Tearing down and building up

From building demolition to a new stained glass construction group

At the recent KnowOnePlace creative placemaking conference we were told in a keynote speech by Indy Johar that we need to de-materialise the world in order to survive as a species. The cost to the environment needs to be factored in to every decision and product from now on if we are to sustain existence as we know it. Indy posed the question, who has the right to uproot a 300 year-old tree? That’s a profound question as it relates to so many generations and the accumulated wealth of so much human joy and lived experience that is impossible to say who has the right to destroy it. Such a decision can only justly come from a shared community of ideas, experience and understanding. The very thing we are trying to encourage in our creative community work.

Day two of the KnowOnePlace conference in Dumfries, September 2022

How does this square with tearing down older buildings which could be refurbed for happy modern use? Not well, I would say, but the Lochside residents I spoke to were all very happy to see them go. And here’s the problem: we are coming at the issue from opposite perspectives which are usually seen as unresolveable.

I am worried by the fact that at least 50% of a building’s lifetime carbon use is spent in the manufacture of the materials and energy used in building it, before anyone even moves in.* But I also know that communities are dynamic organisms with their own needs and there is an urgent need for urban regeneration. Yet I wonder how much information was actually shared with residents before the decree came to tear down all this non-recyclable material so that more non-recyclable material could be manufactured, transported and re-constructed to build something a bit different?

Why do I care about this? Because in the bigger picture of human survival we all have to start thinking at grassroots level. We were talking earnestly and intelligently about creative place making and the need for co-creating better social systems which operate at more human levels of shared power with humanity rather than profit at the core. This relates directly to the physical communities we all live in and decisions taken for using natural and man-made resources in sustainable ways.

The colours of old memories exposed
Careful dismantling of carefully built dreams from former times
A welcome new vista for many current residents
Mangled material from people’s lives – still giving off the musty smell of past generations (and damp)

A new group is established

Two weeks ago we had the first meeting of the Lochside Residents Stained Glass Group in the LIFT Project Room at the YMCA. It will be here on Thursday mornings until the Art Cabin is ready for use. It’s a great privilege to be able to bring this creative activity to folks who really appreciate it and wouldn’t be able to afford the usual private prices. A craft form which is usually available only to certain areas of society is now avaliable to new areas – that has to be great news! And I believe they will do different and creative things with these new skills – I look forward to what will happen down the line…

First week of the LRSGG with Jade and Angie of LIFT setting the pace
Week two of the LRSGG – some great individual projects emerging

Society and Activism

Returning to the KnowOnePlace forum, Matt Baker of The Stove Network made some interesting comments about the nature of co-creation in a society where the top-down (or trickle down) approach has clearly failed for a long time. In a world where we cannot trust someone else to be in control of things we must be “empowered to hope through imagining better and creating momentum within the community.” By working with under-represented folks we can try to “spark new confidence and ideas…resulting in happier places and people.” I believe this is happening with the folk in Lochside and hopefully in many other grassroots settings across Scotland as part of the Culture Collective initiative.

Jimmy Paul, director of Economy Wellbeing Alliance, also talked about quieter voices and marginalised voices needing to be heard so that small scale activities can effect larger changes in society. He imagines a wellbeing economy where personal stories are linked to raw statistics so that power boundaries are broken down and folk are motivated to co-design their futures and truly believe that “we are the economy”. In this new social dynamic, vulnerable people become powerful and powerful people become vulnerable. Ambitious words for sure, but I believe we are moving in that direction in our small part of the cultural landscape of Dumfries.

Images from Phase One of WWDN by Kirstin McEwan

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