Still surfing the wave of positivity from last night’s meeting, I decided to practise what I preach and come up with some sort of a framework that might help us to think our way through the various issues. I was thinking that it might be a good thing to include people’s suggestions under the various headings and see what the combined Bock hive-mind comes up with although, considering the nonsense we’ve been talking here for the last six years, the signs aren’t promising.
All the same, let’s give it a lash. We should start by defining broad areas to consider, and if I had that job (which I don’t) I might decide to start with the following divisions:
I know that looks a bit abstract, but in fact, it pretty much encompasses what makes up our existence.
Under People, I’d list all the slices of humanity that influence our situation, for good or ill, and I’d start prioritising them. Who am I talking about? Entrepreneurs, artists, athletes, builders, designers, criminals, doctors, cooks, farmers, musicians, police, managers, politicians and so on ad infinitum. Old, young, sick, healthy, rich, poor.
Let’s not forget the Limerick diaspora.
I’d work hard at this because once we know precisely what we’re dealing with, we can decide what to concentrate on.
Then I’d look at Places. I’d include our town and I’d break it down into its component parts: streets, civic spaces, historic buildings, business premises, shops, attractions, hospitals, theatres, performance venues, restaurants, pubs. Add your own to the list. Near the top of my list would be the magnificent waterway that flows through the heart of our settlement, and defines its character. I’d include the wonderful lakes twenty minutes upriver, and the Atlantic coast less than an hour away. I’d also include the international airport twelve miles out the road. Once I had a comprehensive list, I’d start asking how to capitalise on them. How to restore what needs to be fixed, how to maximise the benefits of what we have, and in some cases whether or not to remove what we find offensive, such as half-built Celtic Tiger follies.
I wouldn’t forget the castle of the evil Prince John, brother of Richard the Lionheart, who spent his days trying to hunt down Robin Hood while the good king was away in Palestine slaughtering the unbelievers. I’d ride that horse till it collapsed of exhaustion and draw in tourists from all over the world.
Under Places, I might also include locations with which we have useful strategic relationships, such as the home cities of our rugby rivals, and I might abandon twinning arrangements with towns whose only purpose was to send councillors and officials on junkets. I’d put a special tick beside Dublin and start asking hard questions about the diversion of western resources to the east coast.
Activities would include all the wonderful things we have in our town. This is what we do. It might be paid work. It might be parenting. It might be music, art, sport, science, research or innovation. We have an internationally-known rugby team, a top-class university, a world music centre, a school of art and design. Limerick has produced musicians whose work would be instantly recognised anywhere in the world, from the Cranberries to Riverdance.
Any of the things in the list would benefit our town if we decided to boost them, and there are many ways to support effort. It doesn’t always have to be a grant or an approval from some government agency. It was obvious to me from last night that we could easily establish a parallel system of support without recourse to any official approval. If you wanted to start a business growing organic vegetables, it should be possible to reach out and pick three or four people with the necessary expertise to guide you through the process. I think that spirit is present, and I think people would sign up to that sort of commitment: five, ten, twenty hours a month helping others to improve their circumstances and by extension, the circumstances of our town and our children’s future.
I’d do it. I’d give whatever little skills I have to help others and I think many besides me would do the same. Maybe somebody would volunteer to write a program for keeping track of such offers.
That brings us to Context, by which I mean political, economic, social and also the context of the mind. Let’s explore the environment of the human mind. Thoughts, emotions, ambitions. Creativity. Insight. Understanding. Curiosity. Education, research and training. Music, art, writing, science and technology. There’s no end to it.
We can’t do much about the world macroeconomic climate. We can do little to influence Angela Merkel. But we can urge our politicians (and by urge I mean frighten) to give our region fair treatment. More to the point, we can change the context of what goes on in our people’s heads. We can encourage people to have a sense of belonging, a sense of ownership, because that’s something we’ve been losing as alienation took hold. How many people do you know who couldn’t name the streets of our city? That’s very sad.
We need to restore the sense of belonging, the sense of pride and we can do it in small, incremental ways. As someone said last night, get people to sweep outside their doors. Get everyone to pick up one piece of litter every day. Encourage people out of the idea that someone else will do it. We don’t have a culture of disapproval as they do in many European towns, where it would be unthinkable to throw something on the footpath, and we need to discover it, but that’s not the only sort of context I’m talking about.
The context also includes the broader perception of our town, sometimes justified but more often promoted by lazy journalists, including some who were born, bred and educated in the city. We need to confront this tendency, but not in a defensive way.
There are many other contexts besides this and I won’t try to list them all. This is only my attempt to show how we might look at the top-level issues.
You might think the final item on the list is superfluous. Objectives.
You might think that means employment, and you’d be right, but you might also consider the more profound objectives of human fulfilment, happiness, health, social cohesion and peace, among others. This is another list we could profitably add to and prioritise.
Once we’ve done all that, we can start coming up with ideas and suggestions, but not before. Of course, I’m not suggesting for a second that this is how we should divide things up. I’m just saying we need to go through some such process, instead of throwing out ideas to build monorails or make contact with Martians. Thanks for the thought guys, but let’s work with what we have.
Now. That’s my stab at it. Over to you and let’s see what you think should go into the lists. Let’s find out if you think the headings are useful or if you think I’m talking bollocks. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Either way, at least we have people talking and thinking. It’s all about helping ourselves.