do if I don’t do community consultation?’
Good question. Here are ten suggestions:
1. Abandon customer model. Implement citizen model instead
Over the past thirty years, cities have dramatically changed the way they relate to inhabitants.
For centuries, the concept of the city was built on a notion of ‘citizenship’. For the Greeks, citizenship in the polis was not so much a rank or reward as it was like being in a school, a kind of discipleship that would cultivate a new kind of being: a cultured citizen. As a citizen of the polis, you were part of a cooperative enterprise in building a nurturing environment in which others (including yourself) could reach their highest potential. For the Greeks, the streets and squares were the democratic heart of the city – the place of genuine citizen engagement.
But all this has changed. Instead of relating to inhabitants as ‘citizens’, cities now relate to them as ‘customers’. For example, when traffic colonises a residential street, residents demand that the city calm the traffic. As customers, they have paid (through rates and taxes) for a product – slower traffic in their street.
Under the citizen model, people take personal responsibility for fixing their own problems. If young people burn rubber in the street, they ring the door bell of the young people and work it out. Cost to the city, zero. Under the customer model, these same people ring the council and demand that the city traffic calm their street. Cost to the city, $400,000. Note that the customer model is only viable under conditions of affluence. Outsourcing your civic responsibility is not cheap. Outsourcing civic responsibility also demands ‘community consultation’. Instead of an informal meeting on the doorstep of the offending youth, residents now attend a formal meeting with city authorities to debate where the speed bumps should go. The tragedy is that the real issues, the residents’ psychological retreat from their street and abandoning of their civic duty, is not addressed. The consultation is a smokescreen for avoiding personal responsibility.
Note that this move from the citizen model to the customer model has been a two way street: cities have taken a paternalistic role and residents have abandoned their civic responsibilities. However, the role that cities have adopted is an impossible role. A vibrant civic life is not a ‘product’ that can be delivered by a city bureaucracy. It can only be created by civic-minded citizens working cooperatively.
2. Create authentic place, not more plans
Most community consultation is a substitute for a genuine, authentic experience of place – that is a real experience of community and civic life. The Greek concept of the polis was that each time a person went into the public realm, they would come home a little more civilised and a little more cultured. In a forthcoming book on place, I discuss the power of place-ness to transform us.
I once erected a throne that folds out of a suitcase in a deserted Los Angeles parking lot, home to homeless people. A homeless lady sat regally on the throne, and in that moment was transformed from a homeless lady into Queen of Los Angeles. Every time this homeless lady comes back to her home in the parking lot and remembers the night she sat on the throne, she is transformed once again. This is the essence of place making: creating memorable experiences that are transformative. Place-ness snaps us out of our preoccupation with set plans for the future, and opens up cracks in the wall of our ‘reality’. Through the cracks in the wall, we glimpse possibilities we never knew existed. Who knows, but on that warm, muggy evening in the parking lot, a future mayor of Los Angeles may have been conceived.
Community consultation talks about creating these transformative place experiences. Place making creates the experiences. As Place Maker for the city of Wodonga, charged with turning the main street into the civic heart of the city, the ‘community consultation’ did not involve endless meetings. Instead we organised a street party every Friday night for 12 weeks. People were invited to bring their lounge chairs and reclaim the street as civic space. We watched how people used the street, and as ‘home-maker hosts’ we found ways to enhance that experience – including permanent changes to the streetscape.
Place making is like home making. Part of feeling at home in a space is that you stop being an observer and you become a participant in the experience offered by that space. So, for example, when someone puts their feet up on the coffee table we say they are ‘making themselves at home’. They are making themselves comfortable in the space by taking psychological ownership of it. It is a genuine experience of an authentic place. It is not a hypothetical conversation about what they think would need to change for them to have an authentic experience. The host works with them in helping them construct this authentic experience - organically.
3. Return to incremental planning
By very definition, if you involve the community in the authentic making of place (rather than hypothetical discussions about creating place) then the process will be incremental. In Wodonga we started with a ‘low-hanging fruit plan’, things that we could do instantly that we thought would get the reclaiming of the street moving in the right direction. We also constantly experimented with our Friday night events, watching what worked and what didn’t work, then instigating changes based on these observations.
Sure there is a place for some master-planning in a city for things like future rail lines. But this must be balanced with an incremental, organic approach to the way places evolve. For example, in Beach Haven, New Zealand, the city had $50,000 to spend on the revitalisation of a shopping street. Normally this money would have been eaten up in creating a master plan. I convinced the city to put this money in the middle of a table. I then educated a group of 40 residents on what created great public space and then broke them into teams. They competed to find the most creative way to spend the $50,000. By the end of one-and-a-half days they had reached consensus, and formed a group to oversee the spending of the $50,000. Instead of a consultant’s report, the residents got $50,000 worth of improvements, plus significant altruistic contributions from various sectors of the community. The project is incremental in nature and the residents are involved in the actual creation of their civic space.
4. Stop fixing problems and create DIY Kits
Cities should develop a range of self-help kits that show residents how to address a range of issues, such as traffic and anti-social behaviour. Whenever residents complain about these issues they should be given the DIY kit and told to come back if the kit does not help them resolve the issue. Residents should not get physical design interventions in their street until they have demonstrated that they are taking civic responsibility. This probably means abandoning the Traffic Calming Department and calling it the Department of Civic Responsibility.
5. Establish a Red Tape Reduction Party
The customer model requires increasing levels of regulations. Moving back to a citizen model requires handing back responsibility, which requires a serious commitment to reducing red tape. The Red Tape Reduction Party would be charged with reducing red tape by a set percentage each year along with being a ‘can-do’ trouble-shooting group that helps citizens overcome red tape when it stops them from taking civic responsibility. This would seriously change the culture in the organisation. The first port of call for addressing any issue should be to build citizen capacity, not to introduce new regulations.
6. Take out the traffic signs
The late Hans Monderman was a Dutch engineer who pioneered the removal of traffic control devices from villages. His grand vision was the ‘re-democratization of public space.’ He said, ‘As an engineer, it is not my job to try and forecast every potential problem the village may have in the future and resolve that potential conflict, in advance, through design. Every time I resolve a potential conflict through a new regulation or white line, I de-skill the community in resolving its own conflicts. And resolving conflict is at the heart of building robust, resilient communities.”
7. Change your relationship with developers
There was a time when the creator of a building was allowed to place their building wherever they liked. But they had a civic duty to place the building in a way that contributed to the magic of the public realm. The result was the organic streets and public squares of Europe, full of surprise and inherent genius.
Today developers no longer have a civic duty to ensure their building adds to the magic of the public realm. Instead the city tries to create this ‘civic benefit’ through regulations and master plans. The result is a sterile public realm because the developer, like a naughty child, sees how far they can push the boundaries.
Change your relationship. State exactly what you believe a developer’s civic duties are and what your city’s expectations are. Set the bar high. Then give developers a choice. They can go the regulatory route or the expectations route. The rewards for going the expectation route will be greater flexibility, faster turnaround, and the warm inner glow that comes from altruistic actions.
8. Ban red dots. Real action plans only.
A lot of community consultation has become farcical. Residents (usually the professional axe-grinders) are asked to generate wish-lists on butcher’s paper. They are then given ten red dots to spend on their favourite items on the wish-list. The result is a community vision, with priorities indicated by the clusters of red dots. The butcher’s paper is rolled up, taken back to the office and stuck under a desk. That night, the community consultation fairies come out and sprinkle magic dust on the items with most red dots, and hey presto, they magically spring into being.
I refuse to run community conversations that are bitch and moan sessions or simply result in wish-lists. I have created processes, like ‘Speed Dating Action Plans’, that force every individual to think about what they are prepared to do, and make a commitment to that action. (Detailed instructions are available at www.creative-communities.com/?page_id=69.) People are not allowed to discuss what other people should do. If people are not prepared to take civic responsibility, I give them an opportunity to leave the conversation and go home.
9. Ban public meetings. Parties only.
Meetings provide a venue for professional axe grinders to bitch and moan. Cut them off at the knees. Ban public meetings and have a party instead.
10. Ban stakeholders. ‘Real citizens’ only
Community consultation, as currently practiced, encourages people to wear a ‘single-identity-stakeholder hat’. Every issue a city is asked to deal with is the result of the clash between inherently contradictory human needs. We all have a need to move, and we all have a need to ‘reside’. A sense of place requires us to become rooted to a locality. The conflict between ‘motorists’ and ‘residents’ is not therefore a conflict between two groups of people in the city, but a conflict between different ‘modes of being’ that are deeply ingrained in our psyche. When people arrive at a community consultation meeting, almost everyone will be wearing a single hat: resident, motorist, parent, business owner, environmentalist, cyclist, pedestrian, lover-of-order, lover-of-spontaneity, etc. If we allow people to stay in this single-identity (or worse still actively encourage it by making them a representative of a stakeholder group), we aid and abet citizens in abandoning responsibility for their internal contradictions, and allow them to externalise the tension between their internal contradictions. So, for example, the tension between the motorist and resident in their head is externalised into tension between one group of people wearing their resident hat and another group of people wearing their motorist hat. The result is that each group grinds the other down towards grey neutrality – lowest common-denominator solutions. The only way for people to reach highly creative and sustainable solutions is to own their internal contradictions.
If I am asked to run an already established community consultation process, the first thing I do is find a way to get people out of their single-identity mentality. For example, I may get everyone in the room to exchange identities with ‘their enemy’ and for the rest of the process they must role-play that person (after all, ‘their enemy’ is the part of their psyche currently locked out of the discussion about whatever the issue is that they are struggling with)...
Imagine a world where there are no more community consultation meetings.
Imagine a world where children, those with a disability, the elderly, the disenfranchised are once again part of authentic community, authentic civic life, all happening in authentic places...
If you would like to be on the cutting edge of what is happening in our cities, I am running a series of two-day workshops in 24 cities worldwide in 2011.
61 (0) 7 3366 7746
27 December 2010
'When family members do not work or live well together we sometimes call the family dysfunctional. We prescribe professional help for the family or advocate for social policies that would support it - child care, parental leave, extended unemployment insurance, debt forgiveness.
But the real challenge to the family is that it has lost its job. The functions of the family have been outsourced. The problem is not dysfunction - that’s just a side effect. The problem is non-function, and this has much to do with the growth of the consumer society.
The End of the Functional Family
Consumer society has put an end to the functional family. We normally think of consumerism as buying stuff we want but don’t need, but it runs deeper than that. The essential promise of consumerism is that all of what is fulfilling or needed in life can be purchased—from happiness to healing, from love to laughter, from raising a child to caring for someone at the end of life. What was once the task of the family and the neighborhood is now outsourced. Aunt Martha is forgetful? Little Arthur is restless? Get them a diagnosis and a prescription. In this simple act, we stop being citizens—we become consumers.
The cost of our transformation into consumers is that the family has lost its capacity to manage the necessities it traditionally provided. We expect the school, coaches, agencies, social workers, probation officers, sitters and day care to raise our children. The family, while romanticized and held as a cultural ideal, has lost its function as the primary place to raise children, sustain health, care for the vulnerable, and ensure economic security.
The Rise of Neighborhood Incompetence
The neighborhood has also lost its function. Our neighborhoods and communities are no longer able to support the family in its efforts. In most cases, we are disconnected from our neighbors and isolated from our communities. The community and neighborhood are no longer competent.
A competent community provides a safety net for the care of a child, attention and care for the vulnerable, the means for economic survival for the household, and many of the social tools that sustain health. The community, particularly the neighborhood, has the potential to provide the extended support system to help the family in all these key functions. The usefulness that used to reside in the neighborhood is now provided by the marketplace.
Outsiders Raising Children
“It takes a village to raise a child” is an African saying repeated as a matter of faith by American leaders of all persuasions. Yet most of our children are not raised by a village. Instead, they are raised by teachers and counselors in school, youth workers and coaches out of school, juvenile therapists and corrections officials if they are deviant, television and computers and cell phones if they have spare time, and McDonald’s if they are hungry. What this means is that the space that the family and neighborhood once filled has been sold and is now filled with paid professionals, electronic toys, and marketing.
Until the 20th century, the basic idea in rearing children was that they become effective grownups by connecting with productive adults and learning from them the community’s skills, traditions, and customs. Youth learned from the community and had jobs to do: caring for the elderly and young, doing errands for the household, working on machines, helping with food. When they became adults, they were equipped to care both for the next generation and for those who had cared for them.
What we now know is that the most effective local communities are those where neighborhoods and citizens have reclaimed their traditional roles. The research on this point is decisive. Where there are “thick” community connections, there is positive child development. Health improves, the environment is sustained, and people are safer and have a better local economy. The social fabric of neighborhood and family is decisive.
Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods
Creating a more community-based way to live and find satisfaction, even when surrounded by a consumer culture, requires only that we act as if each of us has what we need. We have the gifts, structures, and capacities to substitute for our habit of consumption. We can decide to shift our attention toward building the functions of our family and neighborhood...
Creating competence starts with making visible the gifts of everyone in the neighborhood—the families, the young people, the old people, the vulnerable people, the troublesome people. Everyone. We do this not out of altruism, but to create the elements of a satisfying life.
This thickens the social fabric. It makes the community’s gifts more widely available in support of the family. If we do it, even in small way, we find that much of what we once purchased is at hand: carpentry, Internet knowledge, listening, driving a truck, math, auto repair, organizing ability, gardening, haircutting, wallpapering, making videos, babysitting, house painting, accounting, soccer coaching, artistic abilities, cooking, fitness knowledge, sitting with the old or the ill, health remedies, sewing. And some of those things will come from the elderly, the young, the isolated, and the unemployed.
With the consciousness of our gifts and the ability to connect them and make them practical and usable, we experience the abundance of a community.
These local connections can give the modern family what the extended family once provided: A place with a strong culture of kin, friends, and neighbors. Together we raise our children, manage health, support local enterprise, and care for those on the margin.
When we become competent again and have families reclaim their functions, we see emerging from our community culture those essential qualities of a satisfying life: kindness, generosity, cooperation, forgiveness, and the ability to live with our common fallibilities. These will all be given a home and nurtured by families who have reclaimed their function.'