Thursday, 23 December 2010

Four visions of the future...

Just came across this on the marvellous 'Global Dashboard' website:
Jim Dator, a futurist at the University of Hawaii, developed a classification system in the 1970s that he has used ever since to order discussion about possible futures. He argues that there are just four main visions underlying attempts to outline possible or preferable futures. Here’s an outline of his four “Generic Images of the Future”:
Continued growth: This is still the most common view, and certainly the “official” view of most political and academic discussion. Growth is desirable because it has made good things possible for some people already, and will bring more good things to more people in future. The idea that growth might falter is usually discussed only in terms of economic recession, and almost always assumed to be a “Bad Thing” – as a glance as any newspaper will confirm.
Collapse of economic structures: This is the family of futures which descend from Malthus via The Limits to Growth. It has a popular constituency, who believe that the carrying capacity of the planet has already been exceeded, and that growth cannot be sustained much longer. The last straw may be climate change, oil depletion or a variety of other things, but the consequences are similar.
Disciplined, sustainable society: This is the first addition to the simple Malthusian versus Cornucopian visions. It means trying to manage things to avoid the worst. The “third way” is outlined in many detailed plans for organizing a transition from the current social and economic system. The premise is that growth cannot go on forever, and avoiding collapse is overwhelmingly important. So these scenarios try to outline paths to a sustainable, steady state. What form the transition might take is controversial, partly because of the difficulty of designing a no-growth economy that works according to the currently dominant capitalist model and does not fall into depression.
Transformation: These kinds of visions are about transformation, not transition, because they embrace a radical, usually technologically driven, alteration of the conditions of human life, and possibly of humanity itself. Under this heading are filed the future pictures which see the next stage of evolution as involving the immensely powerful development of, for example, artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering or nanotechnology. These are “post-human” futures that perhaps include moving to off-Earth environments – one pretty convincing way of escaping from a closed system.

A Song on the End of the World

I found this incredibly moving. It's a visual poem from the people at Adbusters. The closing frames put me in mind of what 2011 may look like. A year of activism awaits, I think.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Ten most watched in 2010

Am officially blown away by the fact the vigil we helped to PR at the John Lennon Peace Monument in Liverpool has appeared in China Daily as one of the ten most watched in 2010. Move over Wiki Leaks, Palin and Putin! The full story is here.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

More on world-saving museums

I was at the Maritime Museum in London yesterday giving a revved up version of my 'Can Museums Save the World' presentation which I blogged about a few weeks back; after suffering a train cancellation and moderate level ticket barrier carnage at Euston, I got there a wee bit late but in time to deliver my pitch. A fascinating group of senior people from National museums had been assembled, and all had a keen eye on what the future may hold for their institutions.

Much of my pitch is about sustainability, but blended with a bit of futurology. The basic question is: What will museums be like in 20, 30 or 40 years time if they are truly sustainable? Will they be embedded in their communities, treading lightly on the planet and financially thriving?

In terms of the futurology slice of my pitch pie, I've leant heavily on some superb work being done by the Center for the Future of Museums in the United States. They've produced a superb paper on what 2034 might look like for the museums sector, and for the California Association of Museums they've pulled together a full 'futures' resource guide complete with five 25 year scenarios, suggested worksheets and some guidelines on how to hold  a futures-focused session in your own organisation or network.

The sustainability part of my pitch however, is all the product of my own chunterings over the last couple of years. I genuinely see the world I know well (sustainability) and the world I am getting to know better (culture) as natural collaborators, if not wholly intertwined players in creating a better future. These two gorgeous worlds, bastions of progressive thinking, are of course arrayed against a third universe of infamy: the world that thinks economic growth and perpetual materialism are the only things that make life worth living.

Anyway so here are the key points:
  1. Happiness and wealth fell out with each other more than half a century ago.
  2. We need to ‘reboot’ economics and find a way to achieve prosperity without growth.
  3. Non-materialist forms of social capital and experience are part of the solution.
  4. Culture and the experience economy can win us back from materialism.
  5. Reaching people, and fighting for headspace, is a core strength of the cultural sector.
  6. Culture creates the places and spaces that people want to be in, fostering a more compelling and competitive identity.
  7. Innovation must no longer be the preserve of consumerist ‘novelty’ and desire but has to become part of how we craft our collective future.
Therefore, it's clear to me, that culture can (help to) save the world. Not least because just like the sphere of creative communications (design, media, advertising, film etc) that Creative Concern operates in, culture is an antidote to the idea that it is all about selling shit to sleepwalkers. I use this quote from Raymond Williams' 1962 book, Communications:
Our commonest economic error is the assumption that production and trade are our only practical activities, and that they require no other human justification or scrutiny. 
We need to say what many of us know in experience: that the life of man, and the business of society, cannot be confined to these ends; that the struggle to learn, to describe, to understand, to educate is a central and necessary part of our humanity.
I know to many, particularly in the current climate, the notion that economic growth is a futile and unsustainable pursuit probably comes across as a piece of sideshow prattling; but it is those that still pursue this ultimately self-defeating course of 'growth at all costs' that are, to use the vernacular, 'off their rockers'.

Another quote I like is from Edward Abbey:

"Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell."

Enough said.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Peace and love, Liverpool style

The world's media at the launch of the European Peace Monument
It was a busy weekend for the Creative Concern PR team. On Saturday (9th) we handled the global PR launch of a European Peace Monument gifted to Liverpool by the Global Peace Initiative (and created by artist Lauren Voiers) on what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday. We were commissioned by Liverpool’s Beatles Story attraction and also worked with the City, and with Liverpool One.

The event centred around the 18ft monument which was unveiled by Julian and Cynthia Lennon in the city’s deeply lovely Chavasse Park (one of my favourite bits of new green infrastructure across the region). The launch was attended by dignitaries from all over Europe and captured by the world’s media.

Unveiled live worldwide on BBC News 24 and Sky News the broadcast was syndicated nationally by CBS in the USA for live transmission on the popular ‘The Early Show’ reaching a global audience of millions. NBC in the USA, Russia’s NTV channel, Japan’s KGL, China’s CNC, Germany ZDF and Italy’s RAI attended creating packages of interviews from the live event.

In addition the story and images received blanket coverage around the world in print media from The Sunday Times and News of the World through to USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. The team here at Creative Concern also engaged directly with a global audience through social media.

I don't often do blatant trumpet blowing on this blog, but I'm dead chuffed by this one, and by the efforts of our super, fabulous and quietly dapper media team.

Also chuffed that it's all about... peace.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

What is Creative Concern?

I've recently been called upon to explain myself. Quite right too. Embedded below is a trolley dash through the chaos that is my head. It starts with a bit about why and how we do what we do at Creative Concern, before moving onto some of our bits of work 'out there' in the real world that we love so much.

As is ever the case, it's an evolving pitch so if there are any bits that could do with improvement, please send your thoughts in now on the back of stamped addressed envelope.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Can museums save the world?

I'm off to deliver a 'provocation' tomorrow morning at the annual Museums Association conference here in Manchester. My pitch – no huge surprise here - is whether museums can help chart our collective course into the future, deliver greater levels of environmental sustainability and deliver major societal change. Not asking too much there, then!

With the rest of the team at Creative Concern I've been lucky enough to work with loads of cultural organisations over the last few years, such as the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry and Renaissance Northwest. They're all amazing institutions and people, and I'm genuinely in awe of their potential to reach out and touch people, to open minds and, possibly, help us create a better world. Even in the 'Age of Austerity' there can be no other mission with such singular importance.

In putting the pitch together for tomorrow, I found myself particularly absorbed by the work of the Center for the Future of Museums in the US. They've done some great 'futurology' work recently and I think that they're a fine model to follow; the 'Tomorrow in the Golden State' report is worth reading, if you have the time.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Forests of TAFKAR*

I've been working on a plan, recently, to get some more trees in the ground. Nothing new there to anyone who has visited this blog before, but I thought it was time for an update.

I chair the Northwest Forestry Framework (soon to change it's name to something more in keeping with the political zeitgeist, but more on that another time) and have been working with a whole host of people, both in the Northwest but also in the national offices of the Forestry Commission, to put forward several areas in the Northwest as possible pilot areas for a major national push on woodland creation.

As an area of England with a level of woodland cover well below the national average, there is scope and opportunity for large scale tree planting and development right across Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Merseyside. When you look at the statistics, we are poorly served in these areas when it comes to woodlands.

The good news is that each of these areas has also developed clever and canny new models for woodland creation that deliver multiple benefits and move beyond traditional public sector investment models towards partnerships with business and the voluntary sector.

It's all very, 'Big Society'.

Now these areas are signing up to a ‘forestry manifesto' that I've been touting around the region since the start of the year. This manifesto seeks, over 40 years, to deliver a doubling in woodland cover, to have an immediate and significant impact on carbon stores, timber production, environmental resilience, green jobs, local image and happiness and wellbeing; this is a vision of an intensely productive, as well as beautiful, landscape.

Show me the money

It all sounds very motherhood and apple pie, but who is going to pay? There are a number of existing or planned investment models across the Northwest which warrant further development and replication elsewhere. These include:

• Woodland planting as a key aspect of PFI (Public Finance Initiative) contracts and, specifically, waste management strategies;

• Working with large-scale developers to create an attractive setting for investment and adding value to land-based asset portfolios;

• Practical business partnerships providing improved local area ‘image', biomass resources or climate change adaptation;

• Woodland or green infrastructure bonds, where investors can support woodland creation by investing in a bond that provides non-fiscal benefits in lieu of interest payments as part of a CSR or sustainability strategy;

• Developing a suite of woodland creation opportunities alongside community interest levies/section 106 arrangements where developers support environmental works as a condition of their planning consents; and

• Integrated land use planning to maintain and improve water quality.

• Landscape-scale, economically-linked programmes to aid recovery and local economic resilience.

Some of the above options sound a little jargon laden, but they have the potential to help us get some trees in the ground, and that's what I care about. Each of these investment models is either already in play across one of our counties or city regions, or is ready to be developed by one or more partners.

Breaking down barriers

From the discussions we've been having so far, these partners are ready to start delivering woodland creation, on the ground, if certain barriers to progress can be removed. These barriers include:

• The ‘Hope value' attached to under-utilised land and the misplaced notion that new woodlands permanently remove large areas from possible future development;

• More flexible, short to medium term land use deals and frameworks that will allow the notion of ‘temporary' woodland to be pursued;

• Clear signals on the future of carbon pricing and accounting in relation to woodland creation;

• The lack of a mechanism for business to report on the carbon benefits of woodland creation programmes as part of their net greenhouse gas emissions; and

• The consideration of effective tax regimes to encourage investment in new planting in areas of need as a way for business to play a part in 'big society' programmes.

Making it happen

So the exciting thing is that if we bash down a few barriers, win over some hearts and minds, and pull our fingers out, the partners in the Northwest Forestry Forum are ready to begin work piloting a new wave of woodland creation using innovative funding and delivery models such as these.

More trees, in the ground, delivering a huge range of benefits.

And the track record for delivery across the region is solid and impressive, with the Community Forests (e.g. Mersey Forest and Red Rose Forest) having already planted 12 million trees and millions more having been planted through the Forestry Commission's Capital Modernisation Fund and Newlands programme.

Here are some more tangible examples of where can start planting.

Real life example - Mersey Belt

There is an immediate opportunity for an ‘Adapting the Landscape' pilot across what has been coined the ‘Atlantic Gateway', connecting the twin city regions of Greater Manchester and Merseyside with the Northern areas of Cheshire.

Such a pilot would be focused on woodland creation in and around key physical development sites and along transport corridors; on productive forestry including biomass; on leisure, recreation and the ‘visitor economy'.

Funding can be drawn from business through receipts from soils deposition, community interest levies, Section 106 agreements, through an easing of planning constraints if the creation of greenspace is assured and possible short-term amnesties against business tax.

Delivery partners would include large development businesses in the area, as well as the key Local Enterprise Partnerships and the voluntary sector in the form of community forests and Groundwork.

Real life example - Lancashire

In Lancashire there is already an innovative model for woodland creation in the form of the county's ‘Woodlands from Waste' programme linked to a soon to be commissioned, 25 year, £2 billion Waste PFI.

A partnership of Lancashire County Council, 13 Local Authorities and their commercial contractor, Global Renewables, alongside the Forestry Commission, will be planting and managing 100,000 new trees per year for the next 25 years - creating woodland on brown and greenfield sites across the area. The cost is being met through savings on landfill taxes and, in addition, is utilising a growing medium by-product of the waste treatment process.

Real life example - Cumbria and Lancashire

Water company United Utilities has pioneered a programme called the Sustainable Catchment Management Programme (SCaMP), working with farmers and land managers, local authorities, Government and other conservation organisations to influence how water catchment areas are managed and properly funded. The objective is a double win of improved water quality (under the European Water Framework Directive) as well as conservation of the natural environment. UU's partner in the programme has been the RSPB.

The project has leveraged in public funding to help deliver an increase in clough woodland, with 450 hectares of upland oak woodland to be planted, some 300,000 trees being planted and 200km of fencing to allow for moorland restoration and woodland planting. It has carried out the work in two of its four estate areas: Bowland in Lancashire, and the Southern estate including Longdendale, the Goyt and parts of the Peak District.

Meeting Defra's priorities

It may sound a bit arcane, but in the absence of any major eco bills or statements, there are still some clear signals as to what the new government's priorities are, not least in the departmental 'Structural Reform Plans' which have beenpublished. How does the above outlined activity ‘fit' with the three key priorities outlined in Defra's structural reform plan?

The woodland creation opportunities highlighted can directly contribute to and foreshorten the delivery of each priority and relevant actions and milestones. Specifically:

Support and develop British farming and encourage sustainable food production

Defra's objective is to enhance the competitiveness and resilience of the whole food chain, including farms and the fish industry, to ensure a secure, environmentally sustainable and healthy supply of food with improved standards of animal welfare.

Woodland creation can contribute to this objective in a number of ways. It will provide affordable measures of support for hill farmers via diversifying farm incomes e.g. through timber sales and reduced energy cost savings through woodfuel.

It will also help with animal husbandry, particularly in the uplands, primarily through the provision of shelter. Woodland creation will also lead to more sustainable, integrated land use where for example, higher value agricultural land holdings can be protected through woodland creation ‘upstream' stablising soils and alleviating flooding.

Biodiversity and landscape

Defra's objective is to enhance and protect the natural environment, including biodiversity and the marine environment, by reducing pollution and preventing habitat loss and degradation.

A pilot of new woodland creation in the Mersey Belt, Cumbria or Lancashire will contribute to this in a number of ways.

It will deliver more green spaces for local communities, new native habitats and wildlife corridors needed to help wildlife adapt to expected climate change impacts. It will help stabilise soils, improve water quality and reclaim damaged, brownfield land. In addition there will be increased tree planting by private sector and civic societies.

Support a strong and sustainable green economy, resilient to climate change

Defra's objective is to encourage businesses, people and communities to manage and use natural resources in a sustainable manner and to reduce waste; and work to ensure that the UK economy is resilient to climate change.

A woodland creation pilot will directly address this objective, as the approaches above show, it can directly provide a source of carbon storage and can be deployed in partnership with the private sector.

Next steps

As you might imagine, I'm dead keen to play these arguments out to national players - especially Defra - but also to the emerging Local Economic Partnerships which have been causing such a stir in local politics over the last few weeks.

In addition, this proposal will be the centrepiece of our next meeting of the Forestry Forum on November 8 of this year; if you want to come along, just let me know. We need every bit of help we can get to achieve that goal we've set for ourselves - a doubling of woodland cover.


*TAFKAR = The Area Formerly Known as Region.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Paul Smith and the Manchester Velodrome

This film is great. I hereby pledge to only cycle in Paul Smith suits*.

*Subject to budget.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Infographics. Brilliant infographics.

I'm indebted to the fabulous people at UHC for sending out an email with this amazing (but chilling/sobering/depressing) infographic linked to it. The graphic has been produced by GDS Infographics, one of a series of genuinely brilliant pieces of work. Check them out.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The MAMILs have a job to do - ditch the Lycra!

Love this. Courtesy of my friends at Love Your Bike and via the excellent online news site, I've encountered the marvellous concept of MAMILs (or middle-aged men in Lycra).

Basically the idea is that there's major growth in cycling amongst men of a certain age who, instead of turning to a Porsche or a Harley Davidson as they lurch headlong into their midlife crisis, are buying a high-end bike, peeling on some crotch-hugging Lycra leggings, and then getting out on the road.

The findings are part of a report released in June from Mintel. Amongst the 'highlights' in the report are the fact that the keenest cyclists are most likely to have at least two cars in their household, they're also broadsheet readers and are likely to have an average household income of over £50,000.

And they're mostly blokes. Middle-aged blokes.

So far, so almost fascinating. My own hugely comprehensive survey on the streets of Manchester is that there are a growing number of cycling 'typologies' of which we should be aware:

FFOPs - Floaty Frock on Pashley. This new subset of cyclist is a bloody breath of fresh air. Normal clothes, elegant bike and generally higher regard for the little things like red lights, not mowing down pedestrians and being generally courteous.

NOAF - Nutter on a Fixie. You know who I mean. They're not in Lycra. They're in black skinny jeans. Anarchists on two wheels for whom no piece of roadspace is too tight a squeeze. Love their bikes though. Yum.

BBOYS - BMX with Bumcrack. Why these students are 'commuting' along Oxford Road on those tiny little stunt bikes is beyond me. Apart from the constant flashes of bottom, equally amusing is their insistence in overtaking you whilst frantically peddling their teeny little wheels only to slow down horribly once you hit a straight patch of road. Bless.

Anyway, back to those MAMILs. I've got a problem here. First of all, like my wife I think that Lycra is a privilege and not a right; lots of these boys are NOT equipped to be wearing Lycra and should steer well clear. Furthermore there is a central issue about making all cyclists look like refugees from the Tour de France.

We have to normalise cycling. It's critical! I think those of us for whom cycling is our daily preferred mode of travel have a moral duty, which I would set out as follows:

1. Look normal. Do not wear Lycra and where possible avoid performance clothing. It looks ugly, and sends out a subliminal message to the rest of the world that cycling is an extreme sport. It is not, it is the best way to get from A2B and the weirder we make it look, the less likely people are to join us in the saddle. Grow up, and stop dressing up.

2. Be super-courteous. We should be the very opposite of Lycra banditos and instead be the lovely, lovely knights and knightesses of the road. Let the bus out! Make way for that driver! Stop and give someone directions! And of course, stop at red lights.

3. Embrace elegance. Here of course I'm following a well trodden path set forth by the excellent people at The Tweed Cycling Club and outlets like Rapha. We should make cycling aspirational, desirable and the mode du jour! Now if I could just afford that Timothy Everest jacket, I'd be away. Must also figure out the etiquette of pipe-smoking whilst cycling.

Mintel are right to highlight the MAMIL but rather than jibing at him, he should be challenged, to become an ambassador for cycling, on a mission to get more people peddling. And he could start by choosing to cycle to work, and do so in a way that makes the whole thing seem fashionable, safe and not requiring the donning of an outfit that makes you look like you're either about to jump down a luge run or storm the Death Star.

I'm thinking plus fours and a natty cap might do the trick.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Brand Hell

Just stumbled, thanks to the Twitter feed of @antonvowl, upon a genuine glimpse of what hell might look like. The Daily Mail and Internet Explorer, fused together like two dark, sinister and dastardly siamese twins. IE8 customised for the Mail Online. Genuinely hurts my head, this one.

In fact, it's got me wondering if Satan is actually walking amongst us, running an FMCG brand and marketing company (not that hard to imagine) working up evil brand synergies to unleash upon us all.

Next up? How about Jeremy Clarkson's own brand line of foie gras pâtés? And isn't it about time they brought out a Blackberry with an in-built taser? More suggestions please, and I'll pass them onto the fallen one.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Factor Four for Greater Manchester

Have got myself worked up over the last few days about the notion of a radical eco-efficiency programme for Greater Manchester's local authorities, all carried out in the interest of protecting public services... Basically a Factor Four programme for the city region. Given the possible scale of such an effort, it could save millions, but would have to be ruthless in the pace it set and uncompromising in terms of challenging bureaucracy.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Da Gryptions - The Bixi Anthem

This is so brilliant I've had to watch it twice. They even rapped 'carbon footprint'! Amazing.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Mersey Forest takes to the sky...

Had to share this one - a really cute story. We staged a press launch and photocall last week at the Mab Lane Community Woodland for the Mersey Forest and Forestry Commission. My colleagues were there at the break of dawn, inflating (biodegradable) balloons with tags attached full of wildflower seeds.

It was the one and only rainy morning of the week, predictably, but even so more than 30 children from St Brigids, St Albert’s RC and Mab Lane Primary School released the biodegradable balloons filled with wild flower seeds into the air to help plant vibrant patches of wild flowers right across the region and beyond.

The exciting thing came when this appeared on the woodland's blog site:

"I’m a teacher at Highfield Hall Primary School in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. One of the Nursey children I was teaching bought a big bunch of colourful balloons in, having found them on her way to school. The children are going to be planting them on Monday. The Nursery children were very excited and interseted in the story behind the balloons and can’t wait to plant the seeds. What a lovely idea!!"

So our balloons flew up into a soggy sky and made it 66 miles at least. Totally lovely.

The event was staged to mark the completion of the planting of 20,000 new trees to create the Mab Lane Community Woodland on two former brown field sites in West Derby as part of The Mersey Forest.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Winning with ENWORKS

Dead chuffed that we've won the contract to deliver communications support to the marvellous people at ENWORKS, the Northwest’s award-winning environmental business support service.

After pitching against a bunch of other agencies (there's some serious and talented competition out there by the way) we've won the three-year contract to help improve the competitiveness and productivity of Northwest businesses by building ENWORKS’ profile, regionally and further afield.

We've been lucky enough to work with ENWORKS before, as they've been going strong since 2001, and have helped more than 10,000 companies to date. ENWORKS is now a leading authority on environmental business issues, providing free support for businesses to become more profitable by reducing their use of CO2, water and materials.

Anyway we think they're fab and it's great to be working with them again. The YouTube clip above is an example of one of our previous campaigns for them, which did not involve harm or injury coming to the businessman involved. Honest.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

There is an alternative

We've just released our film for Cooperative Fortnight called 'There is an alternative'. We had luminaries from a host of cooperatives come into the studio for the shoot, and I'm dead chuffed with the outcome.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Driving out into a digital age

This is me: I'm a geeky, early adopting cyclist. Love tech, hate cars.

The former is the future, the latter is the smelly, polluting past. Which is why I've got myself in a frothy little lather about a posting on the eminent and fabulous Streetblog in the States. The piece, by Sarah Goodyear, follows up an earlier article in Ad Age about young Americans driving less as they become ever more seduced by the tippity-tap texting and Twittering of the digital age.

The proposition is that a recent decline in registered drivers amongst younger people is coming about as 'the younger generation increasingly sees a wired lifestyle as incompatible with a motorized one'. Quoting one pundit in Ad Age, Streetblog sets out the case:

"William Draves blames the Internet. Mr. Draves, president of Lern, a consulting firm which focuses mainly on higher education, and co-author of "Nine Shift," maintains that the digital age is reshaping the U.S. and world early in this century, much like the automobile reshaped American life early in the last century.

"His theory is that almost everything about digital media and technology makes cars less desirable or useful and public transportation a lot more relevant. Texting while driving is dangerous and increasingly illegal, as is watching mobile TV or working on your laptop. All, at least under favorable wireless circumstances, work fine on the train. The Internet and mobile devices also have made telecommuting increasingly common, displacing both cars and public transit."

Now, I know the reality of some 'tech' on public transport (such as upstairs on the number 86 from Chorlton) is a yoof playing hardcore rap through the tinny speaker on his Nokia rather than elegant young metropolitans Twittering about Derrida but hey, there's something here that's hugely uplifting, not least because so much of this frenzied 'thumb action' is about connections, communications and social media.

Tune in, switch off and buy a ticket. Fabulous.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The latest on the Big Woody Plan

Had a great meeting in Wigan today with the nice folks at Northwest Environment Link. I was pitching up with my woodland creation manifesto, the latest version of which you can click through to below. Select 'menu' in the viewer window below and 'full screen' to get full benefit of the marvellous Slideshare.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

More food... more urban greening

There's a theme developing this afternoon, it's all about food. Have just come across a brilliant scheme outlined in Fast Company magazine, courtesy of my good friend Adam Lubinsky at URS Corporation. The project is a really exciting new rooftop farm in Brooklyn which opens imminently, is powered by photovoltaics, collects rainwater for irrigation and will see its produce delivered, by bicycle, to a number of outlets including Whole Foods. If stuff like this doesn't convince you that the world can be saved, nothing will. Totally fabulous.

Urban food AND bikes!!!

Find more photos like this on MetaboliCity

This is how to totally get me wound up and excited - urban food growing which explicitly references green infrastructure AND which has a load of bikes thrown in for good measure. Totally brilliant stuff from Metabolicity.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Dwight Towers on academics

Okay, I'm married to an academic and she is the absolute fulcrum, focus and filigree of my life, but I had to pass on the wise, wise words of Manchester's very own Dwight Towers. In the latest DT blog post there is a rip-roaring sideswipe on academics, citizen participation in Manchester and on the journey you'll encounter Foucault's notion of 'governmentality'. All I can say is that it is a fine way to start the week and gives me an excuse to use a picture of Michel Foucault.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Hide and seek, at Brockholes

We recently finished a new brand for the exciting ‘Brockholes’ project, a Lancashire Wildlife Trust plan to create a new £8.6 million nature reserve and visitor centre on the site of a former gravel works just outside Preston. The project is being funded, to a large degree, by the Newlands programme which we’ve worked on for a number of years now for the Forestry Commission and NWDA.

We’re proud of our work on Brockholes - led by our senior designer Helen Thomas. It’s a pretty extensive brand work-up, stretching through to retail, interpretation, ‘play’ and the tone of voice of the people that will meet and greet when you visit the 106 hectare complex from Spring 2011.

We’ve liaised closely with the architect Adam Khan whose ‘Floating World’ design is genuinely inspirational and we’ve done loads of research, both on comparator brands and the brandscape, as well as focus groups with the target audiences for this ‘unreserved reserve’.

We’ve opted for a monochrome palette to reflect the Wildlife Trust brand and the word Brockholes is supported by a lexicon of spot words, which show some of the fun things you can do. The whole thing comes together as if visitors themselves had been involved in the creation of the site; as if they doodled Brockholes up out of the disused quarry next to the M6. This will be extended, we hope, to invitations to interact across the site, with black and white internal walls that come to represent giant blackboards – with fun headlines supplemented by chalk or charcoal so that adults and children alike can leave their mark.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The City Region Project

Last night the world shifted, a little. Stockport joined the other nine local authorities across Greater Manchester and agreed to establish a combined authority for the ‘city region’ of Manchester.

I know, it sounds like a mouthful, and that’s even before you start talking about ‘Economic Prosperity Boards’ or ‘Agglomeration Economies’.

Put simply the Combined Authority is a permanent and statutory body that has powers over some fairly major issues like transport, planning, regeneration, skills and employment. Critically it will also (hopefully) make sense of Greater Manchester’s work on tackling climate change and creating a low carbon economy.

We don’t get the fun and games of an elected Mayor, which I’m a little disappointed at, given that such a figure would, to my mind, give us more ‘punch’ nationally and internationally. Instead we’ll get a slight reshuffling of AGMA deckchairs to create a city region executive (stay awake at the back there!).

If like me, you’ve been traveling on the slightly dilapidated trolley bus of devolution for some time (I was part of the aborted ‘YES’ for devolution campaign a number of years ago), then this is all a step in the right direction. We don’t have enough power, Whitehall doesn’t always serve us well, and there is far too little accountability at the regional level, in spite of the good job that our Regional Development Agency has done.

But that last point is critical. This has to boost the transparency of power.

If I’m honest, I think the workings of AGMA (the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities) to date have been related to the world at large with all the compulsion and flare of an incarcerated scoundrel scratching out days on the wall of his cell. Either that or a narcoleptic let loose with a word processor. Dig deep into the bowels of the web and you will find AGMA minutes, impenetrable research reports, crunchy and badly rendered maps.

You won’t find anything exciting. Trust me.

So that’s what we need to pull off now. We need to make this next great phase for the city Disraeli described as ‘the most wonderful of modern times’ a compelling, high profile tour de force. It needs to set the world alight. It needs to set a different model for our future prosperity.

Most importantly it needs to communicate. If it’s back to somnambulant business as usual, I’m off the bus.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Co-operating on carbon in Moss Side

A few years ago we (Creative Concern and chums) launched Manchester is My Planet to generally positive noises nationally and regionally; the key to the whole endeavour was the very simple idea that a big, hairy, global problem like climate change possibly could be solved if you made it local, relevant and fused to a greater sense of civic pride. Later on this was an approach which we also adopted when helping to get Foundation launched.

It's a straighforward bit of thinking: climate change and melting planet - very scary - can result in paralysis through fear and dispair - not good! Local action, down your street, by people you recognise is not scary but really 'do-able'. People not scared. People empowered. Planet saved.

That's the theory, and I reckon it's sound.

Anyway the latest outing for this thinking is the fabulous new Carbon Co-op in South Manchester (more specifically Moss Side). The idea is a new, low carbon social enterprise that helps neighbourhoods co-operate to save energy and money. The Co-op launched on Saturday and will kick off across two Moss Side streets with residents working together on bulk-buying low carbon technologies, insulation, energy monitors and other such green gizmos.

The Carbon Co-op is being supported by NESTA's Big Green Challenge Fund and Manchester City Council's Carbon Innovation Fund and it includes a very good 'manual for living' that I'd recommend to anyone. Having tried on many an occasion to make climate change palatable, understandable and compelling on the printed page, I love to see it done well, and right. The project has a bunch of other people I respect involved, including one of the team behind 'Wythenshawe Forever' (Jonathan Atkinson) and the brilliant Charlie Baker from Urbed.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Can culture (help to) save the world?

Can culture help to save the world? That was the theme of a presentation I gave this week to Renaissance Northwest, the collective of museums, galleries and libraries across England's Northwest.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Clean city and the purpose of communications

Is advertising an accident of capitalism? Is pervasive commercial marketing simply visual pollution that should be curtailed? Is the point of our industry (design, marketing, communications) to connect people and ideas together more strongly, rather than to serve those very paymasters who would simply like to shift stock and bolster their bottom line? None of these questions are new, but they have an added relevance at the moment and they’re playing on my mind on an almost daily basis.

It always pays to pick up an old, but trusted, book and remind yourself that stronger and more experience minds have wrestled with critical philosophical questions time and again; they may even have pinned down an answer or two. So I’m back with Raymond Williams, the man who shaped 1960s Cultural Theory. His 1962 book ‘Communications’ is helping me to shape some of my thinking about what our business, communications, is for, in the light of the current (overdue) debate about new economic models and prosperity without growth. Here are some of his opening words in the book, and as you’ll see, they have stood the test of time:

“In our own generation, there has been a dramatic tightening of interest in this world of communications. The development of powerful new means of communication has coincided, historically, with the extension of democracy and with the attempts, by many kinds of ruling group, to control and manage democracy.”

Critically, Williams goes on to assert that society and communications are one in the same: 

“We have seen the central concerns of society as property, production and trade. These approaches remain important, but they are now joined by a new emphasis: that society is a form of communication through which experience is described, shared, modified and preserved.”

Williams also continues to state that modern communications has already (in the 60s) been abused for political control as propaganda and for commercial profit as advertising. It is this last point, the sense that communications has been abused through advertising for commercial gain, that is particularly powerful and appropriate for anyone getting their head around the question of what design, (social) marketing, public relations and communications is for. For me, what Williams is stating is the notion that communications, a powerful and creative shared conversation across society, has become synonymous with ‘selling stuff’ only as a direct result of its capture by capitalism. Extend this line of enquiry and reflect back to Williams’ assertion that society and communications are in unity, and the conclusion is a powerful one:

“Our commonest economic error is the assumption that production and trade are our only practical activities, and that they require no other human justification or scrutiny. We need to say what many of us know in experience: that the life of man, and the business of society, cannot be confined to these ends; that the struggle to learn, to describe, to understand, to educate is a central and necessary part of our humanity.”

There’s currently plenty of debate around what prosperity post-crunch should actually represent in our society and the idea that seeing economic activity as being our singular measure of progress is, to cut to the chase, barking mad. Williams’ fifty year-old declaration that communications is for something other than chasing profits and consumption fits right into this dialogue; it could almost have been drafted in the last twelve months rather than in the early 60s.

One thing that is powerful about Williams’ critique is that it is directed at the process and practice of communications itself, rather than more narrowly at the corporations that are driving communications or the consumers who are the recipients of their cajoling gaze. It was in a discussion with Jai from UHC last year, that I finally came to the conclusion that for too long the critique of advertising has focused on and ridiculed the consumer, rather than the creators of the ad or the promo. Adbusters is a good case in point here. Great creative, powerful analysis, but in their ‘Obsession’ or ‘McGrease’ culture jamming ads for example I can’t help but feel it is the consumer and not the superstructure of international marketing communications that is being deconstructed and ridiculed.

So perhaps it’s time to take the battle to the doors of the ad agencies and the marketeers. I’m still thinking and working this through, and tossing around the idea of the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle as applied to advertising, but one example of pro-active action does stand out: the Clean City Law of Sao Paulo.

In 2007 the mayor Gilberto Kassab was on a mission to remove the city of visual clutter. This, the fourth-largest city in the world, was to made beautiful as part of a Clean City Law. It was a bold programme and it included a push to remove virtually all visual advertising from the city. The idea was to let the city and green space and natural scenery take a higher level of prominence rather than ads for cars, knickers and consumer goods.

The advertisers did not go willingly, dragging their heels and getting slapped with an $8 million fine in the process, but as contemporary images of Sao Paulo show (such as those by the documentary photographer Tony de Marco), the city has been scrubbed clean of advertising clutter, and the result is not a Soviet-style denuded city of faceless buildings and lifeless streets. The programme has worked thusfar and has been met with some approval, with surveys showing seven out of ten residents happy with the new law. 

Tony de Marco’s photography does show one strange outcome of the law - the billboards and supporting structures still remain even thought he shrill call to BUY BUY BUY has been removed, leaving a ghostlike remembrance of the art of selling hanging over the city like some angels in a Herzog movie. I don’t know if this is the outcome I’d be after.

Going back to Raymond Williams, if communications is one with society, and if it could just as importantly be an alternative force “through which experience is described, shared, modified and preserved,” then surely there should be a case not simply for a comprehensive teardown of the billboards but of a shared space where society gets some of its mental space back. Imagine ‘folk advertising’ that shared recipes for jam, DIY tips or the very latest available on Freecycle; imagine a new platform for emboldened social marketing that promoted health, sustainability or tolerance; imagine simply setting these spaces over to art and creativity.

If communications is society’s shared conversation, and it has been all about consumerism until now, then let’s shift the topic, and talk about something new, and better.

[image by Tony de Marco]

Saturday, 27 February 2010

A Forestry Manifesto for England’s Northwest

Imagine, for a moment, asking a team of gifted engineers to invent a single device that could absorb and then lock up carbon, provide a carbon neutral building material or energy source, help stabilise vulnerable soils, provide a flood management system and offer a source of shade and cooling as the planet’s temperatures begin to rise.

And then imagine asking them to make it a beautiful and inspiring object too, one that created a wildlife habitat and pollution filter, to boot, an object that made virtually every human being feel happier.

Trees – they hold so many answers. Which is why it’s time in our region to make much more of forestry and woodlands.

I chair the Forestry Framework for England’s Northwest and, this week, had my tenure renewed for two more years. More importantly, I presented and had accepted a shared manifesto for forestry across the region that will set a clear target for planting more trees: we want to double woodland cover within a generation - by 2050. See the post below for the presentation I gave on Thursday.

Our manifesto is shaped around seven points, with woodland creation as a starting point:

We will radically increase tree planting and double woodland cover.

We will bring a cool green revolution to our towns and cities.

We will play a major part in tackling climate change.

We will produce more timber and use more timber.

We will support green jobs and sustainable skills.

We will help to create healthier and happier communities.

We will transform our region’s image, from the field to the city.

These are the seven points that embrace our region’s singular opportunity: to place trees and woodland centre stage in our region’s future. We want to double our regional woodland cover by 2050 and in the process deliver a greener, lower carbon and more prosperous future to forthcoming generations.

This ambition is the focus of our forestry manifesto and is borne out of a desire to tackle climate change head on, to improve our region’s image, provide a richer and more accessible natural environment and to create genuine opportunities for job creation and enterprise.

This manifesto sits alongside our more extensive Forestry Framework, Agenda for Growth, which has been drawn up by a host of stakeholders, experts and government agencies to monitor and shape the woodland and forestry sector in our region for the next twenty years. With six action areas and dozens of specific priorities the Framework has a wider focus than this companion manifesto, which is tightly structured around a singular goal: double our region’s woodland cover.

Northwest Forestry Framework - The Manifesto

This is my presentation from Thursday this week to colleagues from the Northwest's Forestry Framework - our plan is to double woodland cover, secure millions of tonnes of carbon AND create more green jobs.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Communication responsables...

I was in Brussels this week, for a pitch on sustainable transport, EU partnerships and the need to hammer down carbon emissions in the public transport sector. We should be in with a shout: the project is communications support for a number of partner cities (including Manchester) and our consortium was made up of a unique network of agencies specialising in sustainable or green communications.

There's always a chance that some monolithic, multinational, boring, über-agency will stomp in and promise the world, but our network of creative, smaller agencies with a strong record on transport and the environment, has to be a winner.

Other than the chance of winning the project, the collaboration has been really useful for swapping notes with other people who 'do what we do' in other countries. Here in the UK, I would only really cite Futerra as a fellow traveller of ours, so it's brilliant to discover like minds in Europe. The two other agencies at the pitch were Yuluka in Brussels (who brilliantly pulled together the partnership) and Sidièse in Paris. Both fab, both with ideas and approaches to share.

We're thinking about formalising our network into something more high profile, structured around the notion of 'communication responsables', a French-born approach to sustainable communications which I'm busy learning about and which it would do no harm to bring to a wider audience in the UK. Core principles include transparency and honesty; it also appears to be a direct attempt to block ever higher levels of greenwash on the part of major corporates. More anon.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Covering up for the Whitworth

The new wallpaper exhibition at the Whitworth - Walls Are Talking - launches in February and our team at Creative Concern have been hard at work designing the promo campaign for the show, which we’re really proud of.

Walls Are Talking is the first exhibition of its kind in the UK, featuring wallpapers by more than 30 internationally known artists including Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Niki de St. Phalle. Already well known for its wallpaper collection, the Whitworth is pulling together a genuinely challenging show and we knew that the campaign to promote it had to be every bit as edgy.

We worked with the City’s Creative Director, Peter Saville and photographer Graeme Cooper to produce the artwork, which directly responds to some of the core themes that the exhibition explores: subversion, sexuality and imprisonment.

The image (see above) features a portrait shown from below the eyes. It is an anonymous face with the mouth torn away revealing a layer of wallpaper. We wanted to capture the concept of the exhibition which is the idea of something passive taking over; ‘if only the walls could talk’.

Wallpaper was on my mind over Christmas actually, when I listened again to Stephen Fry’s ‘blessay’ on aesthetics and Oscar Wilde. In the podcast he recounts the time when Wilde was asked his view of the United States, famously responding that the reason that the US was such a violent, brutal place was because its wallpaper was so ugly.

As Stephen Fry then draws out, this is typical wildean flippancy at first hearing but actually stems from a deep belief in aesthetics and, critically, in the aesthetics of the everyday. It is the notion that if we care about design and quality and beauty then it will lift the spirits, enrich the human condition, make the world a better place.

Which is one reason why I’ll be just as focused on the Whitworth’s huge collection of ‘everyday’ wallpapers spanning several centuries, as well as the pieces submitted by the big name artists. Good design, and beauty, is something we should encounter from the moment we wake until the moment we finally stop Twittering and nod off to sleep.

And everyday aesthetics - finally - takes me back to one of my great Whitworth moments. The gallery has always been one of my favourites spaces, for over 20 years now. When I was a student I was there often, and one day a huge school group arrived to fill in work sheets, make some drawings and chatter their way through the galleries. As they emerged into the space, confronted by the rich collection of work, one of the children looked down, not up, and belted out the most lovely refrain: “What a beautiful floor!”

Walls Are Talking opens on February 6 and runs until May 3 and is collaboration with the V&A Museum. It includes specially commissioned work from artists Michael Craig-Martin and Catherine Bertola.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Green apples...

Now I know that Mac Addicts the world over are ridiculed for the glazed, starry-eyed look that comes over them whenever their computers-of-choice are talked about, mentioned or featured in a Hollywood flick... we can see no bad in the cult led by Jobs. All is good in the land of Apple.

But even more than usual, I am currently a very, very happy Apple user. In the last few years, in spite of GORGEOUS machines coming out, and an ever-better operating system and the market-changing iPhone (swoon), Apple had a problem - it kept tanking in the environmental stakes. It repeatedly scored low in comparative reports between different manufacturers and so as a result became a target for campaigners; green Mac users like me kept our heads down.

Now we can take heart as Apple has topped a green computer league table published by Greenpeace. Due to innovations like the removal of PVC from cables, or that clever unibody that encases the laptop I'm typing into, Apple has emerged at the head of the league. Bloody lovely stuff.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Love your bike... just don't take a tram

Here's a good quote for a dark and frosty winter's day, it's from Arthur Conan Doyle:

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”

Lovely... but just don't try and get on a tram when those legs get a little tired, as it looks like Greater Manchester is about to vote to continue its ban on tram-borne bikes.

It pains me to say it, but when it comes to bikes on the metro, London can do it. In fact a host of other cities can manage it. Here's just a snapshot of light rail or tram services around the world that let cyclists on board:

Sydney Light Rail
British Colombia SkyLink
Calgary Transit
Copenhagen Metr
Lille – Transpole
Berlin BVG
Bielefeld moBiel
Frankfurt VGF
Hannover USTRA
Munchen MVV
Nurnberg VGN
Stuttgart SSB -
Amsterdam GVB
Rotterdam RET
Charlotte LYNX
Dallas Area Rapid Transit
Denver RTD
Miami Dade County Transit
Minneapolis MetroTransit
Phoenix Valley Metro
Portland Trimet
St Louis Metro

So there you go; not impossible; which was actually the conclusion of the Greater Manchester Authorities in 2002 when they “unanimously agreed to the principle of allowing bikes on trams during non-peak hours”.

Understandably, our friends at the Friends of the Earth-run Love Your Bike campaign are not best pleased. They think that allowing bicycles to travel on off-peak trams would encourage more people to combine tram and cycle journeys for commuting, shopping and leisure, and be an effective way to reduce carbon emissions. This argument is given greater power once they point out that Greater Manchester's own transport strategy suggests that between 2 and 5 miles is a perfect cycling distance, and that around 90% of the Greater Manchester population will soon be within a 2.5 mile cycle ride of a tram (when the hugely welcome new Metrolink services are completed).

The vote on this takes place tomorrow and Love Your Bike is calling on anyone who can to urge the GMITA committee members to honour the pledge made in 2002 and vote to allow cycle carriage on off-peak cycle trams. If you fancy adding your voice, click here to send them an email.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Frost-coated windows

P1032452, originally uploaded by shrinkingworld.

Loved this frost formation on a garage window this morning.