Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Flying high day.

Before the noon Eucharist today, an hour and a half meeting of focus group leaders engaged as part of the Countdown 2009 process, which seeks to hold together the complexities of ensuring necessary changes happen in the running of the city, to accompany its amazingly organised commercial redevelopment.

The identified Focus Group areas are:- Public Safety, Access, Clean City Centre, Communications, Events, Public Realm, Transport, Wayfinding, and altogether surprisingly Faith !!!

Well, not really, I've been nagging for the past five years about the way the whole redevelopment process over the previous decade has failed to take into account the existence of faith communities in the city centre before, during and after this massive economic investment in raising the stature of Cardiff as a world class city. The Faith focus group has been brought into existence with the aim of inviting feedback from the dozen churches, two mosques, one Gurdwara and one Hindu Mandal identified in the city centre and Bay Area (probably an under-estimate) about the impact of any and every aspect of the city centre development on faith community life and activity.

Even communities a long way from the hard hat, flourescent jacket zone, can be affected by displacement of traffic, caused by construction activities, or Big Event days when road closure can sow chaos for the unprepared. This is on top of access problems, caused by restricted parking, and pedestrianisation for faith communities within the 'square mile' of the city centre. Moreover, faith communities were there before the big changes - in time slices that vary from 25 years to nine centuries in the case of St John's, with a preponderance of communities in the 100-150 year bracket. So, taking into account, giving a voice to the 1-2,000 people altogether, attending worship in all those places week by week, is a decent honourable initiative on the part of the Council. And, it doesn't stop at feedback about the impact of redevelopment.

There is, as yet, an unrefined understanding that faith groups after all may have a contribution to make to debate about values, aspirations and quality of life, that needs taking into account in creating the city we want. This consideration really puts believers on the spot, challenges us to make both critical, constructive offerings to the overall Proud Capital Vision consultation process.

I was able to report on the small start we've made and the positive contribution to advance the city's vision faith communities can make given the opportunity. I was also able to give advance notice of our soon to be published Spiritual Capital report and conference. The first mention of this in the wild, and not the last.

The meeting was held in the new interpretation suite at Cardiff Castle, with its stylish and spectacular panoramic view of the Castle grounds. This was my first visit there. It's yet to be opened to the public, as work on the terrace in front of the new building (at the back of the south west outer wall) is not yet complete. Nor have any bike racks been installed yet, as I discovered when I arrived - it's just five minutes cycle ride from home.

There were some useful progress reports, but the Communication Focus group notably has still not met. Most Focus Group reportings mentioned the need for better communication. It's hugely frustrating but understandable nevertheless that delivery on this front should be problematic.

Not for a century has Cardiff embraced such complex measures of development. Indeed it's more complex now, because finance cannot rely, as Victorian City Fathers could, on the immense primary wealth created by coal and iron industries, much in demand globally (the first ever cheque for a million pounds was written in Cardiff back in those days). Nowadays, Cardiff has to attract investment, to 'speculate in order to accumulate' as gamblers say. There's a big measure of risk to be calculated in decision making. Nothing is assured. There are pressures for open governance and levels of educated criticism from those on the receiving end of development which would have been unintelligible to our visionary forefathers.

In order to have everyone working together towards common goals a much more demanding system of collaboration and accountability is needed for everyone in the public as well as private sectors (not to mention the voluntary and faith sectors which often seem stuck in the past). Such a system doesn't yet exist. It is evolving by trial and error and occasional innovation. It's tantalising and frustrating. Nobody will be satisfied until it works for everyone - well almost everyone ....

After Eucharist and lunch I went to the Proud Capital Vision Forum meeting, which gathers together quarterly all the heads of organisations and agencies which could be regarded as big 'stakeholders'. This aims to produce high level accountability between big organisations and agencies in the public sector. More overview stuff. We had a good presentation from Bill Savage, Chair of Cardiff & Co, the city's new marketing and tourism organisation. He ran a slide show of city images behind him as he spoke, and for the first time the the past five years I've been noticing, I saw an official piece of publicity which included a shot of one of Cardiff's 200 religious buildings.... St John's tower, two seconds, seen from a helicopter, tanatalising, gorgeous to look at from above, as below (God how blessed we are!). It was a great excuse for me to raise the issue of the lack of representation the city's religious heritage in self-presentation to the world. The Council officials are getting used to my nag. Maybe this year will be the year of breakthrough ... ? Maybe?

Among the papers for the meeting was a couple of pages by way of a progress report on the various development projects currently under way in the city. These vary in size and scale, but I counted nearly sixty projects being pursued in fulfilment of the total corporate action plan. No wonder holding together all this and communicating about it to relevant parties is such a nightmare, especially when too much information causes overload and switch off.

Straight after this meeting, I had to go to Tredegarville school for a candidate shortlisting session with the rest of the school governors. This was also quite a complex and demanding task, which I approached somewhat grumpily. However I was pleased that my assessment of the most likley candidates for interview was not at variance with the consensus. And was I glad to get home, in time to eat, and do a wedding interview, before going down to see my friend and colleague Father Graham, to see what might be done about raising St Mary's Parish website from the dead.

At the end of a day in the stratosphere I can report that the trench on the north side of St John's is no longer full of water. Just next to the north west buttress of the tower sits a discarded four foot section of 22 inch broken cast iron water pipe. Pressure and vibration from the excavator cracked it. The main water pipe itself has been repaired with a section coloured bright blue - material of undetermined compostion - I must enquire - the colour of a plaster cast Excavation has resumed, though the soil shifted is noticeably claggier than before. All's well that ends well.

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