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What if....? Musical drainpipes in Dresden. Photo courtesy of Anna Schroeder via Unsplash.
12 March 2021

ORFC Global in review: how to cultivate our imaginations

From What If to What Next: Why We Need to Cultivate Imagination alongside Agricultural Produce

Speaker: Rob Hopkins
Broadcast at ORFC Global, Saturday 9 January
Watch again on YouTube (54 mins)

Session review by: Bethany Savannah

The imagination is an extraordinary thing. It has ‘the ability to see things as if they could be otherwise’. While facts and figures will be enough to persuade some of the steep ascent towards climate catastrophe, the continued rise shows it isn’t the tool for convincing everybody.

Author Rob Hopkins believes that we must, instead, tell the stories of a future descending away from current trajectories, utilising the imagination’s abilities to cultivate collective longing for a better reality.

Imagination in danger

However, imagination is also in serious danger. A research paper published in 2010 by Kyung Hee Kim suggests that, since the mid-90s, the imagination has been on a steady and persistent decline, while IQ has continued to rise.

Yet, at a time when we need to reimagine everything, it is vital that imagination is brought back from the ashes and conditions are created where it can thrive.

Embracing limitations is one suggestion Hopkins proposes, believing that limits provide ideal conditions for the imagination to flourish.

A need to significantly reduce carbon emissions poses obvious limitations. Projects like Growing Communities are imagining how we can live within these limits: their Food Zone System identifies to what extent London can feed itself, and what operating within those parameters could look like.

Inspiring places

Place also has a role to play in inspiring the imagination. Creating positive alternatives for people to interact, play and feel part of a story helps to change their imagining of what they believe they can do. Urban gardens like Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin offer just that.

Alongside creating conditions for existing imagination to thrive, it is important that spaces of safety and hope exist to reinstate it for individuals suffering from its loss.

As imagination exists in a part of our brains vulnerable to cortisol, the ability to envision the future is a lot harder for those suffering from mental health problems. Projects like Art Angel in Dundee are vital for re-expanding an individual’s imagination.

Bringing the future to life

Exercises in play are often good sources for invigorating the imagination.

Transition Towns Anywhere is an exercise involving 200-400 people, where everyone must imagine and discuss an ideal version of 2030 before together building it out of cardboard, string and sticky tape. Participants are offered the opportunity to play the future together, to bring it to life rather than intellectually thinking about it.

The crucial transition that needs to be made is a movement away from stating ‘what is’ and instead asking ‘what if?’

‘What if, in a generation’s time, the majority of the food eaten in this city came from the land closest to this city?’ was a question posed by the Transition group in Liégeoise. Two years later they’d raised 5 million euros, had 25 co-operatives, a vineyard and have continued growing this vision ever since, driven by a longing to see it come true.

What this ORFC Global session made evident is that, without imagination, we can’t build the future that facts and figures tell us we need to see. Creating conditions that allow everyone to play a part in re-imagining tomorrow is vital.

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