Evolution and the Culture Changeosaurus

Evolution-BlogWe live in interesting times. Scotland’s political wheel has cranked, easing us towards a new reality, still under construction.

Dramatic change is often stressful and uncertain, yet this time, there’s no sign of looting in Scotland’s retail parks. No calumny in the culs-de-sac. Life goes on. Just not quite as we’ve known it. An impossible yet paradoxically inevitable change in culture.

Culture change in planning seems an equally impossible goal. An idea ahead of its time. Clearly it takes more than a software change to break hard-wired habits.

For example, it would be all too easy to criticise Councils for kicking off our new era with bland Main Issues Reports which fail to engage real people and do little more than pose a series of obvious questions with obvious answers. So I won’t.

It would be just as easy to accuse our dinosaur development industry, investors and funders of singularly failing to grasp the full implications of the inevitable economic meltdown and respond creatively with new models, new ideas and new corporate responsibility. So I won’t.

These are positive times. We all need to blog optimistically. So I will.

Our new-found constructive mood is not merely a backlash against an unscheduled stop in a franchised sandwich shop. Recently, I’ve seen hardcore objectors fall under the humanising spell of a cup of Scottish Blend. Landowner and developer clients have peeked beyond their red line boundary. Some have enjoyed the view. Council Planners, starved of meaningful liaisons, have tentatively edged from their burrows to fraternise ravenously in pre-application conspiracy. Occasionally.

Charles Darwin pointed out that “in the long history of humankind, and animal kind too, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” If we are to work together, we’ll need to be clear on goals. I suspect Scotland’s people are ahead of its politicians, planners and developers on this.

Darwin also warned that “If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” It turns out that neither the economic crisis nor the 2007 Scottish Government election result are the blips some of our public and private institutions counted on. They must now adapt to survive.

The key to culture change lies in this interface between the two – people and institutions. Our institutions should be structured to serve our needs. That is their purpose. The notion that we have no option but to bend to the forces of globalisation and free markets is, in the words of Christine Hamilton (and Jeremy Bentham), nonsense on stilts. Public institutions which serve their own ends, rather than ours, are equally absurd.

“How”, you ask, “will our institutions lead us towards culture change”?

“Wrong question”, is my reply. (Have you not been following this…..?) Our institutions don’t lead us, we lead them.

We’ve taken the first step already.

“Man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits.” Charles Darwin, Naturalist (1809-1882)

“This unusual and highly successful species spends a great deal of time examining his higher motives and an equal amount of time ignoring his fundamental ones.” Desmond Morris, Anthropologist and Surrealist Painter (Born 1928)