Wednesday, 1 April 2015

WHAT IS PRECIOUS: life, and Portobello Market

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I had to subject myself to two Mother’s Days this year. I am a doer, not a ‘done-to-er’. I find it difficult being looked after and spoilt for a day. But I love it. Lying on the sofa and READING A BOOK while meals are cooked and tidied up after is an unimaginable luxury that I treasure.

Swimming in waterfalls, aaah!
At such times I consider, what is precious to me? I hope my children know it is them of course, and my ‘Mummy-drawer’ (selection of treasures above). This is stuffed with home-made cards, messages, funny photos, wacky art, baby teeth (sshh!), first locks of hair, swimming medals – plus half finished photo albums from yesteryear. If I succumb to dementia and anyone thinks I need a memory reboot – the work is done.

In my day to day work as a Councillor I regularly come across people so furious about what ‘THEY’ are trying to do to their neighbourhood, area, estate, school, job, nursery, tree that they become half crazed. And not always in a bad way.

The latest manifestation of this rather awesome and precious fury is directed towards an ill-conceived first visual of a plan to ‘tidy up’ and reap profit from part of Portobello Market. The supposed purpose of this - to preserve the legacy and pave the way to the future - is irrelevant to those who feel ignored. Part of the market that has evolved, that is scruffy but loved, that has been cared for and used for many years when it seemed as if no one else cared at all, is under threat. Where some unlovely, and some very lovely events - foodie, cultural, musical, filmic, messy and often gorgeous and very locally embedded - have flourished, among the pigeon crap, weeds, more-or-less-excellent graffiti, and street drinkers. This place is precious.

A plan to tidy, sanitise, control, change and monetise such a glorious mis-match of needs and spontaneous creativity is going to come very awry unless sympathetically managed.

It hasn’t been. So let’s start again.

First of all, ask people what is precious, what is valued, what is special and idiosyncratic, what is utterly and unquestionably not to be messed with. Then preserve it. Save it. Improve it. Grow it. Make it better and more profitable to the people who run it.

Preserve, nurture, focus on and intensify what is good.

When you’ve done that, you then have permission to nibble around the edge. Don’t be greedy. Do enough, not too much. Work with local people. Don't rush it. People will know if you take short-cuts.

If you save, grow and intensify all the things that are good, you are helping a place become more of itself, not less. And you won’t kill the very thing you hope to profit from.

Being too ambitious, too self-serving, and being or appearing to be too financially greedy is the path to destruction and community annihilation.

Your choice.

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