Category | The City

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.

Read More →

FESTA Free Rangers

Remarkable things will happen during Labour weekend at FESTA whether you’re a solo festival butterfly or more of a pack animal. There’s bound to be something to get your juices flowing (literally, don’t miss getting your sweat on in the Nomadic Sauna).

The annual Festival of Transitional Architecture is a free, public event that engages with the city of Christchurch (New Zealand) by exploring urban regeneration through large scale collaborative projects and urban interventions. It is the first and only festival of its kind in the world.

Over the course of Labour Weekend events, performances and projects happen across empty sites and in vacant buildings within the city’s four avenues, reintroducing life and urban activity to the centre. This rediscovery of the inner city invites a variety of collective investigations into the nature of civic life and opens it up to the community’s desire to participate in the remaking of their city.  www.festa.org.nz

After the huge success of the inaugural FESTA last year, when 30,000 people swarmed to Luxcity, it’s great to know that Jessica Halliday returns as Director Extraordinaire, and with their stellar crew, FESTA is looking conspicuously like THE Festival to be at this year.

Chief Egg of the Freerange Pirate ship, Barnaby Bennett, is currently the Chair of the FESTA Board, and he’s been a relentless captain of advocacy and awesomeness for Christchurch. It’s not surprising then, that a fair few Freerange Captains couldn’t resist charting a course for the City Within A City.

 

Here’s a quick rundown of a few places to catch up with a Free Ranger at FESTA.

On Friday I’ll be hanging out in the Pallet Pavilion at Anissa Victoria’s Twilight Vintage Market from 4pm, from there you can pick up some of my new drawings if that kind of thing tickles your fancy. The Twilight Market will be stocked with interesting finds, good food, a bar, and live music, the perfect reason to wander through the blue fortress at dusk before things go crazy on Saturday.

 

Dusting off after Casual Friday, Barnaby Bennett will be hosting Urban T(act)ics, an open discussion with Chris Morley-Hall (founder of the Cuba Street Carnival), Federico Monsalve (Freerange director and design writer), James Coyle (architect/musician, Newtown Festival, Wellington),  Lucinda Hartley (director and co-founder of Co-design, Melbourne), and myself. Urban T(act)ics will be a chance for “groups and individuals doing similar work in Christchurch to learn lessons from other cities and to meet people curious about what is happening here. All presenters work in organisations that have influence in their city but not as part of government, and will reflect on how their work can be considered an action, activity or tactic within the city.

From there, Big Saturday gets huge, with the itchy anticipation of the main event, Canterbury Tales, building to a crescendo of surreal satisfaction.  Clink your glasses, see you in the morning!

 

The Sunday Sesh warms up with an all ages drawing workshop I’ll be running called Supernova City. Inspired by dream cartographers of the city, the workshop will work collectively to make drawings and traces of the city as we experience it, blurring past memories and future dreams on the same massive canvas. We’ll be at the Pallet Pavilion from 10-2pm, I’ll be posting our progress up on Facebook and Twitter (@byronkinnaird and @FreerangePress), hashtag drawing, hashtag cant wait!

The first ever gathering in the flesh of the Freerange Directors seems almost too good to be true (and it might not be true), but we’ll be getting together to launch Freerange Vol.7: The Commons at 6pm at 88 Worcester Street, one of the Canterbury Tales sites.  This issue is hugely relevant to Christchurch, so drop by to celebrate in Commons style with us.

 

There are seriously so many things to get involved in over the long weekend, check out the full programme, there’s bound to be something to do whether its learning about the Arches or the Pallet Pavillion, building a house, or meeting the puppets.

 

Full programme here.

www.festa.org.nz

Read More →

It’s not about twenty cents, but it IS about transport

NOTE: This article has been kindly cross-posted from our buddies up in at The Volcanic in Auckland.  Thanks to Anna and Connor for making the connection. Freerange Volcanos! 

Except where stated, all images are courtesy of Pedro Paulo Ferreira.

Except where stated, all images are courtesy of Pedro Paulo Ferreira.

When protests began in São Paulo about a week ago, over a rise in public transport fare of twenty Brazilian centavos (approximately eleven NZ cents), the majority of participants were university students. The rest of metropolitan São Paulo’s 20 million residents were too busy with their every day lives to take much notice – too busy dealing with long commutes (an average of 2 hours and 40 minutes a day in 2011), too busy trying to fit into packed metro cars and buses (some metro lines reaching up to 12 people per square metre at peak times), too busy trying to negotiate apocalyptic traffic in their cars while avoiding hitting one of the thousands of “ motoboys” – guys on motorbikes who dart between cars in a constant quest to beat delivery deadlines, too busy trying to dodge those cars on their motorbikes and avoid being the one motoboy killed on São Paulo streets every day, too busy trying to work out how to cross the highway on their bicycle, or maybe too busy just trying to walk somewhere with their baby in a pushchair – an obstacle course of potholes, irregular footpath levels, and incessant traffic.

20130522_PedroPaulo_tarifa_10

I lived in São Paulo for three years, from 2009 until 2012, and I loved it. I loved the electric vibrancy of the city, loved the warmth of Paulistas, loved their positivity in the face of a city blighted by traffic jams, crime, floods and pollution, loved the orchids flowering on trees, and the street art and the street markets. I could easily write an entire post about how much I enjoyed my time there. But it was an exhausting place to live. A huge reason for that was that every trip outside the door was a battle.  Mainly for the reasons outlined above, trying to get anywhere in São Paulo is extremely stressful, and the stress compounds over time into a general fatigue with the city. The smaller the radius you can live within, the better your life can be. For the majority, however, that’s not an option. São Paulo is a city with massive spatial divisions. Most of the poorest people live around the edges, while jobs are heavily concentrated in the centre and a few wealthy surrounding neighbourhoods, giving people little choice but to accept long commutes in order to make a living. Research by the LSE Urban Age found that Paulistas with a low education level were likely to live twice as far (24km) from their employment, than those with higher education (12km).

When I first noticed the São Paulo protests appearing in the media – both Brazilian and International – I was frustrated by the heavy emphasis the articles placed on the violence that had broken out between protesters and police, although I was not surprised that there was violence. I’d seen police storm a small peaceful protest on the same major avenue, Avenida Paulista, in SP a couple of years before, and was once in a Carnaval street party in Rio de Janeiro, hundreds of thousands of people strong, when police began firing rubber bullets from within the crowd. Police in Brazil aren’t known for keeping calm, especially not the military trained Riot Police, “or Shock Troops” as their title directly translates. Aside from a brief reference to the 20 cent fare increase as the reason for the protest, there seemed little media analysis of why this apparently small amount, “lower than inflation”, as the government kept emphasising, could have triggered such an outburst, especially in a country which has been famed in recent years for its significant economic progress. As is frequently reported, millions of its poorest have been elevated to “middle class”, new family benefits are linked to children attending school, the country avoided the worst impacts of the global economic recession, and major investments in public infrastructure, including transport, are being undertaken in the lead up to Brazil hosting of the Football World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in 2016.

20130613_PedroPaulo_tarifa_24

I was frustrated, however, that there was no analysis of what was actually going on with public transport there. There was so much to talk about, and it was being overlooked! Finally one São Paulo newspaper released data showing that public transport in the city was attaining the lowest satisfaction levels in 20 years (more or less since last time there was a massive social movement in Brazil, coincidentally).

Then all of the sudden, the protest became protests – not just in São Paulo, but also in Rio de Janeiro, and other cities across the country – about so much more than transport. In São Paulo members of the media, as well as middle class students, were violently targeted by police, and suddenly mainstream media was on the side of the protesters. People were shocked into action by such public police brutality, which is usually confined to the poor peripheries, and more or less ignored by the media.

IMG_9347

“If the fare doesn’t drop, the city will stop”

This brazen suppression of democracy suddenly woke Brazilians up – they have had enough of all the small difficulties, the big corruptions, the way that increased consumption power hasn’t really gone hand in hand with better public health, education, or quality of life, and certainly not transport.  During my years in Brazil I was impressed by the way Brazilians could remain positive in the face of these challenges. Brazilians have an admirable ability to make the best of things – to find their way around excessive bureaucracy with a “little solution”, to make a joke out of outrageous corruption, or to stick to dreaming that one day, maybe far in the future, but certainly not now, things could be different. However, this also frustrated me. How could they accept so many blatant injustices?

And now it seems, they can’t. They are saying that enough is enough. IT’S NOT ABOUT TWENTY CENTS has become one of the catchphrases for a swelling non partisan social movement, raising concerns about corruption, continuing inequality, inadequate public services, and huge amounts of public funds being invested in World Cup stadiums, many in impoverished cities, or linked to evictions of informal settlements.

And it’s not about the twenty cents. And it’s about so much more than just transport. But transport shouldn’t be forgotten, not only because it is my very favourite topic, but because it is a very interesting viewpoint from which to consider Brazil’s social awakening. It is an issue which cross-cuts every single one of the concerns that the wider movement is now raising, and affects every single Brazilian, no matter what their occupation, education, or social class.

20130619_PedroPaulo_tarifa_11

Firstly, transport in Brazil is a focal point for class divisions and prejudice. I found this hard to comprehend, coming from an egalitarian country like New Zealand, and living for many years in Wellington, where most of my friends didn’t even know how to drive, let alone own a car, because public transport and walking are such cheap and easy options. It may seem like a novel fact that São Paulo is famous for having the largest private helicopter fleet in the world, patronized by the largest concentration of billionaires in the word. But this is no laughing matter.  In Brazil, using public transport is strongly associated with being poor. Cycling is considered either a leisure activity for the middle classes, or transport only for those who have no other option. Pedestrians killed in traffic accidents are disproportionately low income. Partially as a result of these class prejudices, public transport suffers from massive underinvestment. It’s true that São Paulo has one of the best metros in the world – it’s new, clean, and safe. But it covers a tiny proportion of the city, and many lines reach astronomically cramped levels on a daily basis, and the lack of investment in complementary express buses to ease the pressure is just one example of officials turning a blind eye to a huge problem, with a clear solution. It’s no surprise that people aspire to own a car, when the alternative is a three hour commute standing up in a rickety bus.

Secondly, transport equality advocate and former Mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa, has pointed out that mobility is perhaps the only quality of life element that does not improve as GDP increases. It’s hard for people to enjoy their new disposable income while they are stuck in traffic, missing out on time to spend with their families, on leisure, or on further education. Increased cars in cities are also associated with deterioration in public space, and safety for pedestrians. Rapid motorisation in Brazil has been one of the strongest indicators of the increased consumption capabilities of the new middle class. An exponential increase of cars has pushed the number of private vehicles in São Paulo over seven million. The roads are so over capacity that even the slightest disruption somewhere in the system – let alone a typical tropical downpour – can lead to hours trapped in traffic jams. And still, being stuck in your own car is preferable to hours squished in a bus or metro. So people keep buying cars, and the roads keep getting worse.

DSC_0054

Image courtesy of Sarah Bryce

Thirdly, the current transport situation in São Paulo actually makes existing inequalities even worse. São Paulo is one of the most unequal cities in the world. Research by the LSE Urban Age showed that the combination of São Paulo’s low quality public transport and peripheral location of poor communities compounds existing economic and social exclusion, even worse than cities with comparable income inequalities. High quality public transport can reduce the impacts of income inequality. But in São Paulo, the lower your level of education, the longer it is likely to take you to reach basic health or education services by public transport – up to 40 minutes. Not only are you receiving a poor service, but you are paying a lot for it. Twenty cents may not seem like much, but this is a city where many of the poorest residents already spend more than a third of their minimum wage on public transport – for the privilege of standing up for hours on buses which are poor quality, unreliable and way overfull. Research by a São Paulo university has found that in Rio and São Paulo, residents earning the average income must work 13 and 14 minutes respectively to gain the value of a public transport fare. This is in comparison to approximately six minutes in Ottawa, Paris or New York.

20130606_PedroPaulo_tarifa_1

There is so much more I could say – I haven’t even begun to go into corruption associated with major transport projects throughout the country, or the politicisation of the public service which makes so many promising transport projects near impossible to complete. On the other hand, I would also like to emphasise that a lot of great progress has been made with public transport in Brazil in recent years, particularly in Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro (you can see an article I wrote recently here, on page 8). Meanwhile São Paulo has seen a great reduction in pedestrian fatalities thanks to an ambitious cross-department programme. But for now I’ll leave it at this. It is amazing that Brazilians of all societal levels are finally standing up, and saying “enough is enough”. A broad discussion of the issues of corruption, misdirection of public funds, and poor public services is important. But I hope the issue of transport and mobility doesn’t get lost. Because a more transparent approach to transport, with investment based on the actual needs and priorities of the public, rather than on prejudices or on opportunities for kickbacks, would be a fast and powerful way of addressing many of Brazil’s bigger issues.  In response to this swell of people power, officials in São Paulo and some other cities have already agreed to revoke the fare increase. We eagerly await their next steps.

The LSE Urban Age research on Transport Equity in São Paulo that I referred to in this article was presented by Philipp Rode at the Urban Age conference in Hong Kong in 2011. You can view it here: : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLuda4sCJWQ

Read More →

Interview with “Worrying About Money” Architects: The rise of Post-Modern Brutalism.

8464212 copy

To coincide with the public launch of one of their recent designs, a Principal from the celebrated Christchurch architecture firm Worrying About Money (WAM) Architects was generous enough to be interviewed by Freerange Press.

The new inner city building will be one of the first post-quake office buildings to be constructed downtown, and as such it is both a logistical challenge and loaded with symbolism.    WAM is responsible for around 98.7% of all the rebuild projects in Christchurch. They are building 101,304 houses, 12,053 office buildings, 68 car parking buildings, and has won 189 out of 87 competitions and tenders they applied for so far, so we asked ‘Does this building signal a particular direction for the ‘new Christchurch’ ?

WAM:  Christchurch has a number of important periods of architectural history, the early colonial, the gothic revival, the post-war modernism,  and its evolution into a robust brutalist modernism, as exemplified by Sir Miles Warren and Maurice Mahoney in buildings such as the Christchurch Town Hall.  We feel that the next evolution of styles started to develop in the 80s, with some excellent glass and steel buildings, but that great style was distracted by the concerns about the environment and bi-culturalism.

FR:  Do you see the post-quake urban development as a way to return to this lost opportunity?

WAM: Definitely.  What we are trying to develop with buildings such as this is a form of post-modern brutalism, the people of Christchurch are understandably feeling vulnerable about the built environment, and we think they need some strong, aggressive forms to make them feel safe again in the city.  There is nothing further from a dangerous brick facade than the cutting edge use of glass and steel, that we are developing with buildings like this.  People have shown their true beauty down here over the past few years, and we really believe that they should be able to see themselves reflected in the buildings that come out of this time.

FR: How do you think this type of building will respond to criticism?

WAM:  Certainly, you can look at a books like Gerald Melling’s Mid-City Crisis, which we reference in the building facade of the new building launched today, and say it’s a scathing attack on the shallowness of the profession and the willing corporate take-over of architecture in the 1980s, but we believe what Gerald was really articulating in his slightly obtuse style was a real love for the contemporary materials such as glass and steel, their sculptural characteristics, and their warmth and charm.  I mean, doesn’t everyone enjoy those mirror elevators where you can almost look into infinity? That’s some buzzy shit.

FR: Well, we at Freerange are certainly excited to see the construction of another 800 glass facade buildings that look like they are straight from the late 1980s. You must be very busy with all the projects, so thank you for your time. All the best.

 

 

 

Read More →

Get out of the City

A least for a little bit.

.

P1030914

Walk a walk.
.
.
Bike a ride.
.
.
Tent a tent.
.
.
Swim a beach.
.
.
It always makes me feel better.
.

p.s. Australia is very dry and flat.

Read More →

Hi Suburbia, nice to meet you.

Moving house is always a big deal. Even if you’ve moved five times in the last year, there always seems to be a ridiculous amount of things you have that you don’t particularly need – little pink teddy bear that’s missing an ear but is super cute so you just have to keep it, check. If you’ve not moved house at all in your entire lifetime, say twenty something years, you’ll find that you’ve got a whole heap of this random junk, as well as the occasional necessity (bed, fridge etc.) that all needs to be transported. Add all that random junk up, times it by seven, slot it right in the middle of pre-Christmas preparation, and what you have is exactly what my family and I just dealt with. Big deal? More like ordeal.

As well as dealing with the thousands of tons of sentimental crap that needed to be moved, smack bang in the middle of the Christmas shopping-rush period, the many changes that my family of seven and I would come to endure as a result of the move certainly came as a shock, whether they were anticipated or not.

Moving from one suburb to the next may involve all the typical moving processes; boxing things up, throwing them in the moving van, un-boxing things. But all in all it’s basically the same, similar streets, similar houses, similar surroundings. Moving from rural lands of forest goodness to outer suburbia however, is a whole different kettle of fish. Sure moving to the heart of the city or even inner suburbia would’ve been a whole other level of change, but hey, give a girl a break, this move was surely big enough – we have footpaths and public transport now, woah!

Take away thousands of acres of home-grown national forest, and replace it with bus stops, shopping centres and paved drive ways, and you’re only beginning to understand the drastic changes we began to face, and would eventually begin to become accustomed to.

Don’t get me wrong, my family and I are not country hicks, we had iPhones and wireless internet (albeit a much slower download speed than now), and spent as much time in the city as any other suburban chap …We just drove an hour and a half home each night, instead of jumping on a five-minute tram ride.

We moved from the mountain top town known as Toolangi, home of a mere 300 or so, to the lovely and lively suburb that is Chirnside Park. At 33kms northeast of Melbourne CBD, the drive home from the city is now less than half it used to be. Because of this, my petrol tank is now smiling as big as it ever could, however, my stereo is not. Instead of being able to fit in a solid three albums worth of listening on the trip, I’m now lucky to fit in one. But hey, I’ve got all this spare time in the day now, music listening has been engaged at other times of the day when I’m not in the car. Furthermore, if I’m feeling like a drink or two, a big night out or just a few sneaky bevvo’s after work, never fear, public transport is actually an option now. Rather than a 20 minute drive from the nearest bus stop, or a good half hour from the train, buses stop just at the end of our street and the train station is at a walking length away (would be a considerably long drunken stagger home, but doable nonetheless). The options of drunken trips home have increased tenfold! Add to this the next option that my house is now located in a general enough area that my sober friends can drop me off or pick me up, and it really does seem a dream come true. Nothing says summertime fun like the possibility of actually being able to drink 24/7 – if only my stomach and head would uphold their sides of the deal.

Delivered pizza is also a thing now. Whether it be during aforementioned drunken times or when dealing with the hangover/laziness the next morning, pizza delivered right to my door (on which said door also has a doorbell!), how did I cope without this for so long?!

However, while it may have all seemed like glory and riches and all the nice things in the beginning, this little forest girl has certainly found many a downside to living in good old Chirnside Park, 3116.

With the population of close to ten thousand, whenever you go anywhere you’re bound to see someone. No longer can I quickly run out to the car (which is now to be parked on the street) in my undies without someone catching a glimpse of my mostly nakedness, nor can I go for a run around the block without my red-faced sweaty self being spotted by an onlooker – and not the kind of onlooker or passer-by that’s okay, it’s always the kind you’d rather not see in that state. Go for a run in old T Town and the only people you’d see were farmer Bob driving past in his tractor or old lady Karen riding on her horse with her dog trailing behind. You’d stop for a heavily-panting filled chat and continue on your way. People from the country don’t mind if you’re hot or sweaty or half out of breath, hell most of the time you’re invited round for ‘scones when you’re done running deary’, or asked to tell your old man about some kind of machinery you can never quite remember the name of. But here in the outer eastern ‘burbs that kind of communication doesn’t exist, because instead of encountering the old lovely types, it’s douche bags in fully sick commodores ready for a chat – awesome.

The people just aren’t the same in Chirny, as they call it, and I am yet to decide if this is good or bad. Now that shops are conveniently located at a one minute drive away rather than 20, I no longer have to run next door to ask Rosa if she has a spare egg when I’m half way through a cake recipe and realise I don’t have enough. However, I no longer have to deal with crazy Mike next door thinking it’s okay to cut away his blackberries and throw them over the fence – yes mate, I see you, and no, you’re not getting your bi-carb soda back.

Although my family and I are yet to determine which of our new neighbours are bat shit crazy (there’s always one nuthouse) the difference between night time here and back home is already obvious. Dogs bark constantly, the sounds of police and ambulance sirens regularly drive by, hoons do their thing, and parties are held. Sleep is not an option, much, at all, ever.

I miss the birds at home, I miss not being able to have a conversation in my backyard without someone next door hearing it, I miss seeing certain people and certain things, I miss the parties! (You can’t have a party here that’s anything like a good old bush doof rave cave) But mostly, I miss my car keys. I’ve lost them more in the last three weeks than I have my entire life. You see, here in the suburbs we lock our cars, did you know? (and the house too!)

Read More →

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.

Read More →

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.

Read More →

Future City: London’s Olympic legacy

Now that the Olympics have been over for almost three weeks, I think I’m FINALLY over the severe depression that comes after one hell of a party. For two magical weeks, London wasn’t London: People were friendly! The tubes ran on time! Even the weather behaved! Well mostly….

And what a show the city put on – from Team GB smashing the medal tally to permanently high excitement levels and endless cultural activities this was an amazing time to live in the capital of Old Blighty. In short – London delivered. Greg Baum of the Sydney Morning Herald even conceded that London trumped Sydney in 2000 saying, ‘[London’s] Olympics had Sydney’s vibrancy, Athen’s panache, Beijing’s efficiency and added British know-how and drollery.” Jon Stewart dryly noted that London managed to put into the Opening Ceremony the only thing Beijing left out – actual humans.

But taking a step back from the Games, the real dividend gained by London was the culmination of all the capital investment and urban transformation that has taken place in preparation. To look at the London of 2012, is a very different picture to the London of 30 years ago. In the space of my lifetime, this city has become a place people actually want to visit and live in as opposed to a place people feel beholden to come to due to colonial apron strings, financial concerns or because it’s the ‘gateway to Europe’.

Don’t get me wrong, London is still far from perfect. The anger that boiled over in the London Riots last year is a case in point, as are the continued difficulties navigating such a labyrinthine city structure, steep transport costs and high rates of petty crime. And let’s not talk about the weather.

These problems weren’t magically washed away because of two weeks of sporting glory but London managed to leverage the Olympics to not only push through vast new infrastructure with long-term benefits but to also challenge perceptions about how the city functions.

While London is one of the world’s most developed cities, it hasn’t always been one of the most enjoyable. As Pritiker Prize winning architect Richard Rogers’ says, ‘It’s hard to remember how depressing London was in the seventies and eighties.’ He argues that London has returned with a vengeance since the bleak days of Thatcher and if the Olympics represents London coming into its own in the 21st Century, the Tate Modern’s opening in 2000, marked the inception of this new era.*

We all know the amazing story of Tate Modern – How Sir Nicholas Serota took the almost recklessly bold decision to use the location of an old Power Station, in a disused part of town with no tourist amenities nearby. But nobody envisaged just how successful it would be – the Southwark area around Tate Modern has subsequently been completely regenerated and the gallery is set to expand in the future to deal with high visitor demand.

If Tate represents the beginnings of London forging a modern identity, areas such as Kings Cross and Hackney further illustrate the city’s growth and adaptability. 20 years ago, the inner-East suburb of Kings Cross was a rough transport hub notorious for rampant prostitution and drug abuse. Now the Eurostar departs from here, Kings Cross station has been impressively extended, the trendy Central St Martin’s College has moved into a purpose built space and there is still over £10 billion worth of redevelopment slated to take place (such as Google’s new London headquarters).

While the suburb has resembled a large construction yard for the past five years, many of the projects were pushed through to finish in time for The Olympics, and what a difference the lack of cranes makes. Beyond the immediate area of the station are still your manky chicken shops and council flats, but there are now smart urban pathways, chic bars, galleries and gastro pubs making this a place to actively visit, instead of purposely avoid.

In the bidding process for the 2012 Olympics, London had a firm focus on legacy, of putting in a sustainable long-term development plan that would see the Eastern suburbs continue to grow after Olympic fanfare had died down.

The 1992 Barcelona Games provided the model for London. Spanish architect Josep Acebillo, who led the Barcelona Olympic project said: “We were the first Olympics conceived primarily for the transformation of the city. London was influenced by our philosophy.” Of the £10 billion public funds pledged for the Olympics, only 10% went towards new sporting venues, while the bulk was used for improvements to transport, housing and re-shaping Barcelona’s seafront. According to Mayor Jordi Hereu, the Games “were the start of Barcelona going from a local to a global city.”**

London was already a global city, but the pitch here was to go from malfunctioning to modern, to transform the deprived East into a relevant part of the larger city. Unlike post-Olympics Athens and Beijing where the sporting venues have been underutilised or left to gather dust, London has ensured there is a purpose for each venue. West Ham football club will take over the main stadium; the Athletes Village will be transformed into residential apartments. Other venues will be dismantled and sold after the Paralympics end – Rio has already expressed an interest in the de-mountable basketball stand for 2016 but there is no information yet as to what will become of the world’s largest McDonalds….

London also pushed through a huge piece of infrastructure in the form of the gleaming new Overground rail system. This massive commitment to join East to West and provide transport options beyond the beleaguered tube, has opened up whole swathes of the city and made them accessible in a way that was inconceivable ten years ago.

How the Olympic park will knit into the East London community will be the ultimate answer to the Games legacy but the city has already proven that leveraging deadlines based on a global event is the most effective way to raise money, sort out approvals and deliver large scale projects on the ground. The calibre of the delivery is directly related to the vision that has accompanied the project. London has envisioned well and delivered much to be proud of and grow from as it enters a new phase of modernity. In the post-Olympics world, London as a city has a great deal to look forward to.

* For a thorough evaluation of Tate Modern’s place in London – and Sir Nicolas Serota’s role within this –see Calvin Tomkins, Profiles, “The Modern Man,”in The New Yorker
** All quotes about Barcelona taken from The Standard

Read More →

Heart Your Institution

Earlier in August, the Australian Institute of Architects (‘the Institute’) deployed, analysed, and published the “Graduate Survey 2012” so that they could “develop programs and initiatives to suit the specific needs of this demographic.” It is an important initiative for the Institute because any representative group should regularly take stock of the experiences and expectations of its members, as this should inform quite explicitly what an institution should be focusing its resources and energy on while also maintaining momentum in their core trajectory, which in the case of architects, usually reads something like ‘promoting the value of architects’ and ‘promoting the value of architecture and design in improving the quality of the our lives’.

It’s worth analysing that the Institute, and similar national representative organisations, like the New Zealand Institute of Architects and the Royal Institute of British Architects, are a membership-driven representative group of practicing (or aspiring) architects, meaning their advocacy is prioritized to the experiences, needs, quality of life, and professional sustainability of architects.

This differs slightly, but importantly, from other institutions and groups such as the Danish Architecture Centre, Netherlands Architecture Institute, and the Wellington Architectural Centre, whose advocacy prioritizes the promotion, dissemination and education of architecture as a social and cultural aspiration benefitting the general population’s experiences, needs and quality of life.

Of course both types of groups work substantially and passionately for the advocacy of architects and architecture because they are naturally interwoven, but their differences exist, and are played out more forcefully when resources are scarce.

When the body gets cold, blood leaves the extremities to keep the center warm.

An important canary down the mine-shaft of institutionalisation is membership convergence. In my experience, these two types of groups differ wonderfully if you characterize their membership. The New Zealand Institute of Architects for example is a large and increasingly coherent group, but are expensive to join, and you’re probably indifferent about why you’re joining anyway. The Wellington Architectural Centre has a small, and colourful membership, are cheap to join, and because you doubted joining in the first place, are a much more motivated member of the Centre.

What I want you to consider then, is when it does get cold out, and the air is getting rank (to recklessly mix metaphors), are you at the heart of your institution, or will you find yourself out on a limb, freezing your tits off.

Read More →
All rights reserved. Freerange Cooperative Ltd. 2014.
Top