That was William Blake’s opinion, and this month I’ve been involved in two events which have led me to reflect on the impact our environment has on us and on how we behave.
Firstly, there was MOVE 2019, held in the UK for the first time, where I was a speaker on the panel (right) discussing The Future of Fleets. This two-day conference drew together an incredibly forward-thinking, international audience at ExCel, London, to explore new mobility solutions including the new, hot topic of ‘micro-mobility’. The atmosphere in this ultra-modern venue was pretty stratospheric!
The very next day I found myself in a totally different environment, the beautiful Victorian building which is the home of the Royal Automobile Club, where I and a handful of mobility experts had been invited to discuss how cities should prepare for the arrival of electric and autonomous vehicles.
Whilst the physical distance between these two venues is barely five miles, the cultural distance spanned several decades! The moment you walk into the RAC you’re surrounded by images and artefacts which date back hundreds of years. Everything around you celebrates history and reminds you of where we’ve come from, rather than where we’re going.
Whilst a healthy dose of respect for history is essential (not least to avoid repeating it) I couldn’t help noticing how different the conversations were between these two locations, and how much they reflected the surroundings. At MOVE19, the vast modern building had eScooters whizzing around and t-shirt-clad start-up founders chatting about next-generation services: clearly, we were surrounded by ‘the future’. In stark contrast, the conversation at the RAC seemed to focus more on the short term, on taking small steps to introduce tried and tested technologies.
Perhaps William Blake’s adage “We become what we behold” still carries some weight today. Maybe seeing new technology in action opens the mind to new opportunities, starts new conversations and leads to new solutions, albeit some perhaps too crazy to stand the test of time? Equally, maybe being surrounded by history anchors us too strongly to what has happened in the past and, therefore, restricts our thinking and results in conservative steps?
Maybe it’s a generational thing but I fear that our wonderful historic buildings, with all their splendour, charm and elegance, are not the best places to talk about planning for the future. When organising such gatherings, we have to take into consideration how delegates will react to their surroundings, and how stimulated they will be for the forthcoming discussions, as well as how impressed they may be by the historical context.