Thursday, 27 February 2014

Future City and Community Resilience Network

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited along to a meeting of the Future City and Community Resilience Network at Manchester University. The group is organised by Dr Gary Graham of Leeds University (who also belongs to the BSFA Orbiter crit group of which I'm a member, hence the SF connection), Eve Coles, Professor Chee Wong, Dr Anita Greenhill and Professor Rashid Mehmood.

The group's aim is to build research agendas to answer questions on how the dynamics of cities will be changed and challenged by escalating environmental and technological pressures. The concept of Smart cities and Big Data are predominant in the group’s thinking. The team comprises academics, business professionals, and research students, but Dr Graham is doing an interesting thing by inviting Science Fiction writers to be part of the conversation.

The first of the presentations was by Dr. Joe Ravetz, Co-Director of the Centre for Urban Resilience and Energy. He is a leading thinker on sustainable futures for urban and regional development. His talk drew attention to the complexities of the various cycles of pressure that exert an influence on the way cities react to change. He highlighted influences such as energy production, industrial needs, human interaction and finance, and touched on the concept of Urban Intelligence. Part of what I got from this presentation was an understanding of the problems that face the world-building Sci-Fi writer in understanding the way different influences overlap one another. He drew examples from the environmental impact of flooding, which was quite topical in a week when a substantial part of Britain was under water.

The second speaker was Dieudonn√© (Didi) Manirakiza, who works as a housing support officer while studying for a degree in Leadership. The opening image in his talk is one that will stay with me for some time. It was a recent photograph of Didi, standing in front of his childhood home, a simple, round hut in the village where he grew up, in Burundi. It brought to life the immensity of his journey, and was a truly inspirational talk, delivered with honesty and passion. A constant theme in Didi's presentation was the ethos of "I can, I can", a determination never to give up, that has carried him through circumstances that would stop most of us in our tracks. Didi showed how a community can be energised by simple will and through the force of a charismatic personality. The human touch is still key in forging vibrant communities and is a core factor that should never be overlooked.  Yes, it would be fair to say that Didi Manirakiza made a big impression on me. 

The FCCR network has a website under construction. Once it is live I'll post a link here.
A common thread, prevalent amongst writers, is a tendency to have worked in diverse and varied day jobs. For some, though, it is preferable to go with the financial security of regular, mundane, bean-counting employment. In such cases mental stimulation has to come from other areas, and I was grateful to be asked along to this session and share with such motivated people. I certainly gained a lot from the experience. I hope the small contribution I made was useful.

Next month I will be heading down to Imperial College, in London, for a Transport Futures Symposium, where, amongst other things, I hope to find the answer to the question that is on the minds of all SF enthusiasts: what happened to my jet pack?