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This is a guest blog by Bright Pryde, Regional Networks Coordinator at the Academy of Urbanism, writing about a joint event which was run with RSA West Fellows. 

Space_place_lifeThe event was part of the Making our Futures series, which was funded by RSA West seed fund and is coordinated by Ted Fowler FRSA.

I worked closely with The Academy of Urbanism’s Local Activity Convenor for the SW England, Geoff Haslam, and various Fellows of the RSA to coordinate this event that was part of the Making our Futures series in Bristol around a core theme: “Think-Make: the future for Bristol.” This event was the second in the series held in partnership with the RSA and The Academy of Urbanism at the wonderful offices of Burgess Salmon. You can find out about the first of the series on health and well-being here.

Cities have traditionally gone through a process of ‘planning’ – a framework developed by professionals who solved problems and looked at the future from professionalised perspectives. This event, facilitated as a ‘café conversation’ with a rich range of input and participation and a focus on action, seeks to explore what the future city would look like if seen from ecological, cultural or personal living perspectives. What would that mean in terms of vision and practice? What are the challenges we face as a wider community and as stakeholders to that future?

Respect for the past, live in the present, drawn to the future, and the idea that legacy cannot be managed or planned but can be facilitated.

The event attracted around 100 participants, and a surprise appearance from Bristol’s first elected Mayor and founding member of The Academy of Urbanism, George Ferguson. It comprised three introductory “ted talks” on the three different perspectives (ecological, cultural, personal living), and set the tone for the discussion.

— Academy of Urbanism (@theAoU) April 23, 2013

The format of the event was intentionally interactive, engaging participants in a variety of different forums for conversation, the first of which was the Conversation Cafe.  A number of themes emerged from these conversations - that really inspired action at a very local level, and some intriguing ideas on how to nurture the environment for making change. These themes included people and change, a city of villages, empowerment and action, ecology, social activity, and youth, among others. The phrase that kept cropping up was BIG VISION – how do we influence the future? Respect for the past, live in the present, drawn to the future, and the idea that legacy cannot be managed or planned but can be facilitated.

These themes were then fed back into the larger group discussion that was hosted by Geoff Haslam and Nick Childs, with the speakers offering input, and Mayor George Ferguson providing an insider’s take on the issues. The Mayor’s participation was integral, as it helped to make light of the role that our public institutions can play.

There was much talk about the Laboratory City to help make connection between people and places. The Mayor noted that he hopes this discussion will continue afterwards and that new ideas will come out of it. He stated that risk-taking experiments are important as they bring together experts in forums such as this event. “Until you’ve tried it on the ground,” Ferguson suggests, “you don’t absolutely know.” Bristol has a fantastic history of making things happen, and George hopes to provide the space for people to test new ideas.

Although I am a Canadian (by birth) and a Londoner (by residence), I found myself inspired by the enthusiasm and drive of Bristolians to make an active and visible change in their city. A great accompaniment to this citizen drive was the presence of a local politician who was working hard to change the bureaucratic structure of city hall to facilitate this action and put more power in the hands of its citizens. I hope that moving forward these ideas will be transformed into tangible benefits for the local community.

If you are interested in being involved in organising the next Making our Futures event, please get in contact with Ted Fowler.


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