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Chris Stewart

Collective Architecture's Chris Stewart discusses his overlapping roles as architect and member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association in promoting green design to a wider audience.

#buildbackbetter (every silver lining has a cloud)

August 9th, 2020

We read, hear and say these words. They make sense, they mix a pandemic crisis, the looming recession it spawned with eye watering sums of money, to spit out a shockproof economic solution to climate emergency. What does that mean, what should we do, and has it already been stolen.

Zoom webinars feed our hunger for recovery plans. We turned on to the Common Weal and Our Common Home, a ‘14 aspect green new deal plan for Scotland’. We tuned in to Doughnut Economics, ‘seven ways to think like a 21st Century Economist’. And dropped out with the Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) and their three overarching aims, 1. Decarbonise Now, 2. Ecological Regeneration, 3. Cultural Transformation. Loved them all, each a planetary self-help road map to grab my imagination, only to wake up the next day and wonder what to do. They demand major structural change, they are correct however there is another change in town, Build, Build, Build.

Boris beats this drum down south with their overhaul of the English planning laws. Tearing up what has been an effective system in place since World War 2, they propose a straightforward set of categories; growth, renewal and protection, to encourage automatic planning permission and a reduction in scrutiny. History tells us planning deregulation on this scale, including reductions in mandatory affordable housing quotas, can only lead to ill conceived construction. It will all fly under the banner of beauty, in the form of pattern books and design codes, written and judged by watch this space.

We sit smugly North of the border feeling immune from such thoughts and look forward to the National Planning Framework 4. I was one of those who spent many a midnight hour writing a response to the recent Scottish Government’s ‘Call for Ideas’ in what for me seemed like a real opportunity to Build Back Better. I now shudder when I read headlines like ‘Green zealots risk wrecking recovery, top economic adviser warns’ in the The Times (06.08 2020). This is not a Boris Johnson chum but the Scottish Government’s chair of their advisory group on economic recovery. I am no nationalist however do have faith in Nicola Sturgeon and hope this is just a market economy partisan uttering.

It is within this context that I welcome the Scottish Ecological Design Association’s 2020 conference ‘How do we Build Back Better’. Scheduled between the 07th and 10th of September in a series of three evening events. SEDA offered up some of the best recent webinars including Doughnut Economics, Our Common Home and Meet ACAN, that track record suggests this should be an interesting exploration. On the 07th September Urbanity will be scrutinised while on the 08th September Rural takes the spotlight. Ideas from both will be presented to the SEDA membership on the 10th September and help form their agenda for the coming two years. All to be revealed at the RIAS Convention on the 29th September.

Ahead of that, a bit of homework is in order. Build Back Better first emerged from the Central Java earthquake of 2006 by the Japan International Cooperation Agency Reconstruction team. It is a simple common sense concept, eventually defined as a holistic concept in those ponderously titled, far from easy reads ‘Disaster Risk recovery for Economic Growth and Livelihood, Investing in Resilience and Development’ and ‘Recovery and Reconstruction an opportunity for Sustainable Growth through Build Back Better’ both penned in 2015 and adopted by the UN. Today the movement is fronted by the straightforward ‘Build Back Better’, a recovery plan based on five principles: Secure the health and needs of everyone in the UK now and into the future; Protect and invest in our public services; Rebuild society with a transformative Green New deal; Invest in people; and build solidarity and community across borders.

‘How do we Build Back Better’ does not appear to have an easy answer, free marketeers pull it in one direction while so called green zealots tug it in another and all the while the climate emergency clock keeps ticking. Please join SEDA in September for a wee scratch of the head and a think, how can we just get on with it.


For more information on the SEDA conference please follow this link



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