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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, October 06, 2005
    The first page of the end of despair
    In Manchester this afternoon to hear the respected urban theorist Leonie Sandercock do something unusual for her - address a room of theologians or folk of that ilk. But it was a challenge she welcomed, she said, not least because of a feeling that her work is moving in a direction which embraces the spirit. A concern to find words to describe the hopefulness implicit in urban planning, a yearning to "re-enchant the city". Intentions wonderfully captured in Dreams Before Waking by Adrienne Rich, with which Professor Sandercock began her lecture:

    What would it mean to live
    in a city whose people were changing
    each other's despair into hope?
    You yourself must change it.
    what would it feel like to know
    your country was changing?
    You yourself must change it.
    Though your life felt arduous
    new and unmapped and strange
    what would it means to stand on the first
    page of the end of despair?

    Sandercock treated us to a tour of Vancouver, stopping especially in the regenerated downtown area and in the Collingwood Neighbourhood House, the first providing excellent examples of truly collaborative city planning and the second a place where interculturalism shines - where the many different types of peoples in this mixed neighbourhood truly work and play well together - the product of enlightened city-wide social policy and some inspirational leadership.

    Vancouver, she says, resists getting into competition with other world cities, instead celebrates its uniqueness and is able to say no to the global forces which seem to be homogenising so many of our cities. Vancouver, she says, resists hiring international-star architects for its flagship projects and instead uses local people who can build with local sensitivities intact. Vancouver, she says, is a 'city of spirit' where urban professionals are not shy of talking about their task as being a work of love.

    It's not perfect, Vancouver, she told us, but it is a good example of what can be done when civic leaders jettison the sick practices of 'Best Value' and instead embrace a culture and practice of genuine listening to people in local neighbourhoods, work towards a genuine interculturalism, and affirm a genuine sense of magic and scaredness about their place.

    She did a good job of selling her home city to us; but far more than that, she encouraged us to see that it is possible to re-enchant our cities, to begin to understand what, in human and physical terms, that might mean.