What colour is sustainable development & who decides?

I am calling it. This Emporer has no clothes. Dogmatism is winning out over pragmatism in our Planning system because it is all we know. This is not just an observation/opinion (hopefully wrong) of our WDC Planning & Sustainability department. It is true of ALL of us who do NOT take part in the process. It leaves the job to a small and under-appreciated minority. We welcome their work but do their views reflect yours?

Even-worse, the process is resembling an episode in the 1980’s TV show “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. The hopeless colonists land on Earth and try to invent the wheel. After unsuccessful attempts they demand that Arthur Dent tell them what colour it should be. We can laugh at this absurdity. A wheel is a shape not a colour. But do we make this mistake in our Planning process?

I regularly drive down Gordon Road past the Bowerdean Nursery. This year they erected a mighty fine conservatory-like structure. I assumed was some kind of reception-cum-cloakroom. My wife and I agreed that it looked good. An alternative and respectable view wrote that this conservatory was “very inimical to the street scene”. I had to look up “inimical” in the dictionary. It means “harmful” or “hostile”. Heh? Did you hear about the letter from the WDC Planning and Sustainibility department describing a replacement garden fence as being too “stark in appearence”. Did you read the statement on the Wycombe Community Stadium Proposal that stated the “visual impact of a large stadium […] would be huge, and unnacceptable.”

Forgive me but the idea that you can measure the concept of “starkness” of a fence is absurd. On a scale of one to ten how do we measure “inimical” or “hostile”? It is purely qualitative. It can’t be quantified. Can we describe whether “unnacceptable” as being better or worse than the word “aweful”, “terrible” or “monstrous carbuncle”? Can a conservatory actually be “harmful”? If we are trying to invent the wheel (in this case the future of our town) is it really wise to quibble about its colour? Is that all we have to offer? Can’t we do better? Why is this happening?

Now we can all respect people’s opinions on these matters but when they come with an air of authority or objecivity we should be cautious. Very few of us are qualified to comment about the insulation properties or air-tightness of a new building. But it is time we did because these matters will become far more important in future. We should only preserve bits of our past to learn from them. The town isn’t a museum. However when it comes to the subjective issue of aesthetic beauty then everyone has an opinion. Maybe, for this reason, the Transition Town in High Wycombe took no view on the Stadium. We aren’t qualified although we respected the view of TT Marlow who had a decent crack at the issue.

If we want to build a High Wycombe that lasts we MUST look past the aesthetics and a little more outside our comfort zone. Stop asking only what it looks like. Ask if it will sustain us. For example can the new Stadium generate its own energy, clean its own water, grow its own food and recycle all its own rain water for toilet flushing? Will there be enough electricity to power yet another housing estate over-looking the town or would that area be better used for a wind farm? It is time we started standing FOR something rather than against it. When it comes to the sustainable development of our built environment it may well be time for us all to get involved. The system is crying out for diversity. If we only leave it to a few who are interested we will build a monotone town that will not reflect the development we need.

If I have one wish this Christmas it is that we can enter the New Year with greater objectivity and greater community involvement. We must slowly move the juggernaut of society around from an unsustainable path towards a sustainable existence. This will take years of work and a completely new education for all us involved in civic society. Sometimes the colour of the wheel doesn’t matter – only that it rotates.

What do you think? Let us know!

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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