A bit of a departure from our usual format here, but I wanted to share this with you. For COP21 December 2015, Transition Network created a great little book called '21 Stories of Transition', a full colour overview of some of the inspirational stories emerging from the Transition movement. All the printed copies are gone, so you can now download, for free, in English or in French, the pdf. I'm very fond of it. Beautifully designed by Jane Brady of Emergency Design, it is one of my very favourite Transition publications. For me it really captures what a movement looks like that has the invitation to ask, and then act on, 'What If?' questions, at its heart. Enjoy.
I was instantly smitten. It looked like a project that brought together many of the things I love: local currencies, people actually making things, community, a playful approach to a serious subject, creating a space the invites the imagination in, and beautiful design. All it needed was a small craft brewery on the side, and I’d be moving in! Looking into it more, it turned out that Dan and Hilary are working together on a feature film called ‘Bank Job’, and that the Bank is a part of that.
This is a website about the power of “what if?”, and how, in a time of existential challenges, we might take “what if?” ideas and make them a reality. “What if we tackled climate change with imagination, courage and positivity?” is one such question that runs through all our blogs here. But I have been deeply impressed by the work of Daniel Raven Ellison and his efforts to try to get the city of London designated as a ‘National Park City’. As we’ll see, it is a powerful “what if”, one that opens up the imagination and all manner of possibilities.
It was billed as “an emergency summit for change”, and it was a call that drew around 150 people from across the UK, and even some from further afield. Hosted at The Edge, a community-funded church building in the centre of Wigan just round the corner from the actual Wigan Pier (yes, that one, the one with the road famously leading to it), the event, exactly a year before Brexit becomes (or doesn’t) a reality, was co-presented by at least 40 organisations.
The number of Transition initiatives in Belgium has trebled in the last two years, and something fascinating is clearly happening there. In some ways, Belgium is the Goldilocks country for Transition, not too big and not too small. I was just there for three days and want to share with you the trip and some reflections on what I saw. Reseau Transition, the Belgian Hub, are doing an amazing job there supporting this growing movement, and it was at their invitation that I boarded the Eurostar and headed over.
If you spend any time reading about the connection between education and the imagination, one name comes up repeatedly. Kieran Egan has been writing about how to make education more imaginative since the 1980s, and has written many books on the subject. Born in Ireland, he studied in London before moving to the US and then Canada where, as he puts it, “I got a job at Simon Fraser University in Canada, which has been the only job I’ve ever had”. In case you’re wondering, the sound of running water in the background of this recording is not an indicator that Kieran was speaking to us from his bathtub, rather that he keeps a fishtank next to his desk.
Eric Holthaus was once called ‘The Rebel Nerd of Meteorology’ by Rolling Stone magazine and is a journalist who writes about climate change. In 2013, sitting at an airport, he burst into tears having just read the latest IPCC report, and took to Twitter to share the impact, as a scientist studying climate change, that this knowledge was having on him emotionally.
When looking through research into imagination, memory and the brain, one name that keeps appearing is that of Dan Schacter. We recently interviewed Donna Rose Addis on this podcast, and she and Dan often collaborate on research. Dan has been a Professor of Psychology in the Psychology Department in Harvard University since 1991, focusing mainly on memory, and more recently on the relationship between memory and imagination, using techniques from cognitive psychology and neuroscience. We chatted via Skype and I started by asking him if he might firstly introduce us to the hippocampus. If he was introducing it to someone at a party, who knew nothing about it, where would he start?
How does our relationship with digital technologies alter our relationship with the future, with the present, and with our imaginations? It’s a question we’ve reflected on in various podcasts and interviews in this series. One of the books that most influenced me on this was Douglas Rushkoff’s ‘Present Shock’. Rushkoff is a writer, documentarian and lecturer, whose work focuses on human autonomy in a digital age.
When it comes to the perennial question of how best to engage communities in thinking about the past, the present and, most importantly, the future in playful and imaginative ways, there are few more skilled and brilliant people than Ruth Ben Tovim, Lucy Neal and Anne Marie Culhane, all artists in their own right, but also all members of Encounters. I have long admired their work and had the privilege to work with them on different things, but when the opportunity came up to train with them for a week, to really look beneath the bonnet of how they work, a course at Schumacher College called ‘The Art of Invitation’, I seized it with both hands.
If it is true that we are living through a time in which our collective imagination is increasingly devalued and undernourished, what might be the role of story in that, and how might story be part of the remedy? There are few better people to discuss this with than Sarah Woods. Sarah is a writer across all media and her work has been produced by many companies including the RSC, Hampstead and the BBC.