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< Ideas Bank, < Economic wellbeing
< Regeneration, < New Start editorial index page

This year’s BBC Reith lectures make fascinating listening for anyone engaged in regeneration. They deal with global issues, but the parallels with local problems in the UK are striking.

The lecturer is Jeffrey Sachs, economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

And whatever you think of his economics, his overriding theme is that human beings can join together to deal with the apparently overwhelming challenges to their survival: overpopulation, disease, poverty, conflict, the pursuit of wealth.

He takes his inspiration from John F Kennedy’s speech in 1963, following the Cuban missile crisis - ‘Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man... No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.’

Instead of despairing at issues that seem beyond our control, we have the resources and intelligence to deal with them.

To some that’s asking a lot of human nature; and there’s plenty of evidence that some are happy to use their intelligence to exacerbate problems.

But the broad principle will resonate with regeneration practitioners: that solutions lie in collaborative action. And who better than regeneration practitioners to exemplify such action?

The point isn’t just to generate a warm glow of self-esteem, though I wouldn’t wish to deny anyone that pleasure.

It’s to underline the conclusions of Sir John Egan and many others that the skills of collaborative working - communication, leadership, partnership - are at the heart of sustainable communities.

For all their flaws, programmes like city challenge and the single regeneration budget emphasised partnership. Many practitioners have now spent two decades or more learning community development and partnership building.

Yet these skills continue to be lost, as local and central government shy away from long-term approaches.

To put that in perspective, I was told recently how shocked some visitors from Norway were at the new deal for communities: they thought a programme of that scale would require a commitment of at least 30 years.

We need to recognise that as long as we undervalue the resource that exists among those who have learned and practised regeneration, we undermine the collaborative efforts needed to develop lasting solutions to the challenges that vex our political leaders.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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