I’ve been wondering about how visionaries appear and manage to influence the society of their time and place. Tom Paine, for example: did he emerge from the crucible of a world ripe for revolution and revolutionaries? And how has Barack Obama appeared just at our hour of greatest need? I do have a sense that doors are opening very easily nowadays even for ordinary people with vision, perhaps because the underlying instability of our times allow us to make large changes using small leverage points.
What got me thinking of this was John May’s new Vision for Malling Brooks (read it at the new Lewes Coalition website). This is a wild piece of green-field land of 2.7 hectares surrounded by houses, which the developer Charles Style has proposed to pave over and ‘develop’ in to light industrial units and parking. The land is a cornerstone for Style’s proposal to develop North Street, so he can move the remaining light industrial users to Malling Brooks.
Malling residents are outraged by the proposal, since the land was under four metres of water during the last floods; further development of this floodplain would, they claim, increase the risk of flooding to their homes and be dangerous to the development itself. The District Council’s planning committee has twice postponed a decision about the application on technical grounds, and it goes back to planning in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile I ran into John May at the Farmers’ Market and he told me how he’d come up with the vision. He’d been trying to find a fault in the application on the basis of damage to the wildlife. But Style’s plans had included a comprehensive survey and proposed moving the wildlife to a corridor in one corner and managing it more intensively. May took a long walk around the site and woke up the next morning with a vision for the whole area – to leave most of it as a managed wildlife sanctuary as well as creating some much-needed allotments for Lewes residents. One of the reasons why our planet is becoming eroded is that money and markets and national development policy speak louder than nature. As Prof Michael Sandal said in this week’s Reith Lecture by turning everything into commodities, we lose sense of its real worth to us. OK this vision doesn’t make anyone money, but it is deep ecology and it is common sense, which, says May, is lacking in our society.
I love the way that visions, however impossible-sounding or against the materialistic status quo, have an irresistible magnetism, a life of their own. Positive visions seed themselves in our minds and take root; they grow in our imagination so that pretty soon we’re living AS IF they have already happened. I do believe that once you have a vision, it’s virtually already happened. So kudos John May and the Lewes Coalition for dreaming dreams.