Culture, Film, Manchester

RAH! presents Valuing Urban Nature: a guide to saving the planet

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By Grace Atkinson

Manchester Met’s Research in Arts and Humanities programme (RAH!) recently presented Valuing Urban Nature, an event involving the screening of Cyril Dion and Melanie Laurent’s documentary film Demain (Tomorrow), at Home, Manchester. The event formed part of the 2017 ESRC festival and was programmed in conjunction with the Green Infrastructure and the Health and Wellbeing Influences on an Ageing Population research project (GHIA).

Ecological artists, designers and writers from Manchester School of Art, Manchester Met, MICRA and the University of Manchester, also gathered at the event for a discussion on the action being taken in Manchester to save the environment.

Ruth Colton, a Research Associate for GHIA who introduced the film, said: “[Demain] resonates with much of the work that researchers and policymakers and activists are doing across Manchester and across Greater Manchester. To rethink our relationship with spaces and the environment and the broader impact they have on society.”

Following the expedition of Dion and Laurent, along with a team of four others, Demain is a documentary film exploring the critical state of the world’s environment, showcasing the steps businesses and individuals are taking worldwide in saving the planet.

The film explored the complicated and ambitious subjects in terms that everyone could understand, avoiding the apparent fear-mongering that is often associated with the subject, and instead, presenting a ‘how to’ in making a difference.

Dion and Laurent’s  journey began in Detroit, where The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative has gardened acres of urban land into sustainable agriculture. This volunteer-based programme is a gateway to a more healthy and stable food source, education and a therapy for the deprived Detroit community.

In Todmorden, the producers spoke to Pam Warhurst and Mary Clear from Incredible Edible, a group who plant fruits and vegetables in hospital car parks, street curbs and other overlooked urban spaces. At their educational scheme in the neighbouring countryside, farmers explained the productivity of independent, smaller farms over industrial ones, which, though good at making money, are inefficient at making food. Back in France, Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyer make seminal work at their organic farm Bec Hellouin, where they talk about the productivity farming by hand has over machinery.

The next chapter of the film revolved around the world’s energy sources, starting with the success of Denmark’s sustainable energy plan, on which, by 2025, the country plans to be completely reliant. Iceland has also gone to great measures, converting steam directly from the earth into energy, and in San Francisco, 80% of the area’s waste is recycled into compost for farmers.

Next in the film, it was on to Totnes, where the local community had made their own currency, even having their own twenty-one pound note. Bristol has its own currency as well, the image of David Bowie replacing the Queen. Local currencies encourage local spending, and support of the growth of local economies. This puts economic power out of the hands of multi-corporate businesses, whose high-profit and mass-scale food and energy methods are harming the environment.

These stories of community empowerment went on. In 2009, Reykjavik, in Iceland, petitioned for the government to step down and a panel of civilians wrote a new constitution that broke up the power of banks and corporations. In India, Elango Rangaswamy, a chemistry engineer, transformed the deprived village of Kuttambakkam, with the introduction of a representational democracy. What Demain does so well is to give its viewers the inspiration to feel they could have the power to help too.

After the screening, Ruth Colton invited a team of environmental experts and activists to discuss the film and their own work. Phil Wheater, a Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University, highlighted “the necessity for it to be focused at the local level, to be involving local activists for it to be relevant for locals.”

Cultural Park Keeper at the Whitworth Art Gallery Francine Hayfron agreed, saying, “Where I’m based, which is deemed to be a deprived community of Manchester, the work we do is trying to engage the local community and trying to get them involved in the park, getting involved in the outdoors and within their local park.”

Maggie Walker, the self-titled “local resident of the panel” and community co-researcher on the GHIA project, said, “What I did like is that most of the groups were taking a long-term view, starting small but hoping that they could achieve great things just by keeping at it in a small way. I thought that was very important.”

Representing the charity A New Leaf Manchester, Rebecca Taylor acknowledged the pessimism that surrounds the severity of the environmental situation, laughing while saying, “Maybe we need to fake optimism for a bit until we are able to do stuff; culturally we aren’t as ‘happy-clappy’ as our American friends.”

Members of the audience went on to promote the work that they are doing and that others can help with, including Real foods, Wythenshawe, the Brew Wild Project, Manchester, Moss Side Community Allotment, Carbon Co-op and The Kindling Trust.

Valuing Urban Nature showcased the many worldwide efforts made during this ecological crisis, as well as presenting a guide on how to become a part of the revolution to save the environment in Manchester.

Find out more about the Demain documentary as well as ideas for becoming involved with solving the environmental crisis here.

The next event in the Manchester Met RAH! programme is Manchester Identity: Unworn, a pop-up clothes swap with a difference, at Manchester Art Gallery on Saturday 11th November.


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Grace Atkinson

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