I am now at a strange point in my life of finding myself an eminence grise in the regeneration sector. Anyone who knows me will attest that this is not something I'm terrifically comfortable with, having got a life-long self-image of being an "urban guerrilla" banging on the door of the mainstream property sector. After all, I started my adult life with a bubble perm, Doctor Martins, red dungarees and a badge saying "wearing badges is not enough" and, frankly, I am still that rather absurd girlie underneath.
So I found it very odd indeed when that venerable old man of the sea, Howard Day (fag hanging out of his mouth of course) said incredulously (this was while we were doing Paddington, he was with Railtrack at the time but he does get about; he's the only person I know who has worked for both Godfrey Bradman and Stuart Lipton not - I hasten to add - at the same time) "Blimey Jack, you're becoming establishment". And although I didn't believe him at the time, I guess I really am now. After all, I chair the trade federation (hurrah!) and I'm Head of Regeneration for CB Richard Ellis, biggest real estate consultancy in the world (so ner) so I guess I'd better wake up and smell the hummus.
And it's rather nice being an eminence grise, of course. Students write to me to ask me for careers advice. Bless. What would I know? I hugely enjoy lecturing the APCs (the "Assessment of Professional Competence" cohort - or, in English, the graduate trainees) in CBRE. I lurve lurve lurve the CBRE APCs, they are the brightest and most sassy group of young people you could care to meet. Completely energising and stimulating to be around. Graduate recruitment is something that CBRE do brilliantly well - it's taken a bit of battering in recent times of course but I have no doubt they'll be back out in the colleges before long.
In fact, the APCs are now my army of fifth columnists, bravely taking on their elders (and not necessarily betters) in matters to do with the built environment and ...er... people. Can you imagine? I heard one of them holding forth about "the community" the other day, and this directed at one of the biggest slash 'n' burn merchants we have in the business. I was right proud.
So the urban studies students and the APCs (and various others) ask me: what qualities or training do you need to succeed in regeneration? And, because absolutely everyone I know who is any good at regeneration has got into it by mistake, I find I just don't know. So I start wittering about flexibility and resilience, opportunism and stubbornness. Most of all I think you probably need prodigious energy and indefatigability (many of the sites I've worked on in London I've been back to more than once - Elephant, Chiswick Park, Royal Docks - some of them three or four times!) and, of course, the sine qua non for survival in the regeneration industry - a ruthless and wicked sense of humour. Energy and humour can turn even a bleak situation (and we certainly witness a few of those in regeneration!) into a life enhancing experience. And if it didn't, we'd all give up and go home. Working with poor people is hard. And you have to see the funny side of being stranded in a pub in the armpit of the universe in mid winter, waiting for the last train, with nothing but a warm lager, a cold pork pie, yesterday's Evening Standard and a bloke with no teeth for company.
It is life's rich tapestry. And, as a result, regeneration practitioners are generally positive and cheerful and good for a laugh. Our glass is always half full. Sometimes our glass is completely full! You might think we're a bunch of nutters (and I guess we're guilty as charged) but regeneration is all about delivering where the market has failed. It takes courage and conviction and energy and humour. And if we aren't built that way then we can't do what we do.
Needless to say, in the current economic climate, you all need us now more than you ever did..