Community cultures of control or creativity?
November 30, 2010
Filming participatory narratives of flourishing, sustainable urban-villages
June 19, 2011

Hazel Ashton writes:

I’ve been troubled by a nagging feeling that I’ve been here before …

Like most people in Christchurch, I’m very pleased large numbers have participated in ‘“share-an-idea,” a City Council-sponsored event for citizens to participate in developing a vision for Christchurch’s central city after the February earthquake.

I’m especially happy with the strong support coming through for Green directions: i.e. fewer cars in the Central City, greater use of the Avon river corridor as a pedestrian/cycle route and integration of the tram into the public transport network.

However, and it feels a big however, I want to believe it will be a success, but I can’t help doubting. Over many years I’ve been to many council-run or council-supported visioning exercises. I still recall the tinges of excitement as I put up my ideas. I still recall the enthusiasm with which I also facilitated visioning processes, so sure I was that together, we could all make a difference.

After some years, I came to see most of our efforts ended up being a waste of time.

In 2002 I decided I would take time out to put my energies into researching participation, seeking to understand what works and why and how and then developing participatory processes based on these findings.

Moving beyond fragmentations …

Looking back, I recognise that one of the challenges we faced was developing and then taking through a truly integrated vision.

The city is made up of inhabitants (human and non-human) structures and networks (local and global) that need to relate well to one another.

The problem, then and I suggest now, is planning is based on based on separate categories: cities into separate zones, residential, commercial and industrial; streets into various hierarchies; city councils into separate units, parks, traffic, and recreation etc, people into specific roles, statuses and interests.

Given the earthquake made obvious the enormous interdependence of everything, I was disappointed that submitters were at the outset constrained to submit their idea into separate colour-coded categories:

Green for space (streets, buildings, green areas)
Pink for life, (leisure, learning, living and commerce)
Blue for market (business)
Yellow for move (travel)

I asked about making a non-category submission and found that one could be emailed – separately.

I had an idea for a submission. It was about Christchurch as an outward-looking welcoming, multicultural hub where diversities collaborated to make the whole city, including its suburbs, buzz with artistic creativity and technological innovation. However this would require substantial engagement from people whose distinctive contributions I have not seen much evidence of to date i.e. from Maori, Pacifica and Asian cultures.

I think Christchurch’s mix of Polynesian, Western, Asian and other cultures with their various traditions of hospitality, talents, skills and networks, provide the right basis for reaching out to the wider Pacific and Asian region.

I’d love to see more attention give to developing an ecosystem where people from all backgrounds can mix comfortably and enjoyably and where new connections can be made and people can easily come together in collaborative projects (including local and local through to national and global levels).

A vision: Christchurch, the cultural, artistic and technological capital of the Pacific Rim.

Of course none of this fits tidily into any of the categories proposed in the submission process.

To overcome the separation of categories, and learn to see what is there and what is possible and desirable, I am turning to the power of the “and.” I think progress can be made by inserting ands between categories: space and life and market and move. Maybe “and” could be a useful category?  Other important ands could include humans and non-humans, local and national and global, grounded and virtual, organisation and network, central city and suburbs, knowledges: everyday and professional, theoretical and practical…

Generating an innovative and inclusive 21st century vision

I could go on. Sounds complicated? Want order and efficiency? And engagement?

I think opening up to ideas is a necessary first step. City life, like life itself, can be messy and inefficient, but that’s what can also open up rich and wonderful possibilities for real flourishing.

However, once the diversities have been opened up, there is a need to develop and implement an integrated vision, one that recognizes the many changes and challenges the city and the world, face: peak oil, climate change, recurrent global recessions … along with many local opportunities in the innovative uses of technology, talent, diversity and collaboration to help address these challenges.

Christchurch is already known as The Garden City and many, like me, would like this retained.

However, I would like to see our 21st century garden embedded with a new ecological polyphony – one from which the voices of humans and non-humans, young and old, Maori, Pacifica, Asian as well as Anglo Saxon cultures, can be heard flourishing together in new harmonies.

This polyphony would support all to express and meet the challenges of living sustainably and well together in this city, in this country, in this part of the wider Pacific and world.

Participatory narrative-creation to implement the vision

I think the process to re-imagine the new Christchurch could be made truly productive, by engaging more with the imagination and less through separately categorised sound-bites of information.

One way of harnessing the imagination to help create an integrated vision is via shared narrative creation.

Participatory narrative creation can be adapted as a tool for a city engaged in a hugely complex exercise of harmonizing and condensing endless fragments into meaningfully connected wholes.

Importantly, narrative creation can support villagers to create their own village-time in which they can begin to recognise and blend other forms of time.

In these new village narratives, national and global, economic and ecological and of course the earthquakes of geological time can begin to be recognised, anticipated and worked with proactively in terms of villagers possibilities and aspirations.

This is getting into big stuff. Do I hear the beginning of a yawn? Yes, I agree, don’t let it become spooky or boring.

The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last’ – Oscar Wilde

Narratives can be used to express a vision – commonly involving movement towards a happy ever after conclusion.

The narrative plot involves steps related to this vision, be they forward or backward movements, including unexpected turns of events, in the course of which there are conflicts to resolve.

For instance, in one form of narrative, differences can become a basis for disunity and discord.  For example, the vision I proposed for Christchurch as a cultural capital could be ruined by violence against Asians perpetuated by socially marginalised disaffected groups.  Christchurch is already referred to as the “home” of white supremacists.” On the other hand, differences can be made into narratives of a Christchurch that works through such conflicts to develop as a socially diverse Pacific Rim hub of innovation and prosperity.

As Ross Himona reminds us, there is a need to engage the creatives amongst us who can make it all comprehensible and exciting:

In fostering the production of local content, we should elevate the creative and imaginative capacity of local communities to at least the same level as the intellectual. We should bring the artists from the margins into the mainstream.

I agree. Now how can I express these ideas a submission? What category? I know, I’ll submit this Blog under a new category that I’ll create called “ands.”

I would as usual be interested in your views – I’d especially like to hear from anybody with more ands to add …

I’d like to acknowledge  Scott Lash for his concept of additivity (using “ands”) which I’ve adapted for use in this blog.


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