Saturday, May 12, 2007

Churches and civil society - raising the debate

It's nearly three weeks since my last written posting. I've been somewhat sapped of creative energy due to a persistent virus on the one hand and persistent problems with getting the religious communities research project up to the launch pad. Slowly, mostly by trial and error, the right people have become involved and CDF, the funding agency seems to be OK with our proposed way of approach. I would have happily renounced the good fortune of a large grant to pursue an investigation I feel very strongly should be made, had I known about the hassles in advance. However, at last Wednesday's City Centre Churches Together there was unanimous support for the path we propose to take - more on this when the deals are clinched and working.

At the same meeting we had two Local Government officers from Community Planning giving a presentation on the recently launched City Centre Strategy document 2007-2010. It's the first time they've attended a church meeting, as opposed to church members attending one of their meetings. And to be fair, they seemed pleased to have been invited, even though they were given a hard time. There was some very strong articulation of concerns felt by churches about the impact of taking traffic out of the city centre - top of the planners' wish list, when there's such inadequate Sunday public transport at times to permit people to attend worship.

It was also interesting to hear people other than myself expressing concerns about the way religious communities don't seem to appear even photographically, to figure as part and parcel of Cardiff's social and cultural life. Airbrushed out of the picture, was my phrase for this kind of social engineering. I've been striving to awaken some kind of desire for dialogue between city centre churches and the local authority about plans and development policies ever since I discovered the poverty of the situation over four years ago. Now the churches are, it seems, taking notice, finding a voice. So there's all the more reason to continue with the religious communities survey project, and deliver a quality product into the public realm to stimulate the much needed debate.

Also, of late I've put more time and energy into publishing photographs, rather than writing, but even this has slowed down somewhat now. Almost all the redevelopment site has been levelled and now piles are being sunk and foundations excavated. There remains one huge mountain of rubble as high as a house, being kept in reserve for use on-site. For most of the past four months over six thousand tonnes of rubble a week has been removed by lorry to other sites. New tower cranes and piling rigs have sprung up to add to the ones on the former Toys 'r us and Ice Rink sites. Movement is now more restrained. The sense of drama conveyed by the changing scene of demolition has been replaced by a kind of calm purpose.

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