When revealing to a colleague that our new business was to be called "Mend" they looked deep into my eyes (not around the eyes) and charged that they did not believe the "Broken Britain" rubbish that had been peddled of late in an attempt to shock doctrine us into voting Tory. I heartily agreed. Britain is alive and kicking; vital if not a little snarly in its stats.
Show me a generation that hasn't said society is heading in the wrong direction and not railed against the generation champing at its heels that is so obviously going to lead the world to wrack and ruin? It is human nature to give in to this type of pessimism when your bubble bursts so violently and suddently as it did 2 years ago....
Our society isn't broken its bruised and a bit battered; reflecting on a decade of pomp, easy credit, showy flats and retail therapy and it feels utterly short changed. Angry, betrayed, taken for a fool, culpable, flat and definitely hungover - but not broken.
Mend is not about fixing broken britain. Mend is about reattaching people to place.
There has been a gradual and now evident erosion of the connection people have to the places they live work and play in. For some there is no connection to begin with. Places, neighbourhoods, houses become inert containers for stuff, experiences and transactions. Nightmarish alienated urban existences played out in some Lynch-ian postmodern anywhereville.
Cities are alive. They thrive on networks, nodes and connections of energy, resources and flows. They are dynamic systems of multiple unending inputs and outputs and processes (capital, labour, transport being a few examples.) They precipitate out shapes and forms. They grow and decay. They are real and imagined, painted and filmed, drawn on a page only to appear in front of your eyes. They shape and are shaped by our behaviour. They prompt emotional responses in us from love to fear to anger to sorrow. Cities have identities and atmospheres that are never the same from one to the next.
Places are where these feelings, meanings and experiences crystallise into unique platforms for us to live our lives. Good and bad. Why is it some people are happy living in the same place all of their lives? Why do some places consistently remain popular to live in or visit over hundreds of years? Why is it some of our places remain dangerous, unhealthy and dark places to live despite millions of pounds of investment, decades of prodding, countless studies and efforts to turn them around? Why do some places that are relatively affluent seem alienating and bland?
Ponzetti (04) will tell us that "The places people live in acquire an emotional significance. Place attachment is the emotional connection formed by individuals to a physical location due to the meanings given to the site as a function of its role as a setting for experience."
Over the last decade we have watched our high streets become cloned, brandnames "validating" a town centre, buy-to-let crazes see property owners view property and homes as commodities, people living in them for less than a year, churning neighbours through neighbourhoods, volume housbuilders knocking out "units" not homes. The steadfast professionalisation of the built environment sector that has separated people from the process of crafting, designing and planning their places. Public spaces that are identikit slogans for chilly minimalist glass and steel apologies for democratic space.
This amounts to transient communities with no longevity of population to allow for the development of anchors or personalities that have been there, invested and set down roots long enough to call a place home, like it there enough to stay and to attach themselves to their place.
We are left with an eroded sense of attachment to the places we live in. Aren't they not the most important places in our lives? No amount of money can buy this. Its about looking closer at what we have, where we are and what we want from it. Ironically the current housing market situation and economic gloom has given rise to a "stay-put" mentality and I'm all for turning a negative into a positive. So we have to stay put? Well while I am here I'm going to see what I've got and make it work for me. I might find I like it and actually stay.
So I think its no coincidence that our feelings of detachment, emptiness and need for change at a society level is reflected in our detached sense of place. There are glimmers in the form of urban farms and orchards, guerilla gardening, pop-up shops and Meanwhile spaces that speak of an urge to re-attach. I'm looking forward to it.