Category | Design

The Politicisation of CERA and the planning of new Christchurch

This, strangely, is a crossback-cross-post originally published at Rebuilding Christchurch by Barnaby Bennett, chief egg of the Freerange Press and editor of the magnificent book “Christchurch: The Transitional City Part IV“. This is the first of an epic four-and-a-half-part analysis of the political machinations in Christchurch, and how they are influencing the rebuild. -Byron, Ed.

 

No government was ever going to be able to seamlessly respond to a crazy series of events like the earthquakes that hit Christchurch between September 2010 and the end of 2011.  It was an insanely complex and difficult event and the tangled nature of all the little parts mean the development of new ideas and plans and the construction of these is no easy task. Yet, this shouldn’t mean a pass card for our representatives. In this article I’ll argue, and explain, why I think the removal of the public from most of the rebuild process is a critical mistake both politically for the government and for the citizens of Christchurch.

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Poster Winner

Congratulations to Geordie Shaw who is the winner of the competition to design a poster for the bird that Freerange is sponsoring for the NZ Bird of the Year Competition.  Geordie wins a subscription to Freerange Journal and $50 of cold hard cash!

Geordie’s winning entry:

BirdOfTheYear_A3_RGB_small

The official New Zealand Bird of the  Year competition launches soon….

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NZ Barn Owl Bird-of-the-Year Poster Brief

Freerange is supporting the annual Bird of the Year  competition which launches at the end of September and run by Forest and Bird New Zealand.

http://www.birdoftheyear.org.nz/

Our task is to get as many people as possible to vote for the bird that we are supporting: The New Zealand Barn Owl.

The NZ Barn Owl is New Zealand’s newest native bird.  It is not uncommon for the Barn Owl to make their way here occasionally, or to get blown over in storms from Australia, but it is only recently that a few pairs have started breeding.  Freerange supports the rights of immigrants so we say we should acknowledge and welcome our new feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic (warm-blooded), egg-laying, vertebrate avian friends.

It’d be rude not to, eh?

Barn_owl_darrelbirkett

Information about our little hero is here:

Forest and Bird.

Wingspan.

NZ Birds online.

Poster Competition.

As part of the general profile raising that we are tasked with for this project a poster is needed.

So this is a call out to ALL designers, (and non-designers) that Freerange is running a small competition to come up with the best poster to support our goal of getting the Barn Owl to be the favourite NZ bird of the year.

The winning entry will receive: $50 cold-hard cash, and a subscription to Freerange Journal.

Brief.

1. The brief is to design an a colour A3 poster.

2. It needs a a punchy one line sentence/tagline (no longer than 15 words) that sums up why people should vote for the Barn Owl.

3. Poster needs to be given to the Bird of the Year campaign on the 15th of September. So we are closing our competition on the 10th of September.

4. The poster needs to be 300 dpi and version in both CMYK and RBG as it will be both printed and used online.

5. This url needs to be on it: www.birdoftheyear.org.nz

6. email me and I’ll send you the photos of the BarnOwl Forest and Bird have given us, and the freerange logo.  (barnaby@projectfreerange.com)

Examples of previous posters are:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/33450140@N03/sets/72157631770313710/

Questions and Submissions to:

Barnaby@projectfreerange.com

BarnOwl_TonySutton

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Pirates Write Blogs Too, Right?

We’re looking for new authors to join us as we embark (again?) on our courageously uncertain course through piratey waters, and try to make some sense (or at least pretty-up the non-sense) of our contemporary world. We like the four sturdy masts that keep our sails aloft: the City, Design, Politics, and Pirates, and we try to write, scratch, scrawl, draw, photograph our love, protest, insight, outrage and inspiration through Project Freerange.

 

The Freerange Blog is a strange constellation of ideas that we haven’t got close to mapping yet, but there’s bound to be an inhabitable planet or two in there, and some other very strange things that make our stomachs & brains ache, like this.

 

The Freerange Blog really is the nervous system of the Freerange Cooperative Press, slightly anxious, but vital for us to keep our senses. From the blog, the Freerange Journal emerges, new print projects, and a community of writers that are frighteningly worldly and utterly interesting.

 

 

Get in touch with me (byron@projectfreerange.com) if you’re keen to set sail,

Looking forward to talking the plank,

Byron

The Sweaty Toothed Madman / Secretary.

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When I Draw–

“Y’know the real world, this so called real world is just something you put up with like everybody else.  I’m in my element when I’m a little bit out of this world – I’m on the beam.  Because when I’m falling, I’m doing all right: When I’m slipping, I say, “Hey this is interesting!”  It’s when I’m standing upright, that bothers me: I’m not doing so good.”  Willem de Kooning.

For the last year I’ve worked at Factory 7 with dim lights (nearly always at night), metallic dust, and a large dirty desk that takes the brunt of my drawing.  I work with dry and dusty pencils, charcoal and dense pigment pastels, always on paper.

In my dark corner, I’ve drawn bodies, women, angels, saints, friends and places, faces, and forces. I draw these things to understand my body, the bodies of others – real and unreal – and to trace the experiences of my physical, intellectual and emotional self. I draw to understand old marks I’ve made, how my hand moves and hits paper, and to feel how the marks and paper hit back in whatever way they can. I guess I draw to get better at drawing.

Factory 7

Factory 7

Factory 7

Factory 7

I am most interested in making marks when I am as wary as possible of the eye, the hand and the paper, even when – or especially when – I’m not in control of them. The easiest way to be aware of something is to feel it change, the more violently the better. To become aware of your eye, you blind it, your hand – you hurt it, the whiteness of your paper – you dirty it.

I want to draw like being in a car crash.

The relationship between your eyes and hands is the easiest to disrupt. When drawing blindfolded, the hand is increasingly sensitive to movement and impact, and even the mind’s eye can be confused if you’re slipping. This is the best way to draw unlike your self, which is an important part of drawing as your self. I think that short fits of hysteria have the same effect and can be practiced, like New Zealand artist Max Gimblett who stomps the ground and bellows like a madman, or there’s De Kooning, who supposedly charged at his canvas from across the room with his loaded brush in hand. I find music pumped into my ears helps me arrive there too. The effects of all these can be an extended sense of openness, or aggressive bursts of physical and emotional energy that smash pigment deep into the paper. It feels incredibly direct.

 

When I draw,

“I’m not pure; I’m not an abstractionist completely. There has to be a history behind the thought.”  Cy Twombly.

To consider technique, my newer drawings are really about how my hands and body interact with the drawing surface. Rebecca Horn’s Pencil Mask is a striking example of this, and is a type of practice often called performance drawing. I think the Pencil Mask and other performance drawings tend to explore drawing instruments as prosthetics of the body, recording the body as directly as possible: Yves Klein’s blue body paintings are dramatic examples, where the drawing instrument is the naked body. In the end, I’m not artistically interested in sharing the performance of my drawing (infact, oppositely, I prefer to keep this ambiguous), so I think I deviate from Horn & Klein. Instead I’m very interested in collecting as many ways as possible of making marks, especially ones that undermine the well-practiced control of the hand on paper. Cy Twombly has become an important influence in this way. My drawings in the Collisions/Alchemy and Nova sets are good examples of this exploration, the first set uses ambidextrous and intentionally deformed and uncoordinated hand gestures, twisting the way I might hold the pastel, and contorting my hands and body to force cramped and shivering lines; drawings in Nova are more desperate as they crush the pigment pastels to pieces right on the paper, and smashing my hands and fists into the coloured dust, I smear it heavily into the paper with hugely exaggerated and unnecessary force.

Colliding marks. http://cargocollective.com/drawnandwritten/Alchemy

Colliding marks. http://cargocollective.com/drawnandwritten/Alchemy

Green Bruising - Nova http://cargocollective.com/drawnandwritten/Nova

Green Bruising – Nova http://cargocollective.com/drawnandwritten/Nova

 

“I’ll take you where nobody knows you–”

Recently I’ve drawn with Fenina Acance and Jaslyne Gan. Apart from the joy, challenge, and intrigue of working alongside other drawers drawing (‘art is by the alone’), for me it’s an important practice in developing new mark-making strategies. The marks I was making before the collaborative jams were (maybe too conservatively) sitting between what I saw in Fenina’s sharp, shifting scratches and Jaslyne’s dancing, ethereal compositions.  So we all decided we should do some shared drawings, made simultaneously or swapped part-way.

At first most of them looked like my drawings, but they have changed, and they’re now the drawings that I find most intriguing. Maybe it’s because I could never have done them myself, or because of their uncanny familiarity. I find them incredible sources of inspiration and fascination, like looking in a mirror and not recognising something about myself. When I’m slipping, I say, ‘Hey this is interesting!’

Fenina Acance & Byron Kinnaird. 2013. Untitled.

Fenina Acance & Byron Kinnaird. 2013. Untitled.

Jaslyne Gan & Byron Kinnaird. 2013, Untitled/Strangers

Jaslyne Gan & Byron Kinnaird. 2013, Untitled/Strangers

Collaborating is also a terrific way of dispelling any preciousness for your drawings (‘kill your darlings’) and more importantly, learning to rework existing unsatisfying drawings, even if you ruin them. I’m terrible at working through drawings that I’m not feeling good about (and have no idea how to rescue), so ruining someone else’s drawing seems like a safer idea.

 

Force and Fire

These days, I keep taking the drawn force, lushness and violence from Willem De Kooning’s Women and Julie Mehretu’s storms; I take the lines, scratches and scrapes of Cy Twombly, Mike Parr, and Rebecca Horn… I can’t help but use a researcher’s eye and hand to scrutinize and explore mark-making techniques.

Departing from the celestial references in the Nova drawings, my new work warily uses fire as a driving force. Intensely about the Australian land and sky, fire is sublime because it destroys and regenerates, it’s terrifying and warming. Aside from all that, and most importantly to me, it sparks, cracks and swirls in ways that I want to draw.

 

Wildfire, 2013. Byron Kinnaird http://cargocollective.com/drawnandwritten/Fire-and-Night

Wildfire, 2013. Byron Kinnaird http://cargocollective.com/drawnandwritten/Fire-and-Night

Byron Kinnaird is one of the Directors of the Freerange Cooperative; an artist and poet at Factory 7; and a teacher and researcher for architecture at the University of Melbourne. His drawings are at www.drawnandwritten.com

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On Building Stories and Creating Cities

I’m a planning professional by degree and career, but when I talk about urban planning I’m not talking solely about the work that goes on in a professional office.  What I’m actually referring to is every action of every inhabitant of a city, because whether or not it is our direct intent, it is our collective actions that shape our communities.  Planning is not just a resource consent or a district plan, it’s an interactive communicative activity.  Our local and national identities stem from core stories that give meaning to our collective lives.  By telling stories about our past and our present our intention is to shape the future.[i]

Story telling is not a passive experience, stories tell as much about the teller as the teller tells about events. In any situation there is only one set of events that occur, yet everyone who is present will tell the story differently based on their experiences and personal biases.  Stories provide details that can clarify problems and opportunities.  They provide descriptions of character, they invoke values and they raise questions. [ii]  Stories are not merely told, they are created.  When we tell a story about ourselves we are drawing on our past behaviours and on others’ characterizations of ourselves.  In re-telling our stories we are reproducing ourselves and our behaviours. [iii]   In choosing which stories to tell we are defining our personal characteristics and shaping our own lives.

A professor of mine who was involved in the post-Katrina reconstruction of New Orleans talked to us about how it was those personal characteristics of all the key players that really mattered.  He said that over and over again he saw examples of the right kind of person, or unfortunately the wrong, make an enormous difference because their actions would have ripple effects.  He said that this happened even at the very lowest levels.  And what I understood is that it’s not so much that individuals and their actions can make a difference, it’s that individuals and their actions are what make a difference.  Which is heavy because it applies to all of us and it’s something that we have to be aware of all the time.  But don’t let it scare you, don’t let it weigh you down – let it excite you!

I have a story that I like about Christchurch because it’s about the All Blacks and I’ve loved them ever since I was a student in Dunedin.  I’ve been following them for about ten years now so I know that nobody deserved that cup more than they did.  But what interested me the most about the All Blacks winning was an interview with Richie McCaw where he said that after the earthquakes normal wasn’t normal anymore.   He said that in every aspect of his daily life he was forced to look at things a bit differently.  He explained that instead of it being an obstacle it became a strength because he also started looking at his game and his team a bit differently.  And when he applied this new mindset to his captaincy he was able to take his team to higher levels than ever before.  So this is just one example of how the story of the city affected one of its inhabitants, whose personal story then affected the city. Because whether or not you are a big rugby fan I can tell you that the atmosphere in Hagley Park was pure magic when they won, and that is now a part of the story of this city.

So now that we know that our cities and even our lives are built on stories, let’s look at how stories are created.  Author Margot Livesy tells us to look for what she calls ‘the hidden machinery.’  She advises aspiring writers to read all that is good for the good of your soul, and then learn to read as a writer and search out the ‘hidden machinery,’ which is the business of art to conceal and the business of the apprentice to comprehend.[iv]  To find these building blocks you have to read the work that’s not so good, and read work that’s in progress.  You have to read your own work as if it were someone else’s.  She tells us to admit our judgments, because few writers get steadily better but many get unsteadily so.

I find myself experiencing cities in the same way.  I enjoy what’s good about them for the good of my soul, and there’s so much to enjoy in cities!  I love pedestrian precincts with quirky little bars, cafes and boutiques; I love architecture and art galleries.  I love street fashion and fine dining, street food and high fashion.  Public transportation, I love taking the metro in Paris or the El train in Chicago.  People watching, public parks, talking to strangers, public libraries.  Live music, live comedy, nightlong dance parties in industrial districts; all of the wild and unpredictable things that happen in cities, I love it!  But then I can’t help but experience the city as a planner.  I take note of the urban design, I educate myself on the policies, I listen to and watch for the stories being told.  I try to piece together exactly what it is that makes that city work.  What is it exactly that makes it such an exciting and dynamic place to be?  Or maybe I’m in a city that’s not so nice and in that case I try to figure out what specifically it is about that city that doesn’t work.  And as I explore and experience my new home, Christchurch, I remind myself that few cities get steadily better, but many get unsteadily so.

So where does this ‘hidden machinery’ come from?  Where do we get the inspiration for the building blocks that we use to build our stories and create our cities?  Author Susan Power tells us that instead of writing what we know, we should write what we need to know.  She says that if she relied solely on firsthand experience then she would stick to her journal and never imagine herself in another’s shoes.  But in fiction anything is possible, there are no boundaries, there are no rules, except to make it work.[v]  In planning as well, there are no boundaries that will hold us back.  There are some rules of course, but they are flexible, they are only there to ‘make it work’.  We don’t have to rely solely on what we’ve experienced firsthand, we have a multitude of examples from across the world that we can imagine for ourselves and create in our own way.  And as planners, or even as human beings, I think it does us good to imagine ourselves in other people’s shoes, to think about what their life might be like and about how our work and our actions might affect them.  And hopefully they’ll do the same for us.

James Alan McPherson is a professor at the Iowa Writers Institute, which is pretty much the creative writing program in the states, and he reminds us that the humanities are untidy.  He says the purpose is not closure along a single line of inquiry as we might find in the sciences, but illuminations that are hard won because they can only be discovered in the midst of life.[vi]  And life is also untidy, there is never a single right answer or single right way of doing things.  But McPherson reminds us that if we remain alert we may begin to see the meaning of events, the character of other human beings, and become more generous, wise, and effective in our actions.  McPherson says that what he enjoys most about teaching writing workshops is the range of backgrounds in his students. He says physics majors discuss theories of causality with religion majors; medical doctors learn mythology from classmates educated in the classics; engineers and music majors learn that technology and music derive from the same idiom.  Film students help lawyers master the essentials of narrative pacing.  He observes that stories encourage abstraction and recombination at a time when our society is becoming increasingly technological and trite.[vii] Despite his many accomplishments McPherson is also quite humble, because he says that best of all is that he as a teacher gains wider knowledge from this diverse body of students.  Cities that are designed with their core stories in mind and that allow space for a multitude of stories to be told will by their very nature provide their inhabitants with a similar space to thrive and to grow.

At the core of any livable city lies the ability to accommodate diverse and locally grounded lifestyles and practices.  The residents are the authority when it comes to understanding a community and policy makers should draw on their expertise.  Institutional processes must make space for stories, creating a ‘sense of place’ that is shaped by the environment, culture, and history.  Policy makers too often ignore this elusive ‘sense of place’ but community is capital, people are willing to pay for it.[viii]  The value of a strong sense of place varies from economic contribution as a tourism draw to the aesthetic value of good design, to the emotional value of a place as part of the regional identity.  Beyond the monetary boost of a tourism visit, there is economic value rooted in the presence of the established local population, whose locational decision is based on their perception of, and ties to their community.

For those who call Christchurch home, as I do, remember that stories are our heritage and our legacy.  Our personal stories are a powerful contribution to building our community because it takes more than infrastructure and policy to create a city.  If you work professionally with the rebuild, your contribution is not relegated to your office.  If you don’t work professionally with the rebuild, you are still accountable for the future of this city.  We are actively building our community every day by indulging in our hobbies and by being a friend, family member, or neighbour.  Share your interests, learn about the interests of others, enjoy the time that you spend with those close to you, speak candidly about what is important to you, and listen when others do the same.  There are no boundaries that will hold us back, all we have to do is imagine the future as we’d like it to be, and create it in our own way.

Dedicated to Andy Isserman, who taught me that stories can be found in even the most mundane facts and figures and who never stopped telling stories of his own.

 



[i] Throgmorton, James. Inventing ‘the Greatest’: Constructing Louisville’s

Future out of Story and Clay.  Planning Theory 6:3 (2007), pp. 237-262.

http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=urban_pubs

[ii] Forester, John. Dealing with Differences: Dramas of Mediating Public Disputes Oxford University Press. 2009.

[iii] Sandercock, Leonie. 2003. Out of the Closet: The Importance of Stories and Storytelling in Planning Practice. Planning Theory & Practice 4:1 (2003), pp. 11-28.

[iv] Livesy, Margot “The Hidden Machinery.”  Frank Conroy, eds. The Eleventh Draft: Craft And The Writing Life From The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. New York : HarperCollins, 1999. Print.

[v] Power, Susan “The Wise Fool.”  Frank Conroy, eds. The Eleventh Draft: Craft And The Writing Life From The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. New York : HarperCollins, 1999. Print.

[vi] McPherson, James Alan “Workshopping Lucius Mummius.”  Frank Conroy, eds. The Eleventh Draft: Craft And The Writing Life From The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. New York : HarperCollins, 1999. Print.

[vii] Ibid.

8 Bolton, Roger. 1992. ‘Place prosperity vs. people prosperity’ revisited: An old issue with a new angle. Urban Studies 29: 185?203.

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Reclaiming The Commons

I have felt for a while the creeping sensation there has been something crucial missing from contemporary political discourse and dialogue.  Until recently was not quite sure what it was. I was always vaguely aware of the idea of the commons but it previously seemed a distant and historical concept with little relevance today. However, recent developments such as the creative commons and open source movements and the occupy movement have led to a dawning realisation that this concept may in fact be the invisible link connecting these events. The idea of the commons is what so many of us in the developed and developing worlds have been fighting for. It is a new paradigm which has the power to unite disparate causes and peoples and to allow us to move beyond traditional discourses and divisions of left wing politics. I am now convinced that the concept of the commons is our best hope for achieving a world of freedom, justice, community self determination and environmental sustainability.

Commons academic David Bollier defines the concept as:

A social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity.
A self-organized system by which communities manage resources (both depletable and and replenishable) with minimal or no reliance on the Market or State.
The wealth that we inherit or create together and must pass on, undiminished or enhanced, to our children. Our collective wealth includes the gifts of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural works and traditions, and knowledge.
A sector of the economy (and life!) that generates value in ways that are often taken for granted – and often jeopardized by the Market-State.

History
The common resources of Earth were abundant and reasonably well managed at the time of the industrial revolution. Most indigenous communities had learned through trial and error to view land and resources less as a commodity than as a basis for identity for a particular community to be equally shared among living, dead and those yet to be born. The Native Americans as well as Maori and aboriginal Australians all saw themselves as connected to the land and as having a role as guardians of the land. Under this indigenous system, acquiring legal title to land was done through proof of occupation, historical connection and active use of the resources. Stewardship or guardianship was the key cultural concept which governed and prevented the over exploitation of these resources.

In pre-industrial England, rural communities also governed their common resources in a similar manner with complex systems of overlapping traditional rights governing activities such as mowing meadows for hay, gathering food and fuel from the forests and grazing livestock on land held in common by the local community. Enclosure of these once prevalent common lands into private land began in the 16th century This process of enclosure (often by violent bloodshed) ended many traditional rights of the peasants or non landowning people.

The 1215 twin charters known as the Magna Carta are recognised in the English speaking world as the source of the protections of rights such as trial by jury, due process of law, the prohibition of torture.  What is less recognised is that the second and lesser known Charter of the Forest in fact confirmed the right of the people or ‘commoners’ to subsistence from the common resources of the forests. Peter Linebaugh in his history, ‘The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All’ demonstrates how these ancient legal rights of the people have been repeatedly laid aside when the ‘greed of privatization, the lust for power, and the ambition of empire seize a state.’

Attention was also focused on the abundant common resources of the rest of the world by colonial powers. In the colonies, the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ was employed to justify the departure from the Magna Carta in order to facilitate the enclosure of indigenous lands and enslavement of peoples in the settler-colonial societies. As Chomsky states on the settlement of North America “According to this useful doctrine, the Indians had no property rights since they were just wanderers in an untamed wilderness. And the hard-working colonists could create value where there was none by turning that same wilderness to commercial use.”

The ecologist Garrett Hardin’s influential 1968 theory of ‘The tragedy of the commons’ has been used by Neoliberal economists to justify further privatisation and commodification of common resources such as forests, waters and land. This theory has led to massive land grabs and ultimately justified the privatisation of common assets, resources and infrastructure on an unprecedented worldwide scale. The dangers inherent in this dominant ideology of the ‘State/Market duopoly’ has been cautioned against by academics such as Bollier:
“Today, the commons – a vehicle for meeting everyone’s basic needs in a roughly equitable way – is being annexed and disassembled to serve a global market machine. Nature becomes commodified. Commoners become isolated individuals. Communities of commoners are splintered and reconstituted as armies of consumers and employees. The “unowned” resources of the commons are converted into the raw fodder for market production and sale – and after every last drop of it has been monetized, the inevitable wastes of the market are dumped back into the commons. Government is dispatched to “mop up” the “externalities,” a task that is only irregularly fulfilled because it is so ancillary to neoliberal priorities.”

This extreme economic ideology has heavily influenced today’s political elites who on the whole assume that common resources must be managed either through privatization or government management (or more recently a partnership of the two). The results of this approach are evident now all around us in what could be termed ‘the tragedy of the anti-commons’ in which communities across the planet are waking up to discover that there are very few common resources left with which to sustain themselves and develop their local economies.

Elinor Ostram of Indiana University won a nobel prize in economics in 2009 for her amazing body of work effectively debunking ‘the tragedy of the commons’ theory by showing that communities all around the world actually had been co-managing commons successfully and efficiently for hundreds of years. Ostrom’s meticulous field work explored how people collaborate and organise themselves to manage common resources such as forests through a complex set of governance principles.

The Key to such effective management according to Ostram were eight ‘design’ principles of stable local common pool resource management:
1 Clearly defined boundaries (effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties);
2 Local rules regarding the appropriation and provision of common resources
3 Collective-choice arrangements with inclusive decision making;
4 Effective monitoring the users;
5 A scale of graduated sanctions for violations of community rules;
6 Mechanisms of conflict resolution that are cheap and of easy access;
7 Self-determination of the community recognized by higher-level authorities;
8 Organization of larger common-pool resources, on a local scale

Ostram put into words what many of us instinctively felt all along – that a more community centred approach is the most efficient way to achieve a sustainable future. Essentially Ostram’s work confirms what many indigenous and pre-industrial communities had already known – that a culture of community based guardianship, self determination and a clearly defined set of cultural rules can lead to effective management of common resources.

Many examples of successful commons do exist in the post 2008 financial crisis world.
Maine, New England’s co-operatively managed lobster fishery is one example of a common resource which is managed sustainably and has positive impacts both environmentally and for the local fishing community financially. Where Industrial fishing enterprises have no connection to the fish stocks other than profit-making for shareholders, the Maine lobstering community has a legalised role and an economic interest in protecting and maintaining this resource as stewards. As a result, the fishery is thriving and can provide adequate income for both current and future generations.

The Via Campesina is a coalition of small-farmer and peasants rights movements from around the Global South and is based on a commons philosophy that people should have access to common lands with which to sustain themselves. The Zapatista movement is a movement of Mexican peasants who have gradually and under much repression and resistance from the Mexican Central Government been forming autonomous and independent municipalities complete with schools, common agriculture systems and courts of deliberative justice.

Another example of the commons resurgence is the recent proliferation of co-operative businesses worldwide. 2012 has been the UN International year of the Co-operative and has seen a huge rise in the number of this type of business being formed across the USA, Europe and other developed nations. The fact that Cuba is also looking seriously at allowing privately run co-operative businesses to take over from Government in many areas until now the preserve of government shows that the co-operative business movement may in fact be a middle ground between socialism and capitalism. If managed correctly this could decrease tensions between the two philosophies by allowing greater decentralisation of power and more self determination of communities,

Despite these inspiring examples, it will be a long and hard fought battle to wrestle back power over the commons from the hands of Governments and the private sector. This new approach to governance will require forms of land and resource management rooted in community and locality rather than one governed by profit margins, absentee shareholder owners and industrial farming. There are many legal and economic tools by which this can be done, land trusts, co-operative business models and open source software are just some of the commons based mechanisms which are currently driving a ‘commons renaissance’ in the post 2008 era. However, alongside these innovative work around solutions, more supportive Law and policy regimes from sympathetic Governments will greatly increase the viability of commons. As Bollier puts it:
“For this, the state must play a more active role in sanctioning and facilitating the functioning of commons, much as it currently sanctions and facilitates the functioning of corporations. And commoners must assert their interests in politics and public policy to make the commons the focus of innovations in law.”

This new discourse of the commons provides us with a way to get beyond the left v right and private v public debates by adding a third player of the commons sector. My hope is that the successes of commons and co-operatively managed enterprises both economically and in terms of creating happy and productive people will influence governments and private sector entities to support such initiatives and possibly to adapt their own methods to reflect a more commons friendly approach. There is real potential in the idea of the commons for a more collaborative future in which local communities and business are actively involved in and responsible for guardianship of our shared land and resources. Through the adoption of a commons based dialogue we can more effectively co-create a new vision for our future society. This vision is one of decentralised and democratically controlled industry and economy and a vision of a future in which we can all share in the benefits of and live in harmony with the planet.

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Pharmaceutical Packaging: A Design Galapagos

There’s a certain part of me that adores utilitarian design: Road markings, oil refineries, factory lines. The Melbourne museum has a small display that shows the history of barbed wire fencing. Enthralling. There’s a guy in New York who does tours into the basements of old buildings to talk about boilers.

And I love pharmaceutical packaging.

Not the stuff on the counter. Or foot balms. Or cosmetics. I’m talking about the good stuff. The stuff out the back.

I had the good fortune to recently find myself in the back of a pharmacy in Spain. Basically, in graphic-design-nerd heaven.

I’m sure you’re aware of the formula. White box. A large headline of black sans serif type. Geometric blocks of colour. Unlike the counter drugs, this is a world that is not designed for consumer seduction. It’s designed so that the pharmacist doesn’t get confused and mix up your Viagra with your Vicodin.

It’s beauty is in it’s strict adherence to function. One striking aspect of this strictness is that a drug’s packaging necessarily becomes a time capsule from the year of its inception. If the function of the package is to not confuse the pharmacist then why would you want to change the typeface, or the colouring?

To see these artefacts of decades of graphic design trends all together on the same shelf is bracing: its the living dead. Like seeing your ancestors all together in the same room, all young, fit, fresh and beaming back at you.

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Ten Rules on Being an Architecture Student

In 2007, Dr Peter Wood (aka P-Dubs), Senior Lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Architecture, gave a cutting and hilarious assessment of student culture to open the first formal day of Ctrl Shift 07, the Biennial Pacific Student Congress of Architecture.  A few of the Freerangers who put the Congress on recently revisited his lecture, and had to share his Ten Rules on Being an Architecture Student, transcribed here to capture Peter’s deliciously acerbic critique.

1. Dress right.  Cheap clothes should look expensive, and expensive clothes should look cheap. Under no circumstances should cheap clothes look cheap, or expensive clothes look expensive, except at crits.

2. Always work at least one all-nighter for every studio. Two is better as it suggests that you’re not doing the first one to follow the rules. Never do more then three in a row as this suggests genuine psychological problems, or it will lead to genuine psychological problems.

3. Meet the right people. This is a tough one because architecture students, architectural academics, academics, and in fact anyone from your immediate cultural grouping, is not the right people. The right people should meet three criteria: they should have money, they should want to give you their money, and they should not be interested in telling you how you should spend their money. Your parents are a good place to start.

4. Show dismissive scorn toward successful architects. After all, they are just cynical old fuddy-duddies who sold their creative integrity to developers because their bums like leather car seats, and anyway, you’ll never be like them.

5. Attend all openings. Art exhibitions, public lectures, new buildings, roof shouts, car doors, the only thing that matters is how disdainful you look, and the amount of free food and drinks.

6. Be I.T. savvy. It’s a digital world, and the more digital you look, the easier it will be to pass architecture off as a modern activity. Fortunately this has never been easier, it doesn’t matter what you listen to, whether its Burt Bacherach or anything else on your MP3 player, or that your laptop contains pictures of dairy cows, or that you only pretend to text-message due to the inability of bovine hooves to operate cellphones. The only real point is how shiny, expensive and visible your gadgets are.

7. Become moderately proficient at espousing the views of a continental philosopher.  Avoid the big names as its most likely that someone will know more about them than you. Choose instead a minor player from some Marxist circle and pick out the bits of their writing that might possibly have something to do with architecture. Liberally sprinkle these through your comments at openings.

8. Learn the lingo. Every attempt must be made to speak in architectural jargon. People might live in houses, but architects design responsive environments that challenge domestic paradoxes which combine atavistic references with new post-post-modern epistemologies.

9. Avoid student counseling. Conventional wisdom has it that student counseling is the quickest way to arrange a medical certificate for an assignment deadline extension. But once they have you on the couch describing your childhood, who knows what might happen. Instead, go to Student Health, tell them it hurts to tinkle, and save the antibiotic prescription for the bronchial condition your all-nighters will give you.

10. Organise an international congress. If only because it makes achieving the other criteria much easier.

 

Peter Wood, on Ctrl Shift 07: Biennial Pacific Student Congress of Architecture. [DVD] is available in most architecture Libraries across Australia & New Zealand.

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Beyond 2000

You can fight progress 

If you had told the makers of Beyond 2000 that by 2012, we would be carrying large phones around in the pockets of our skinny jeans, they would have laughed in your face.
“By 2012,” they would have replied, “cellphones will be invisible and weightless.”
“And as for skinny jeans, what normal person can look good in those?”

WELL UP YOURS BEYOND 2000, BECAUSE THIS IS OUR REALITY NOW.

In the short(ish) time since I finished high school, cellphones have gone from very large, to very small, and back to quite large again.  Meanwhile, trouser legs have tapered away at such an alarming rate that new vocabulary has had to be invented (cue the “jeggings”).  It’s a cruel twist of fate that one can barely fit a foot in a pair of jeans these days, let alone a smart phone.

Is this progress?  Is this the brave new world that scientists of the 90s promised me?  Because when I watched Beyond 2000 as a child, I saw (somewhat pixelated) images of a futuristic utopia, filled with hovercrafts, solar-powered cars, and robots that could cook you breakfast with a single thought.  Like Darth Vader – but nice, and helpful around the house.


I did not see images of my future self dangling my (ex-) boyfriend’s cellphone out the window after one too many ‘technological mini-breaks’.  I did not see myself shaking my fist at the sky as yet another friend textually cancelled our plans at the last minute (yes, I just used the word “textually.”  THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT).  I could not have fathomed the technology-induced rage my future self would experience, all in the name of progress.

Now, I don’t consider myself an angry person.  But I am not above a good old progress-induced rant.  And if I had to order and number my rants of late, they would probably look a little bit like this:

1. Facebook status updates.  
I don’t want to know what my more popular, happy and successful acquaintances are having for dinner, or whose perfect boyfriend has cooked them pancakes and found the cure for cancer in the last ten minutes.
GET OFF THE COMPUTER AND GO EAT YOUR FRIGGIN’ PANCAKES.

2. Text language
OMG. WTF is up with TXT language?  Trying to read it pains me.  Hearing it spoken aloud makes we want to sit in a corner and rock gently.
As I understand it, abbreviations were created to shorten words and make life easier, so saying them aloud is in direct opposition with that intent.  For instance, the letter ‘W’ is three syllables when spoken.  The word ‘what’ is only one.
WHY ARE YOU MAKING IT HARDER FOR YOURSELVES?  And also, WHAT ARE YOU SAYING???

3. Flakiness.
In times BC, (before cellphones), you made plans to do things and then you went and did those things.  You simply didn’t have the option of flaking out on someone, because that would make you the arsehole who left your friend waiting in the rain.  And nobody wants to be the arsehole who left their friend waiting in the rain…right?
The gift of cellphones has also given us the blessed gift of an escape clause; from any event, for any reason, or hell – for no reason at all!  Tired?  Got a better offer?  Just throw a few words into cyberspace, and you’re off the hook!  LOL.

4.  Technological slavery
Our forefathers worked damn hard to abolish slavery.  We owe it to William Wilberforce and his compatriots, and to the slavesthemselves, to resist the new and oppressive force of technological slavery.
JUST BECAUSE YOUR PHONE BEEPED, DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE TO LOOK AT IT.  Friends must be liberated from the perceived need to interrupt our very WITTY AND FASCINATING conversations, in order to read a message that is probably just their cellphone provider reminding them to top up.  It is WRONG and UNJUST, and also, it is ANNOYING ME.

5.  Divided attention
Buddha must be rolling in his grave, because never before has there been a society less present to the given moment.  Case in point, between starting and finishing that last sentence, I replied to an email, wrote a text message, checked facebook, and asked my flatmate if he wouldn’t mind picking up some milk on the way home.
I’M SORRY BUDDHA.  I’M SO SORRY.

6.  Conflict resolution
In the past, the art of healthy debate was alive and well.  I spent hours, weeks, of my teenage life debating petty and irrelevant details with my friends, without anyone conducting a google search and spoiling the fun.  I recall a particularly heated argument over how many times the word “gonna” featured in the N’Sync song “It’s Gonna Be Me”, and then another about whether it was the air or thetension we were proverbially cutting with a knife.  That debate ended, not with a conclusive google search, but with a lunchbox hurtling through the air.
And life seemed the richer for it.

I know, I know, it’s not all bad.  Technology has given us real gifts too.  Like the ability to watch videos of cats from all over the world; to skype friends and family; and to watch little videos of ourselves in the corner of the screen while we are skyping friends and family.
What did they just say?  I DON’T KNOW BECAUSE I WAS CHECKING MYSELF OUT.

I know we can’t go back.  If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t even want that.  I came to that sudden and unexpected realisation when, halfway through writing this, my laptop was stolen from my flat.  My first reaction was to wonder if the technology gods were smiting me for my ingratitude.  I tried to see the funny side for a while, but then I gave up and just cried instead.
It was like Janet Jackson said: I didn’t know what I had until it was gone.  I didn’t realise how much I loved my laptop until it had been wrenched out of the wall and carried away out my flatmate’s window.

My laptop wasn’t just a piece of technology that froze at the worst times and crashed without saving.  It let me watch Downton Abbey in bed.  It let me work from home when it was raining outside.  It let me email my insurance company, and order a new laptop.
And when it was suddenly gone, I had to find other things to do, like play the guitar and talk to my flatmates and not get jealous of events I was missing out on.

And to think.  I had so much time to think.  During that surreal THREE DAY technology hiatus between losing my laptop and acquiring a new one, I came to a decision.  I decided to stop ranting about technology so much, and to stop writing my rants down and publishing them in places for other people to read them too.  I decided, instead, to be the change I wanted to see in the world.
(SEE WHAT HAPPENS WITHOUT A LAPTOP?  GANDHI HAPPENS.  GANDHI.)

I would not pike on invitations that I had previously accepted.  I would only check my phone during a coffee date if someone’s life depended on it  (or perhaps while the other person was in the toilet).  I would only start petty arguments about things that could never be proven by a google search.  And I would stop inwardly berating people who posted excessively happy status updates on facebook.
God bless you, perfect pancake-eating couples.

Maybe you can’t fight progress.  But you can point and laugh at it a little bit.

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