What is ‘here in St Andrews’?

Dear Future Steering Group,

As you continue to shape and be shaped by the Transition movement here in St Andrews, I’d like to leave with you some thoughts on what ‘here in St Andrews’ actually means. These thoughts have their origins in a summer research project I undertook with Dr Rehema White but are tempered by four years of continuous exploration of this town with all of my senses awake.

Many groups claim to ‘speak for St Andrews’ and yet it is impossible to actually speak for all of the people associated with the town. Thus, certain parts of the community are ignored while others are given more attention. To address all St Andreans requires covering the full range of length of stay in the town (Figure 1) and the full range of distances from the town centre (Figure 2) .

Fig 1 Fig 2

Not all of these groups have equal influence or say over what our town should look like. Economic flows give some groups more or less power to shape the town (Figure 3). Politically, mainly in terms of planning, the debate happens on a three-way platform (Figure 4). While some organisations such as the St Andrews Partnership, are trying to act as mediators to bring the three sides of the table together, this doesn’t address the fact that the table isn’t round: young folk and working families have less time and energy to make their voices heard.

Fig 3Fig 4

Many St Andreans picked to live in this town rather than any other, choosing to settle here for specific reasons (Figure 5). As St Andrews changes over time (Figure 6), those that have chosen to live here often feel that St Andrews’ desirable characteristics are threatened and passionately defend those aspects they would like to maintain. Transition could tap into the huge amounts of energy spent resisting change and encourage adaptive change instead.

Fig 5 Fig 6

There are certain focal issues where action and debate could have the most benefit. An axis of community spaces runs through the town (Figure 7). Bringing disparate parts of the community together to support and grow these could bring huge benefits. At the same time, many spaces in the Southern part of St Andrews are underused or neglected (Figures 8, 9). Bringing some of the relentless focus on ‘three-street St Andrews’ out into the parts of town where most people actually  live could go a long way towards building lasting bridges of trust and understanding over the Kinnessburn. Finally, the housing question in St Andrews and its surroundings needs to be opened to local debate with participation from all parts of the town. Transition’s role here should be as more of a facilitator rather than taking direct action – housing should be done by people rather than for them.

Fig 7: An axis of community spaces runs through St Andrews, some have more secure futures than others

Figure 7: An axis of community spaces runs through St Andrews, some have more secure futures than others

Fig 8

Figure 8: The Pipeland Post Office and an empty space on Lamond Drive – two services lost to the St Andrews community, two spaces that could be revived

Fig 9

Figure 9: Pipeland Park on one of the rare occasions when it was empty of children and the community orchard in Stanks Park – two green spaces that are used but could do with some help

Energy descent is inevitable: Fossil fuels are harder and costlier to extract, renewables are intermittent and nuclear suffers from the opposite problem, it can’t be turned off once it’s going. Additionally, the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere are being reorganised on a grand scale. Politicians seem to be obsessed by returning to growth by encouraging everyone to borrow more. Pre-occupied by the global concepts of Carbon, Energy, Climate and Inequality it is easy to forget the community scale at which Transition operates. Local responses entail an engagement with local politics. St Andrews channels by far enough resources to achieve resilient prosperity for all of its citizens but achieving this will take a sense of common purpose built through open and sustained debate. Transition: (University of) St Andrews seems like the ideal body to work towards this goal.

With love,

Joshua Msika

Co-ordinator, Transition: University of St Andrews, 2012-2014

BSc Hons Sustainable Development (2014).