City of the Future Review from Shaz Rahman a group member
My name is Shaz Rahman and I’ve recently joined Bham FOE, becoming an active member. I was looking forward to the City of the Future event after I attended the HS2 rail debate last year, which I very much enjoyed.
On the evening itself I was given the duty of looking after the Young Midlands FOE stall. I enjoy talking to people and so I was quite pleased to bluff my way though knowing what was happening with Young Midlands FOE, although I do know that the group does have potential. If you want to join Midlands Young FOE let me know. I am also a member of Equality West Midlands and was very pleased to see that EWM were able to have a stall at the event. Many thanks to Birmingham Friends of the Earth for that kind gesture.
During the actual debate itself I was interested to learn what kind of policies the speakers would have and if there would be much disagreement and debate. Each of the speakers gave their views and their policies, which all received mild applause and head nodding. A few things that stuck in my mind policy-wise that I thought were interesting are as follows.
One of those was an idea provided by Julia Slay who suggested that we should refocus our economy to a system known as “co-production.” One aspect of this would be to trade services rather than cash, so in an example that I have just made up if I made you a cup of tea instead of giving me money you should offer me a service like giving me a lift to work. That way our needs could be fulfilled through a means that gets away from our obsession for growth. I agree that this (also called time-banking) is an interesting idea that is worth exploring but how to make it happen in practice is a whole world away from where we are.
Two of the other speakers spoke eloquently but their ideas are already widely known within our left wing circles. I do agree with Powell that schemes like the congestion charge should be expanded and used to pay for better public transport (the poor over ground train network coverage is crying for improvement) . I also agree with Dr Borland that our idea of economic growth is not compatible with ecological sustainability. I could not agree more. I was a bit disappointed in the sense I was hearing things that I wholeheartedly endorse but already knew about before I arrived.
The speaker that really engaged me and whose opinions I was keen to hear was from Oliver Bettis, who is an Actuary by profession. Bettis is from an industry that traditionally works to succeed in the orthodox economic systems rather than seek to change them. Bettis argued that he used statistical analysis in the same way as a lot of his colleagues but read the data in a very different way. He made one policy suggestion that took me by surprise. He suggested that we reduce the number of hours we work, possibly going down to 21 hours a week. This is one way we can get away from unsustainable and unattainable growth. Bettis quoted the decades immediately following WWII and how growth was achieved in similar circumstances to the way he suggested. As a member of Equality West Midlands, I definitely feel the way we work in this country is damaging to our society. We work too many hours, we are too stressed and conditions like mental illness are rampant because of this.
Overall, I found the event to be interesting and thought-provoking. The discussions were interesting and engaging. A minor criticism of the event personally is that most of the ideas were widely known amongst our group already. On the other hand, I did speak to a couple of people who were not as engaged in these kind of issues previously and the policies suggested were new to them, so my criticism should be ignored as it comes from one perspective. The event seems like it reached out to some people who would not have concerned themselves with these debates before and that must be celebrated and be the focus for Bham FOE moving forward.