From What Is to What If – Review
From What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want, by Rob Hopkins, October 2019. Chelsea Green Publishing, ISBN: 978-1603589055, 224 pages. RRP: £19.99 (hardback)
If, like me, you are trying to cope with the multiplicity of situations we find ourselves in today: politics, Covid, Brexit, climate chaos, and the accompanying feelings of helplessness, then I have the answer for you in this superbly researched and readable book.
I knew that I was in for something radically different when, after reading the introduction, I went back and read it twice more. Rob’s words are powerful, passionate, and inspirational. His writing about our noticing and immersing ourselves in the healing that is nature took me back 39 years, to when my son, then four, observed nature for the first time and helped me see it through fresh eyes. He writes of the importance of imagination and how we need to recover our child-like sense of vision and perspective, to consider scenarios from different angles. Would Vincent van Gogh have painted his Sunflowers in a time of social media, or rather pulled out his smartphone, checked his Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds, then watched a few YouTube videos? It took a few more historical speculations before the penny dropped, because I too am a prisoner of what he calls “technological tyranny”: the daily hijacking of our attention by tech companies, steering what a billion people are thinking. Meanwhile, on Brexit, he points out that the focus of both the major Leave and Remain groups was on money, without mention of culture, peace, or communities, and without imaginative thinking by the major parties or their leaders.
Rob takes his reader on a world tour, exploring the transformations of Preston in the UK, where rather than “outsourcing” the council “insourced” to local trades; of Mouans-Sartoux in France, where all the food is organic and 70% is locally grown and of Mexico City where a new city department was created, “An Office for the Public Imagination”. This department sees the city not as a machine or a factory, but as a patchwork of innovation, of community urban food production, entrepreneur actions, and co-ops. In Bologna, an Urban Innovation Foundation is supporting new enterprises and allocating unused spaces for enterprises as varied as cycle repairs, organic food distribution and a youth orchestra. In many other locations, imagination is transforming reality and proving that, with vision and creativity, “the impossible” can be entirely possible.
The book ends with a quotation from the eco-feminist writer Susan Griffin: “No one can stop us from imagining another kind of future, one which departs from the terrible cataclysm of violent conflict, of hateful divisions, poverty and suffering. Let us begin to imagine the worlds we would like to inhabit, the long lives we will begin to share, and the many futures in our hands.”
Indeed, From What Is to What If.
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