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People, Place, Planet: Inclusive Crisis Recovery Event Blog

Posted on 12 February 2024

Written by:

Sophia de Sousa

On the evening of Monday 5 February, we gathered with a wonderfully diverse group of people for Inclusive Crisis Recovery, our first in-person-event in this year’s WEdesign series, People Place, Planet. This event, in collaboration with UCL Bartlett School of Planning and kindly hosted by the Alan Baxter Gallery in London, brought together our student facilitators from UCL with around 50 event participants. Those present ranged in age from their teens to their 70s, representing a broad range of backgrounds, communities and professions, and all shared an interest in exploring our themes of more inclusive and equitable response to crisis, and how to set strategies to prevent crises in the future.

We are increasingly living with the impact of our climate crisis, with floods, fires, drought and other natural shock waves hitting communities around the globe. As well as this, and in some cases because of the impact of our climate emergency, families around the UK and the globe are facing all sorts of socio-economic challenges, with huge disparities in wealth, health and wellbeing, within and across  communities, the country and the globe. Placemaking has a role to play in all of this, and we were keen to create a safe space to consider how we might work together to better shape our places as a means of tackling these challenges. 

A serious endeavour indeed, but we were able to tap into the fantastic range of experience, expertise and creativity in the room through fast-paced discussion, debate and co-design, and to have fun doing it.

People responding to the question, “How can we balance people, place and planet equally?”

To get people in the mood as they arrived, we asked them to suggest a way to help bring greater balance to the needs of people, place and our planet. It was clear from the outset that those attending were full of ideas to bring to the evening’s discussion. 

Postcards written by event participants

It was perhaps a bit ironic that our partner tutor from UCL Bartlett, Dr Lucy Natarajan, was not able to join the event as planned due to train strikes affecting her travel. Frustrating as it was, it shone a light on that fact that we are facing several types of crisis all at once, and as one of our participants commented in the discussion, it is both a challenge and hugely important to consider how we prioritise responding to different, concurrent crises at any given moment. 

Undeterred by the absence of their tutor, our student facilitators from both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at the Bartlett, led their packed tables through discussion of the event theme, each using a different lens of community, education, ecology, and practice as a starting point. Discussion was lively. As one participant commented after the event, “To see the young students speak with such passion and articulation of their ideas was wonderful. …There is something refreshing about people 40-50 years apart debating the same ideas and thoughts… it was such a great mix of youth and experience, backgrounds and opinions.” 

Following a period of discussion, our tables were tasked with coming up with propositions for change, actional ideas of how we could do things differently. They then had to build a model to represent and pitch their idea back to the room. Some really inspiring propositions emerged.

Sharing Power

The Community group pitching their idea to the room

The Community table spoke of access to power, and that it is currently sitting within small pockets of wealth. Key to redressing the balance of power, they felt, was access to information, which if distributed more evenly and equitably, could help fuel agency and action within communities. Their idea was to create a kind of Ministry of Truth, able to broadcast information and connect people with planning and development, and with each other, to explore and shape local placemaking. 

The Community group’s model depicting both barriers and routes to creating agency within communities

They felt this also had to sit alongside practical systemic models that gave communities genuine power to influence and to collaborate with government and the institutions.  

“Citizens and the State can do more together than either can do on their own.”

“Communitarian process produces communitarian responses.”

A Civic Pavilion

The Practice group shares their proposition with the room

The Practice table also spoke of the importance of communication and connectivity, with their discussion around practice focusing firmly on process. They pitched a model for a kind of civic pavilion, their community tee-pee that could bring people together into a shared space where they feel welcome, comfortable and able to connect with others. They emphasised the importance of championing a sense of care, both in how professionals work with communities, and how citizens connect with each other.  

Crucial to the pavilion’s success was that it also considered those not able to find or visit the physical space, with access to information available online, with QR codes spread around neighbourhoods at bus stops, in shop windows and so on. 

“People need the facilities to talk and debate about the ways to understand (and then tackle) the various crises.”

“Always enabling and supporting ‘uncomfortable’ conversations.”

Working with Nature

The Ecology group shares their model and ideas with the room

Our Ecology table stressed the importance of working with nature, rather than fighting it. They celebrated the messiness of nature, that the complex interaction of different species of plants and animals brought an element of unpredictability, which is strangely perceived as imperfection in built environment terms. They encouraged us to embrace the three-dimensionality of nature, to set it free from the boundaries of perfectly mown flat rectangles, to support rich ecosystems and biodiversity. 

The Ecology group’s model depicting the complexity and three-dimensionality of nature

They spoke of embracing and cohabiting with critters and, as one of our participants shared as a takeaway, realised that 

“Vermin are not my enemy.”

“Ecological design has to work for people and nature alike, and ‘nature’ is more diverse than we assume!”

Relearning Education

The Education table at work, reimagining primary education

Our Education table stressed that if we are going to create the shifts in culture required to address the climate crisis, we need to start with education and with teaching children. However, to do this, they argued, we need to radically rethink or “relearn” our approach to how we do primary education. They challenged the current hierarchical and one-way system that transmits information from teacher to pupil, and proposed more of a ‘campfire’ approach that would enable us all to learn from each other, as well as from the built and natural environment around us. 

The Education group’s model depicting a new, less hierarchical approach to education

The group championed the value of the informal and incidental as well as structured learning, and of experiential as well as classroom and book or screen-based learning.

Everyone is a teacher.”

“We are in time to educate the future.”

Key Themes & Takeaways

Across all of the discussions at the individual tables and then when we came back together to share ideas and reflections, some key golden threads emerged:

What an evening it was! We left feeling buoyed by the creative energy and spirit of generosity in the room. The reality is that there is scope for change. We can reconsider, reshape and reconnect with each other and our fragile planet. As the old adage says, necessity is the mother of invention.

In closing, I would like to express our enormous thanks to our partner UCL Bartlett and Dr Lucy Natarjan, our wonderful student facilitators and our generous and inspiring attendees. I echo the words of one of our attendees:

“ It felt a real privilege to be part of it. I learned so much!”