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Al Etmanski Blogs About The PLOT


Ever heard of a wicked problem? It’s a challenge that has no borders and attracts as many unanswerable questions as solutions.

There are a lot of wicked problems out there. They are tough, stubborn, deep. And their roots are intertwined with connections to other seemingly insurmountable challenges. Think abuse. Violence. Loneliness. Poverty. Climate change.

You are never sure where to start and if you do what the unintended consequences of your actions will be. You just know something surprising will happen.

Wicked problems are encounters with the unknown. That’s why folks who are capable of revealing the multiple dimensions of a challenge and shining a light on alternate solutions are so valuable. And alas why they can be so easy to ignore. Despite their limitations, we don’t like to let go of what we are doing even when it isn’t working.

Artists Cora and Don Li-Leger are two such visionaries. They took over an abandoned field in Surrey and turned it into a lush communal garden. That’s communal not community. The distinction is important. There is sharing and it is infectious. As Cora laughingly says, “It’s impossible to steal anything here. Everything is free.”

Vegetables grow in abundance at the PLOT.

So do trust, beauty and life. Most of all neighbourliness.

You can see that spirit whenever you visit. Volunteer gardeners, beekeepers, irrigation specialists, carpenters, cooks, photographers, innovators, problem solvers.

The PLOT exists in the heart of a community with its fair share of challenges. So it’s natural that the effects of poverty, homelessness, addiction, abuse and loneliness would show up in the PLOT.

Here’s the thing. This beautiful container shines a light on human ingenuity and suffering in a way that invites a human response. A flexible response. A caring response.

It doesn’t invite a traditional social service response.

And that’s the challenge Surrey faces.

Is it prepared to stop managing social problems and start nurturing places of belonging?

Is it prepared to move beyond enforcement, case loads and typical office hours?

Is it prepared to trust and support the capacity of its own citizens to solve its wicked challenges?

Don and Cora have unwittingly given my hometown a chance to rise to the occasion.

The PLOT thickens. I’ll keep you posted.