Following our event at West Bank Park, XR York has been continuing to campaign for a coronavirus recovery plan that puts people and planet first, working with local organisations and communities in the city.

This summer, as the UK has been tentatively emerging from lockdown, XR York and other campaigning groups have been focused on how we can build back better following the pandemic. The world that we rebuild as we recover from the coronavirus crisis can’t just be a new version of the old, broken normal, with its entrenched inequalities and environmental devastation. There has to be no going back to the destructive pre-virus system.

Movement of movements

To spread this message and push for the changes that we so desperately need, XR York has joined forces with Build Back Better: a broad coalition of NGOs, charities, trade unions and community groups. To truly confront and tackle the huge challenges of our time, a ‘movement of movements’ is needed, both nationally and internationally. On a smaller scale, XR York has been trying to help build this movement in our city, collaborating with other organisations and asking the people of York: how do we create a better world together?

At a community event in West Bank Park on 24th June, XR York activists – along with other local groups and organisations – took the message of the Build Back Better campaign to local people, inviting their responses and ideas. With five stalls dotted around the park, each themed around one of Build Back Better’s five demands (from a Green New Deal to protecting public services), the event offered a light and friendly way to engage with these issues.

Inviting ideas from the public

Ideas for a better society

On the ‘People Over Profit’ stall, developed in collaboration with My Future York, passersby shared their own thoughts on how we can build a better post-Covid society here in York. Prompted by themes from the document of recommendations presented to the Council after XR York’s hugely successful People’s Assembly back in June 2019, visitors to the park scribbled their ideas on cardboard cut-out people.

As the installation grew, with more and more cardboard people standing on the grass around the stall, some key themes emerged:

·        Pedestrianisation, improved public transport and cycle provisions

·        An economy based upon wellbeing, local prosperity and circularity

·        Accessible, sustainable housing

·        Renewable energy production and storage

·        Sustainable, local, zero waste food strategy

·        Green spaces

·        Lifelong education.

The installation grows…

These themes, together with the document that came out of last year’s People’s Assembly, are now forming the basis of ongoing campaigning and conversations with local councillors. XR York member Jai, who was one of the team inviting and collecting public responses at West Bank Park, has since met with Green Party councillors who reached out to discuss how some of these ideas might be put into action. Among other things, they talked about XR York’s ongoing Car Free City campaign, the Council’s commitment to plant 50,000 trees around York, what a reimagined local public transport system might look like, and how to create more space in the city for people to grow their own food.

Joined up thinking

Reflecting on this conversation, Jai said, “What this showed to me was that for every point on this list, somebody somewhere is likely working on it. If only there was enough joined up thinking, we could make progress with ideas like these much more quickly. What we need is a better platform for public engagement, and for open governance. Everyone has ideas, and it’s everyone’s city.”

All of this aligns with Extinction Rebellion’s demand for a truly democractic, people-led approach to climate action and Build Back Better’s aim to work together to forge a better future. As last year’s People’s Assembly and the ideas from the West Bank Park event show, there’s a real appetite for change. People don’t want to go back to ‘normal’ – they want to transform things for the better.

You can find out more about the Build Back Better campaign on their website. And if you want to feed into the Council’s coronavirus recovery plans, you can take part in A Big Conversation – a series of online and offline conversations between the Council and local residents.

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