What happens when play disappears from our cities? In a report for the National Trust, Stephen Moss writes "a potential impact is that children who don't take risks become adults who don't take risks". One response is the Playable City movement. It defines a Playable City as "a city where people, hospitality and openness are key, enabling its residents and visitors to reconfigure and rewrite its services, places and story". It's a movement that started in Bristol, and believes that "by encouraging public activities that actively bring joy, we can create a happier, more cohesive urban future".
A planet that four billion years ago was a boiling orb of molten lava, and then can unfold towards Jimi Hendrix and Nina Simone, and these great exemplars of human creativity. I mean, that all came from a boiling orb of lava four billion years ago! The planet is imagination. The planet is creativity. The galaxies and the stars and the cosmos are imagination and creativity. When we tap into the most creative dimensions of ourselves, we’re tapping into some of the deepest dynamics of the universe itself.
“The thing that excites me about your project and your focus on imagination is that it is a capacity that we airily talk about as being valuable and important, kind of like poetic language. “Isn’t it nice? Imagination? Isn’t it liberating?” But imagination to me is actually a collective capacity, and the ability to think about futures is a collective capacity. It might seem individual because that’s where the thoughts appear to be happening in our own minds, but the societies that we’re in and the people we’re around are the kind of enabling or disabling container for that”.
Last week, close to my home, was the Transition Design Symposium. It brought together people from around the world interested in what design can bring to the need for an urgent societal Transition, and for 2 days its attendees basked in glorious sunshine and fascinating interactions. I managed to catch up with Michel Bauwens who was attending and speaking at the conference, and we took some time for a short chat sitting under a tree in sunshine.
Rima Staines is an artist, musician and illustrator, puppet-maker, stop-frame animator, clock-maker, theatre designer and one half of Hedgespoken with her partner Tom Hirons. Tom is a writer of poetry and prose and teller of traditional folk tales. Together they created ‘Hedgespoken’, a travelling off-grid storytelling theatre run from a 1966 Bedford RL lorry, converted to be a home and a go-anywhere stage. On one bumper it says ‘Vehicle for the Imagination’ and on the other ‘Imagination, Liberation’. They travel, present stories, share artworks, having raised the money to convert the vehicle through a crowdfunder.
Last week I was in Brussels and was the keynote speaker at the Managenergy conference. I used the talk to share some of the research I’ve been doing about imagination, some of which may be familiar to you if you are a regular reader of this blog. They very fortuitously filmed it, and so I am able to share it with you here. I hope you enjoy it.
In our last post here, Robert Macfarlane suggested that “in some ways imagination is a function of privilege”. So what are the links between trauma, anxiety, poverty and the imagination? What does prison do to the imagination? How might cultivating the imagination play a role in rehabilitating people in prison? What might more imaginative approaches to prison look like, approaches which are land-based, practical and creative? I popped along to Landworks to chat to Chris Parsons who started Landworks 5 years ago, and who still runs it. I started by asking him to give me an introduction to Landworks and what it does.
The metaphors we use deliver us hope, or they foreclose possibility. The ways that we represent each to each other, or the human and more-than-human world, are incredibly powerful and determining, in the ways we then go on and behave towards those other entities. So the cornerstone, the keystone, of my as-it-were language project, is diversity. That, in another form, the form of biodiversity, is the keystone of modern conservation, I guess.
Finding creative, playful ways to get people thinking about ecological issues is one of the things that always fires my curiosity. So, when I was in Brussels recently, I was intrigued to be invited to attend the final dress rehearsal of a musical called ‘Urinetown’ put on by Brussels Light Opera Company (BLOC). Yes, odd title, but it makes sense in the context of the play, and was inspired when its writer Greg Kotis was travelling in Europe and, for the first time in his life, encountered a toilet that you had to pay for. He teamed up with composer Mark Hollmann, and they wrote the play which went on to win 3 Tony awards and to be put on around the world. Before the show, I spoke to Director Emanuelle Vergier, BLOC Chairman Diana Morton-Hooper and musical director, and permaculturist (his programme notes encourage the reader to plant fruit and nut trees, among other water-saving strategies), and started by asking them, “why ‘Urinetown”?
Sally Weintrobe is a psychoanalyst and a founder member of the Climate Psychology Alliance. Her work is driven, in part, by a fascination with denial around climate change, and around neoliberalism and its culture. For Sally, you can’t understand psychological reactions to climate change without getting a handle first on the culture neoliberalism has created, and in which we are all, to a greater or lesser extent, implicated. I have been intrigued by her work and her thinking for some time. She has written about what she calls ‘the new imagination’, thinking that clearly overlaps with the explorations we’ve been having here.
Today we’re talking about technology and the fragmentation of attention with Maggie Jackson. After an early career as a foreign correspondent, Maggie returned to the US and began writing about workplace and worklife issues. She began noticing the impact of early technologies such as laptops and cellphones on people. At that time, the tone of the national conversation was quite utopian and, Maggie felt, naive. “I call it the gee-whiz factor”, she told me, “many people truly thought that technologies were going to solve our problems, connect us, teach us, transport us, magically and painlessly”. Voicing any concerns or pointing out downsides easily had one labelled as a Luddite.