Some of you are going to hate what I am about to say and even if I say so myself I think I am being pretty brave to put it into print. But it is time to GET REAL.
I developed these “brave” thoughts (I am keeping you in suspense here) whilst working on various housing led “regeneration” schemes over the past decade. The developments that were always more vibrant, and less problematic in terms of selling fast enough to maintain the momentum and uphold the design quality have always been the ones where we were in a position to attract forward thinking, aspirational, early adopters. It was these “early adopters” who help to support the community infrastructure, the bike pools, the community intranet, the outdoor gym, the communal gardens and who would push to establish a community run shop. It was these early adopters who were more likely to start small businesses and create a vibrancy that any new development needs. These early adopters, or “market leaders” as they are called in ad-speak provide community leadership and set a standard through their gardens, their fastidious approach to keeping the streets free of litter that “leader followers” and “leader follower followers” aspire to. I have learned that there has never been a truer saying than “Keeping up with the Joneses”.
I should have already known this. From my Red or Dead I learnt very quickly that you appeal to the early adopters via “catwalk” and then after you have become accepted with the fashion cognoscenti, you sell the T Shirt, by the truck load. Retailers rarely launch a new product at the “Value” or “Basic” but enter the market at “Finest” level.
When it comes to regeneration though the prevalent thinking is very different indeed. It is certainly not politically correct to say that a significant segment of society needs leadership and without it goes nowhere. It seems to have become de rigueur amongst the political classes to promote “bottom up” regeneration, but just as society seems to forget that false house price increase bubbles cause serious recessions, politicians and civil servants are forgetting the destructive planning mistakes that beset the New Towns of the 1960s like Skelmersdale and Cumbernauld and the high rises throughout the UK where monocultural communities were relocated together and failed to thrive. It doesn’t take detailed research to see why so much old today’s regeneration budgets are spent of solving these planning and political mistakes of the 60s and 70s. Currently so much of the “Kick Start” funding in the UK is being spent on “bottom up” regeneration and in all likelihood more regeneration cash will be needed in 30 years or so to right these wrongs.
The Conservative Party are campaigning on policies of giving the public a say, public consultation and communities taking the lead .All very worthy in theory but some communities are more capable than others. This thinking may work in the wealthier rural idylls, monied suburbs and “urban villages” but it is reckless to believe that deprived communities can raise to this challenge of self help. We are born into a world, where we rely on leadership from adults (unfortunately some don’t get decent leadership) and some require leadership all their lives. I have brought my kids up to be independent and they are fortunate to have had parents who have been able to help fund their independence in terms of travel and places to live, but when we all get together on holidays or on family occasions it’s an eye opener to see how they can start to rely on mum and dad for decision making and they enjoy this ability to take a short sabbatical from responsibility. Sometimes it’s nice to be led.
Sadly and worryingly many spend a lifetime totally absolving themselves from responsibility having never been encouraged to be responsible. This is manifesting itself in the UK with record low turnout figures at elections, addiction to reality TV, booming gossip sites and millions living their lives through celebrity magazines such as Closer, Heat and Grazia (a magazine read by half a million a week!!!). It does pose the question as to whether we are maturing as a society or regressing and in need for more “parenting” or leadership?
But maturity is an important part of the lifecycle and it has always been accepted that the human race, would mature and that leadership would be less of an issue for society and that the human long term development would be akin to the “traditional” family structure of children growing up, reaching maturity and then fending for themselves. But figures in the UK, show increasing insecurity amongst teenagers, a growth in insecurity led health issues such as anorexia. It appears that we may need more leadership not less.
In the long term a self help society that doesn’t lean to heavily on leadership has to be the way. But we also need a society whereby the current acceleration of the gap between the rich and poor is reversed.
And herein lays the real challenge. We aspire to choice and self determination and we aspire to economic equality yet the current leadership has taken us economically more unequal and left those on lower incomes more in need of help and leadership… anyone got any bright ideas?