Portobello Plan P Talk — October 2005

PORTOBELLO PLAN P?

 

A Radical Vision For Sustainability Through Urban Land Reform

 

Talk giv­en by Justin Kenrick of PEDAL (Portobello Energy Descent and Land Reform Group) at Big Things on the Beach’s first Imagine Portobello Day, Portobello Community Centre, 29th October 2005

 

[Note of cau­tion: We were not able to pur­sue these ideas for the site due to oth­er comit­ments at the time; but many of the ideas are now bear­ing fruit in oth­er ways]

 

1. A Radical Vision for the Ex-Scottish Power Site?

 

Since pub­lic inquir­ies only allow for tech­nic­al not com­munity-based objec­tions the developers will doubt­less be able to find a way to meet the tech­nic­al objec­tions lodged at the pub­lic inquiry and go ahead with a devel­op­ment which will enhance their profits to the det­ri­ment of Portobello.

 

The ini­ti­at­ive for such a vis­ion would have to come from the Portobello com­munity and would have to mobil­ise wide­spread nation­al pop­u­lar sup­port in order to suc­ceed. There is a strong nat­ur­al justice argu­ment for expand­ing rur­al land reform so that urb­an com­munit­ies also gain the right to buy areas of land that are sig­ni­fic­ant to the live­li­hood and well-being of loc­al com­munit­ies.

 

(a) Historical Precedent: Rural Land Reform

 

The push for rur­al land reform came hand in hand with the push for par­tic­u­lar rur­al com­munit­ies to reclaim own­er­ship and their futures (e.g. in Assynt and Eigg). A push for urb­an land reform could go hand in hand with a com­munity on the ground identi­fy­ing and cam­paign­ing for a bet­ter future. A push for Portobello com­munity right to buy the ex-Scottish Power site would need to involve a change in the law in favour of urb­an land reform.

 

Rural land Reform suc­ceeded because it tapped into a power­ful pop­u­lar sense that people should be able to con­trol their own des­tinies rather than suf­fer at the whim of absent­ee landown­ers or profit-makers. Rural land reform suc­ceeded because such com­munit­ies were and are com­mit­ted to ensur­ing the social and eco­lo­gic­al sus­tain­ab­il­ity of their loc­al­ity.

 

(b) Vision: Urban Sustainability

 

One pos­sible vis­ion for what could be cre­ated on the site could be an urb­an eco-vil­lage (e.g. Living Alternative Futures) with­in a broad­er Centre for Alternative Futures. This could be an edu­ca­tion­al loc­al, nation­al and inter­na­tion­al tour­ist attrac­tion like the Centre for Alternative Technology in mid-Wales, or the Eden Project in Cornwall.

 

At the heart of such a Portobello Centre for Alternative Futures (or P-CAF) there could be:

(i)                  Eco-Village: demon­strat­ing liv­ing altern­at­ive futures, includ­ing:

·        Exemplary car-free liv­ing urb­an eco-vil­lage, includ­ing social hous­ing

·        Integrated use of sol­ar power, wind power, grey water reed beds and per­ma­cul­ture mar­ket gar­dens

(ii)                Eco-Livelihoods: demon­strat­ing sus­tain­able live­li­hoods, includ­ing:

·    Site for a per­man­ent Farmers Market

·    Recycling centre reshap­ing, reselling items from Seafield dump, etc.

·    Arts, crafts, music and edu­ca­tion­al centre

(iii)               Eco-Future hands-on exhib­i­tions: demon­strat­ing con­trast­ing altern­at­ive futures (from Sustainable to Extinction depend­ing on the choices we make now).

·        If the site could be expan­ded to include the cur­rent Pitz foot­ball pitches and run down to the burn then this might include:

(i)      A demon­stra­tion small hold­ing or City Farm (using water power), &

(ii)    An indoor exhib­i­tion built around con­nec­tions between Scotland, Scandinavia, etc. It could include a room kept at very low tem­per­at­ures so that a mini­ature ice-covered exhib­it of the North Pole and the cur­rent and pos­sible changes occur­ring due to Climate Change could be sim­u­lated. It could appeal to all ages.

 

To put it bluntly (and think­ing of cli­mate change in par­tic­u­lar): unless we can explore and demon­strate viable sus­tain­able urb­an ways of liv­ing then there is little hope of a future for humans. Paradoxically, our best hope for the intel­li­gent use of the ex-Scottish Power site may lie in wide­spread pub­lic desire for a sus­tain­able urb­an future to be demon­strably pos­sible.

 

2. Visioning Portobello in 2020?

 

© Peak Oil and The Example of Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan

 

Although the thought of Climate Change often para­lyses people into inac­tion or deni­al (since we often feel that there is noth­ing we can do as indi­vidu­als about such a glob­al prob­lem) the grow­ing aware­ness that the world’s oil sup­ply is run­ning out can have the oppos­ite effect. Kinsale in Ireland provides an excel­lent example of a town where the com­ing des­cent from peak world oil pro­duc­tion has gal­van­ised the town into plan­ning how they can decrease their depend­ence on oil pro­duc­tion, and increase their abil­ity as a com­munity to rely on renew­able energy, on loc­ally pro­duced food, and on loc­al pro­duc­tion, skills and resources. They have become aware that we need to pre­pare for the rap­id reduc­tion in the avail­ab­il­ity of cheap oil by redu­cing our depend­ency on this finite resource. In the UK oil and gas sup­ply 85% of our energy, energy which we rely on to pro­duce, pro­cess and trans­port our food from dis­tant sources to drive-in super­mar­kets. As energy becomes more expens­ive, our food sys­tem will need to revert to loc­al pro­duc­tion and organ­ic (non-oil based pesti­cide) meth­ods, and the eco­nom­ic sys­tem will need to be rein­ven­ted along sus­tain­able lines. Instead of meas­ur­ing wealth accord­ing to eco­nom­ic growth (as expressed in our abil­ity to fly away for dis­tant hol­i­days, and to buy cheap food from dis­tant con­tin­ents) we will need to meas­ure our qual­ity of life:

·        by the strength of the com­munit­ies we live in;

·        by the amount of cre­at­ive leis­ure time we have;

·        by our abil­ity to live in a way which pre­serves and improves the social and eco­lo­gic­al envir­on­ment; and

·        by our invent­ive­ness in mak­ing use of the resources we have to ensure full and sat­is­fy­ing employ­ment and full and sat­is­fy­ing lives for us all. 

 

Ironically, all these pos­it­ive changes needed to take account of Peak Oil are the same ones needed to help slow and stop Climate Change, and instead of try­ing to embark on these changes under the shad­ow of a night­mar­ish future, we can under­take them col­lect­ively in a way that act­ively increase our qual­ity of life in the present and con­trib­utes an example of what is pos­sible.

 

(d) A Workshop as an Extended Tea Break!

 

The work­shop approach used by the people of Kinsale to come up with a clear 15 year plan to wean them­selves off their depend­ency on oil and gas, and to cre­ate a sus­tain­able future for their com­munity, involved an approach to pub­lic meet­ings based on the assump­tion that the most use­ful part of any meet­ing is the tea break rather than the import­ant speeches by the so-called experts! We would hope to use the same approach, so that the meet­ings to cre­ate an Energy Descent Plan – pos­sibly includ­ing plan­ning a cam­paign to reclaim the ex-Scottish Power site — are not deplet­ing but are ener­gising. That way they can be a chance for people to brain­storm, listen to each oth­er, and come up with cre­at­ive ideas.

 

There will be show­ings of the film ‘The end of Suburbia’ (about the likely con­sequences of Peak Oil) pri­or to this (see over­leaf for times). At the start of the meet­ing we can col­lect­ively identi­fy the areas we feel will need to be addressed, and then cre­ate a space where people can move freely between small dis­cus­sion groups focus­ing on these themes. In Kinsale some of the themes included: eco­nomy and live­li­hoods, edu­ca­tion, youth and com­munity, tour­ism, trans­port, waste, energy, food, hous­ing, health, mar­ine resources.

 

What we would hope would come out of this would be not simply a plan for the com­munity own­er­ship and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment of the area which was going to become a super­store (and also pos­sibly the Pitz site) but a plan that would include the whole of Portobello.

 

Multiple Benefit approach:

Central to the Energy Descent approach is the notion of devel­op­ing areas and pro­jects with mul­tiple-bene­fits in mind.

For example: Seafront

If the seafront was to become part of a new Bluebelt for Edinburgh then we might want to use rocks and rubble to turn the con­crete seafront into an undu­lat­ing ridge which could be fron­ted on the sea­side by dunes and Marin grass, and covered in grass and a walk and cycle way run­ning along a raised Prom planted with fruit trees and bushes. This green fringe could spread back into open spaces such as the cur­rent play parks (play parks which could then be built on top of it), and it’s height could be reduced where there are flats adja­cent to the prom. This would then provide a way of integ­rat­ing the city with the Forth, provide a much more attract­ive tour­ist and loc­al amen­ity, as well as provid­ing future fruit and if neces­sary the basis for an effect­ive future sea wall.

Another example: Bringing in Expertise

We could invite the extremely suc­cess­ful Centre for Alternative tech­no­logy in Wales and the Eden Project in Cornwall to become cent­rally involved in provid­ing expert­ise to advise the sus­tain­able energy and exhib­i­tion aspects of the sus­tain­able use of the site. This would enable us to bene­fit from their expert­ise, but also give their expert­ise and prac­tic­al ideas a show­case pres­ence in a city which attracts hun­dreds of thou­sands of inter­na­tion­al tour­ists every year.

 

Trolleys dashed

Below is an edited let­ter by Stephen Hawkins of the Portobello Campaign against the Superstore in the Guardian: Wednesday June 8th 2005:

I believe that the super­mar­ket chains have reached sat­ur­a­tion point and that the tide has turned in favour of sup­port for loc­al high streets — where they still exist. Here in Portobello, developers pro­posed a 7,900 sq metre super­store out­side the town centre that would have des­troyed the vital­ity of the exist­ing shop­ping centre. After strong loc­al oppos­i­tion, the devel­op­ment has been refused on appeal. Our fight did not come cheap. We had to raise over £20,000 to pay for expert wit­nesses to present evid­ence to the pub­lic inquiry, but this reflec­ted the total com­mit­ment of the com­munity against the pro­pos­al. We were also for­tu­nate in hav­ing the sup­port of Friends of the Earth and Joanna Blythman, among oth­ers. Not all com­munit­ies are lucky enough to have the resources to fight, but why should they have to? The answer is that gov­ern­ment policy is so far behind the situ­ation on the ground, and plan­ning strategists have failed to ana­lyse the con­sequences of the super­mar­ket strangle­hold in the US. We need to ensure that we do not repeat their mis­takes.

 

3. So, Is Radical Change Possible?

 

When you look for­ward in time, rad­ic­al change always seems impossible; when you look back, it always appears as though it was inev­it­able - what makes the cre­at­ive dif­fer­ence in the present?

 

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