Ripples Out – Reflections

First of all congratulations to everyone involved (Lippy Films, Yorkshire Forward, Together for Peace and local residents) in creating a powerful, provocative  film.

I sincerely hope that it helps disturb the comfortable equilibrium in Leeds (and beyond) that exists between the controllers of the public purse and the developers.  There maybe a brief window for reflection while development is ‘put on pause’ by recession – but I am sure that we will soon see business resumed as usual – if only temporarily.  At the moment, conveniently, there is no other game in town.

The likelihood of this will be increased if we focus our time and energies in trying to ‘influence’ the processes of planners and developers.  This will be playing their game – on their terms.  And I have a sneaking hunch about who might win – no matter how articulate and informed those that advocate the voice of the community are.  We also run the risk of further contributing to the dilution of our personal power as now, instead of relying on planners, we learn to rely on ‘our representatives’ to create a better future for us.  Developers and communities can become bedfellows – trading favours, but they are unlikely to become allies – they are seeking different and mutually exclusive goals.

The ‘Planners Analysis’ that says ‘give us time to finish‘, ‘forgive us a few mistakes‘ and ‘we just need to complete our investments‘ essentially says that ‘Planning’ works.  Visions, blueprints, plans and ‘investments’ will lead us to a better world.  ‘You ‘the people’ will be well looked after once we have engineered things fully – but we need more than 10 years – much more‘.

Can I be the only one that doubts this promise?

Am I the only one that thinks they, the planners, don’t really believe this themselves?

But it keeps the Porsches and the Mercedes on the road.  This is an unsustainable and unjust paradigm for progress that we engage with at our peril.  Our best endeavours are perhaps focussed on the search for a new paradigm for progress.

Perhaps the root of the problem is a perception that it is the decisions and actions of ‘others’ that largely determine the course and quality of our lives.  That the quality of our lives depend on decisions about where money is spent and what infrastructure is built.  If ‘others’ make the wrong decision or do their jobs badly our communities will be broken.  This is a dangerous and pernicious myth made even more dangerous and pernicious by an obvious ‘face validity’.  But we have learned that it takes more than PVC windows and doors to ‘renew’ communities.  Physical infrastructure creates profits (on a good day).  It rarely creates sustainable progress.

If we believe that others have ‘the power’ then we are relinquishing ours.

Finance and infrastructure accrue as a by-product of community.  As by-products of people (diverse tribes including inventors, creatives, workers, financiers, developers, mothers, carers, young and old, healthy and sick, bureaucrats and anarchists – you get the picture?) collaborating to make ‘good’ lives and ‘good’ work.  They are seldom the preconditions for it.

And now, more than ever before, what we need to produce is not profit or GDP – but ‘wealth’; that stuff which remains when the money has run out – wellbeing.

Learning to collaborate to do ‘good work’, understanding what ‘good work’ is – learning to use our talents to create (private and common) wealth (not just profits) for our communities offers us a more robust framework for progress.  These are the challenges that require our time and our attention.  Thankfully they are much less expensive than buildings and ‘walkways in the sky’.

If this analysis offers hope we need to allow a new cast to take to the stage.  Architects, planners and bureaucrats must become the servants of community rather than its masters.  Community development workers (not outreach workers paid for by the state to deliver outcomes), and educators (not teachers paid to deliver ’employer’ requirements) perhaps hold the keys to this kingdom.

Perhaps this is a crude analysis.  I do not believe that planners, architects and developers are bad people.  Nor that there is any planned assault on community.  This is cock-up – not conspiracy.  Nor do I believe that vibrant communities can develop without an effective dialogue with planners.

It is just that this is not the place to start.


  1. Hi Mike. Thank you for your thought provoking anaylsis of Ripple Out (I knew I could rely on you to provide an insight into what I can expect when I see it next week). I completely agree with your assessment and I hope, if nothing else, that Ripple Out increases the lines of communication within the Holbeck community. In particular that it connects the old and new communities who find themselves living and working as neighbours. The stronger we are as a community the more likely we are to be able to get our voice heard.

    • Whoops! Hope the review isn’t too much of a spoiler. I haven’t given the ending away at least, where the developer and the young mum elope together. That really would spoil things for you…

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