Magazine article Geographical

Setting Standards

Magazine article Geographical

Setting Standards

Article excerpt

MANY WILL BE AWARE of the International Standards Organization (ISO) through environmental standards such as ISO 14001 or the quality frameworks for management, such as ISO 9001.

But in fact, international standardisation affects all aspects of our lives, from plugs and kettles to Information security. Now ISO Is turning its attention to communities, fostering a grass-roots commitment to sustainability.

These new standards will provide an umbrella for any number of initiatives globally from village renewable energy schemes to entire 'smart' cities. They are remarkable both in seeing the community as the basis of change rather than corporate or governmental action, and because they seek to enable and prompt local debate and inclusion rather than proscribe 'top-down' answers.

This direction has been significantly influenced by the UK; one of 20 countries actively developing this work, including China, the United States, Russia, Japan, France, Malaysia and Germany. Earlier British Standards in this area introduced a focus on engagement and innovative techniques to structure engagement (such as structured open questioning) and to measure community 'maturity'.

The most recent round of ISO development work took place in my home village of Grasmere in June in an unseasonably warm Lake District. Grasmere, of course, fostered an earlier generation of environmentalists such as Wordsworth (one of the first to raise ideas of common ownership of inspiring landscapes) and Canon Rawnsley (co-founder of the National Trust).

Rather than the usual round of major cities (Paris, Yokohama, Toronto, Vienna, etc.), the international committee chose to settle itself within a small community and experience both the inspiration of the landscape and the all-too real issues of rural communities where housing, services and wage rates are all restricted.

Crucially, we forced ourselves to consider--and record--the very purpose of community and question what value it brought. Advantages of international cooperation became apparent from the depth of contributions drawing on French communitarianism and terrior, Chinese harmonious society, German systems planning and Canadian global city indicators.

Beyond the 'business case' of mutuality and interdependency and the responsibility agenda of 'custodianship', there came conceptions of the power of creativity, unconditionality and shared place. After 30 years, my Oxford-studied ideas of the geography of unity and region, once much derided, finally seemed so entirely relevant. …

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