There has to be an alternative

8 May

Rob Hopkins is on the warpath. Perhaps warpath is the wrong word because it’s difficult to imagine Rob being angry and because he wants everyone to get on in a lovely community.

At the Swindon Spring Festival online tonight, Rob told us he wants a national imagination act.

When we say ‘imagination’ we don’t mean the commodified creativity, blue sky thinking that sells stuff. Like Dr Curry said on earlier on today, this is the kind of unbidden stuff that requires the right conditions. A society that creates values happiness over pleasure. Money can’t buy you happiness?

Was it like this, before, back then? Rob isn’t interested in rosy-tinted glasses. When we come out of Coronalockdown, he doesn’t want things to go back to the way they were, he wants a new future, because business as usual is an ecological ‘suicide pact’.

For me, Rob is a bit of a local boy made good. He went to the local comp in Marlborough and his sister still lives in Swindon, but he kick-started the Transition movement twelve years ago which has propagated all over the world. His latest book, From What is to What if, has an endorsement from Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris.

So what’s the problem? In the mid-80s imagination fell off. There has been a ‘purging of play’ from our streets as, Rob says, ‘we expect our children to start compiling their CV from the age of four’.

When we lose our imagination, we lose that hope for the future. We need space to have our best ideas, create the conditions to have our best ideas. Austerity has made the perfect storm of imaginative contraction.

The state of imagination in schools is ‘heartbreaking’. According to Rob, we need to ‘redream education…We need to become the best storytellers.’

So what if we had leaders who cultivated imagination? Mexico City has a ministry of imagination (Laboratory of the City), founded by Gabriella Gomez Mont, which is ‘continuously exploring how we think about government for a new generation’.

“I imagine an open, playful, participatory, human scale, creative city.”

Gabriella Gomez Mont

Rob believes that imagination thrives within limits. (Does he means ‘needs’ or ‘framework’ rather than limits? He kinda riffed on this by talking about Donald Trump as imagination without limits but I thought this was pushing it. Imagination needs stimulation from the people it benefits; limits feels, well, limiting.)

What about Swindon asked interviewer Matt? The people of Swindon need to decide. We need win-win-win, holistic strategies.

I’ve been revisiting Star Trek: Next Generation, and was reminded why I loved it and why, thirty years on I appreciate it even more. Gene Roddenbury and his creative team imagined a future without hunger, without greed – the motivation of Federation citizens was to work for the betterment of everyone. One of my favourite writers, Iain M Banks, created a civilization called the Culture, where people spend their lives in play.

And change can come through experience. Experiencing coronalockdown can show us what it possible under pressure and what we can achieve when we really need to and then bridge the gap with a leap of imagination.

Rob Hopkins spoke to Swindon Spring Festival on 8 May 2020, about his book From What is to What if.

Words by Louisa Davison.

Watch Rob Hopkins talk on the festival YouTube channel

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