eden in brisbane: engaging community in sustainability

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A handbook on techniques for community engagement, created for a two-day training workshop in Brisbane led by the Eden Project in 2009.

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  • 1. A joint initiative of2.

2. Prelude: an extract from Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit4I. The 21st century and the challenges ahead6II. Interpretation at the Eden Project11III. Minds-On: Hearts-On22Interlude: Why its important to play25I. Edens interpretation principles33II. Edens community engagement principles38III. Working with artists: the Eden approach44Interlude: the Heart and Soul of Rock n Roll (a questionnaire)54I. The point of what we did58II. The programme60III. Exercises and outcomes62IV. Brisbane: Islands and Road Maps1043. 3. There are times when it seems as though not only the future but the present is dark: few recognise what a radically transformed world we live in, one that has been transformed not only by such nightmares as global warming or global capital, but by dreams of freedom, of justice, and transformed by things we could not have dreamed of. What accretion of incremental, imperceptible changes made them possible, and how did they come about? And so we need to hope for the realisation of our own dreams, but also to recognise a world that will remain wilder than our imaginations. Cause and effect assumes history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal, and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope. To hope is to gamble. Its to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk. I say all this because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on a sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say it because hope is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earths treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal.4. 4. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. Anything could happen, and whether we act or not has everything to do with it. Though there is no lottery ticket for the lazy and the detached, for the engaged there is a tremendous gamble for the highest stakes right now. I say this to you not because I havent noticed that the US has strayed close to destroying itself and its purported values in pursuit of empire in the world and the eradication of democracy at home, that our civilisation is close to destroying the very nature on which we depend the oceans, the atmosphere, the uncounted species of plant and insect and bird. I say it because I have noticed that wars will break out, the planet will heat up, species will die out, but how many, how hot and what survives depends on whether we act. The future is dark, with a darkness as much of the womb as the grave. Stories trap us, stories free us, we live and die by stories, but hearing people talk of [the certainty of despair] is hearing them tell themselves a story they believe is being told to them. What other stories can be told? How do people recognise that they have the power to be storytellers, not just listeners? Hope is the story of uncertainty, of coming to terms with the risk involved in not knowing what comes next, which is more demanding than despair and, in a way, more frightening. And immeasurably more exciting.We thank Rebecca Solnit for permission to reprint these edited extracts from her book Hope in the Dark: The Untold History of People Power, published by Canongate Books.5. 5. 6. 6. Our lives will change in the years ahead in ways that may not totally be within our control, but in ways that we can influence. This century is going to demand the best of us. It will demand the best of our innovation and imagination, our justice, our creativity, our community resilience, our humanity. We will need flexible, innovative, inspired and strong individuals and communities, ready to respond to the best of their abilities to the challenges ahead and fully aware of the need to support each other. We will need to examine our core values, and place the worth of things above the costs of things.7. 7. Eden Project exhibits, our educational programmes and our events address many of these issues, and increasingly we have also increased the opportunities for community groups, local and national, to use us as a meeting and learning place and as a stage to let their voices be heard, to express their values, hopes and ambitions for the future. We see this work as having national, and international, relevance but it has its roots in Cornwall our community. This is a county that has seen great wealth come and go, intimately related to natural resources; it is a county that encompasses the extremes of natural beauty and dereliction; it is a county rich in creativity and with a strong sense of identity; it is a county with a strong history of invention and enterprise; it is a county that has seen the industries that helped define that identity collapse leaving fractured communities and a devastated economic base behind. The Cornwall experience therefore has much to say about the challenges of radical transformation and change, of sustainable use of resources, and of how communities find the strength and inspiration to move forwards.Eden Project is also open to ideas, voices and inspiration from people across the globe that have been working to solve the challenge of how the future might be better than it could be and finding real solutions that deserve to be shared. Our partnership with Brisbane City Council is teaching us much about what a 21st-century city might look like, and about the values and behaviours we will need to propagate for our communities to survive and thrive. 8. 8. 9. 9. 10. 10. Every day we use plants from every continent. We eat them, drink them, take them as medicine, clothe ourselves with them, build our furniture and houses with them, perfume ourselves with them. They put colour in our fabrics and our food, they make up most of our paper and packaging. They stop us from getting pregnant and from getting our feet wet. They intoxicate us; they give us cancer when we smoke them. And even things we think arent made of plants oil, petrol, coal, plastics have their origins in the great primeval forests.11. 11. Most of us in the developed world now live in happy ignorance of the processes and people that bring us the amazing products that give us our standard of living. And the cost of this ignorance is an irresponsible, inequitable and unsustainable use of the worlds resources. We care not what the life expectancy of a banana plantation worker is, poisoned by pesticides, providing we can have cheap bananas. We must have chocolate, not understanding that the price of our sweet tooth is many acres of rainforest turned over to cocoa plantation, some of it harvested by child slave labour. We no longer respect the seasons, expecting mange tout peas to be flown to us from Africa in midwinter. We have become disconnected in a fundamental way from nature and natural processes and cycles. This is not healthy. In the gentlest of ways, without making people feel depressed or guilty, at the Eden Project we are inviting people to engage with these ideas, to celebrate our dependence on nature and on each other, and to start recognising the power and responsibility we have to respect our resources and share them. So this then is the content of the Eden Project, its meaning. But it has another healing mission too: the regeneration of our home, Cornwall. We have taken a big hole in the ground, stabilised it, drained it, landscaped and planted it, and given it a contemporary role and meaning. 12. 12. 13. 13. We currently employ 500 people all the year round in real jobs. In our first year of operation 2 million people visited us, four times what was expected. It is estimated that more than 900 million has now been put back into the local economy. New businesses have started and are thriving, many picking up on Eden themes of sustainability; restaurants cooking and serving locally grown food, recycling companies collecting and processing waste, other gardens opening to the public, plant nurseries growing unfamiliar plants associated with familiar products bananas, coffee, papaya for people to buy and nurture at home.We talked about the nature of experience, learning and behaviour change, and the relationship of emotion to these things.14. 14. When we started on this journey, we did some field research. We went to the other science parks, museums and galleries and watched visitors behaviour around the exhibits. We watched people not reading text panels. We watched people not watching films, no matter how beautifully produced. We saw a child playing with one of those interactive exhibits in the London Aquarium. You had to push the right buttons and the display panel would light up showing you where fish lived, or what they ate, or some such. He was having a great time hitting the red buttons, but no connection was being made with the content of the exhibit. But we saw the same child later queuing to touch the back of a real stingray in a pool. We started playing the Day Out game inviting people to describe encounters and experiences that had stayed with them, changed them in some way (see A Day Out). At Eden we have taken the idea of these transformative moments and turned them to the purposes of education. And n

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