7 Dec 2005
Visioning the Future #2 – Urban Tour Guides
Here is an exercise that I do with students on permaculture courses. I always thought that it came from Skye and Robin Clanfield’s indispensable book ‘The Manual of Teaching Permaculture Creatively’, but just looking for it now I can’t find it. I alway find it a very powerful exercise. It comes at the end of a session on urban sustainability that will have looked at a range of strategies for making the town more sustainable and is called **’Urban Tour Guides”**. I take the students to a housing estate somewhere near the college, or more specifically to a crossroads between a few different areas of housing. I divide the group into smaller groups of 4-6, and give each group a topic, such as waste, water, energy, food, community or building. The scenario of the exercise is that it is now 30 years in the future, and 30 years ago this great permaculture course produced some legendary students who went on to redesign the town and now, here 30 years later, this town has become the most sustainable settlement in the world that people come a long way to see (by mule, presumably!). Their job is as Tour Guides. So then they have half an hour to find and devise a 10 minute tour they can take us on to see the marvels of the place. So they point out things (which we can’t actually see obviously) as we walk around, “and here you can see this wonderful conservatory running the length of all these houses, providing a growing space and extra heating” and so on. It is a great exercise, and very powerful, allowing people to dream.
I did it once on a permaculture course I taught in North Cork. There was a very loud and brash Australian lady on the course, who was over visiting a brother who was also doing it. We went off around a housing estate on a Saturday afternoon, people out cutting their hedges and washing their cars, when she starts saying, really loudly, “I mean what can you DO with these people? Really it’s all about education isn’t it?” and so on, very loudly. People were looking across and I was starting to feel a bit self conscious…luckily I then go them doing the exercise and it all sent very smoothly, but I was thinking if she went on much longer I would have to say very loudly “now come on dear, it’s time to get back for your medication…” and leave. Anyway, that’s the only time it was difficult. Other than that it is always a great exercise.
One thing it always shows up is how badly existing settlements have been designed. None of the houses face south, the gardens are on the wrong side and so on. It is very useful for getting people to think creatively about how to deal with that. Try it, I think it is very powerful. The whole area of helping people to vision the future is of central importance to designing beyond peak oil I think. In his book “The Tao of Democracy”, Tom Atlee writes;
*”visioning work is especially important to democracy because shared vision has a profound effect on self-organisation: When people share a vision, their actions tend to align to a certain degree even without coordination”.*
He writes of a journal he set up called ‘The Ecotopian Grapevine Gazette” (what a wonderful name…) which contained imaginary news stories about events or innovations that had not happened yet, but which I and others wanted to have happen, written *as if they had happened.* At the end of each article, I put the contact name of someone readers could call to participate in making the story a reality”. I wonder how much more powerful that would be as a tool for raising awareness about peak oil than endless doom and gloom, films like ‘Oil Storm’.