I was struck the other day to find myself in a room full of ‘developers’.
Nothing unusual about that. I have spent most of the last 40 years working with developers. People whose craft is to help other humans to explore their boundaries and to push them. To break through them. Working with individuals, groups or communities to de-velop. To set up psychological structures that lead to changes in habits and behaviours. To the acquisition of knowledge and skills, to the establishment of new values, attitudes and beliefs, to a renewed sense of self and purpose.
Beautiful – when it works…but uncomfortable. Tears and frustration as well as hope and joy.
The other developers…
But these were the ‘other’ developers. Property developers. City developers. Planners, architects, land owners and large employers. People who develop infrastructure. The lumpy stuff that piles up in and around our city. Stations, shopping centres, ring roads, car parks, arenas, office blocks, colleges and ‘mixed use’ developments. Concrete, glass and steel all in service of ‘growth’. These developers grow economies, and economies envelop, often overwhelm, the people and communities that are recruited and trained to serve them.
And I kept stumbling a little bit every time they were described as developers, because most of the time they are working on its opposite – envelopment. Securing the existing ways of working. Shoring up or facilitating employers, consumers, travellers all forms of busy-ness to work on their modus operandii in ways that are faster, cheaper, cleaner and more convenient. Maintaining the current power relationships and patterns. Nothing really changes with this development.
They envelope us in comfortable assurances about flood alleviation, transport systems, technology and ‘innovation’. As they build over the flood plain that is Leeds city centre they also build more dams and higher walls. They envelop the river too.
So be careful what you wish for development or its opposite?
New patterns and possibilities?
Or more of the same?