Elements of Creative Regeneration: Part One

Confronting a deadline, I fired up my laptop around midnight on October 4th 2010 and perused videos from the Scottish Screen Archive archive. “Select one that intrigues you – no other rules,” SURF’s Andy had counseled.

Although my choice would be integrated into a video presentation at a November 10th conference on ‘Creative Regeneration’, I deliberately bypassed several film clips with obvious relevance to my work as an Urbanist, trusting intuition to guide me.

Habits Change

Instead I settled on one from the 1970s, a news story about a craze then beginning to infect Scotland – jogging! It depicted several “ordinary Scots” arriving at a stadium, all togged out (love those hairstyles!) who were given earnest instructions on how to jog around a track. The following morning, strolling the short distance from Lothian Road to Edinburgh’s Waverley station, I encountered no fewer than three joggers. No one seemed to bat an eyelid. Jogging, a non-habitual “trend” of the Seventies had gradually taken root as a habit –an accepted practice.

So it can be with creatively regenerating communities. I advocate sowing seeds of more creative attitudes and methods of community practice, “from the ground-up,” to generate new habits of placemaking as an alternative to conventional economic development. Over time, this “creative regeneration” can take root in multiple forms as skillful means of tackling the challenges of health and sustainability in cities, towns and rural areas alike.

Melding ‘local’ and ‘outside’ expertise

Creative regeneration starts with collectively re-experiencing familiar places to generate more options for their future. I was reminded of this in October while walking around the Abbotshaugh woodlands adjacent to the Dawson Community Center in the Bainsford/Langlees area of Falkirk. As a component of ‘The Helix Project’ (http://www.thehelix.co.uk/news-and-events), the woodlands will be the site of the Abbotshaugh Sentinel, a public art project led by Glasgow artist Jephson Robb who was chosen by a local panel.

I was there as part of a “Helix week” to offer insight on strategy and facilitate clarification of a framework and timetable for moving the project ahead. I walked the woodlands numerous times -solo and with many others during a series of events. A broad cast of characters was involved, ably herded by Grace McDonald of the Helix. They represented multiple perspectives, constituencies and skill-sets. People empowered to speak about the nitty-gritty of budgets, time and technical challenges sat with others more tuned in to creative and design issues or strategic and political matters.

Over countless cups of tea at the Dawson Center, conversations (including a few arguments) buzzed concerning the place, its history, challenges and potential. A rich body of collective knowledge and data emerged to inform the upcoming work, resulting in better strategic information than would otherwise be available and achieving buy-in among core constituents based on common understanding of obstacles and opportunities.

These benefits of creative regeneration result from effectively melding the experience and technical knowledge of “locals” with that of “outsiders.” To achieve this, “outsiders” must initially prioritize forming local relationships over offering expertise and “locals” must be open to new perspectives. Both must be willing to listen deeply and stretch their perspectives to include awareness of the landscape.

In the case of woodlands or rural areas, this means asking questions like, “What does the land want?” What do the trees, water, and wildlife want?” Similar questions apply to denser urban areas (for example, we have substantial deer and turkey populations in Pittsburgh) and might also include, “What messages are the buildings and the streets giving us?”

Next time, I will address Re-Imagining and Re-making places through creative regeneration.