Category | The City

Calling for expressions of interest for Freerange Vol 5: Dangerous and Wrong!

Expressions of interest to our guest editor Nick Sargent by the end of March please! nick@projectfreerange.com

The topic of Freerange Vol 5 is Dangerous and Wrong! – a phrase lifted from the angry rant of passionate moralists, concerned parents, confused bureaucrats, environmentalists, anti-drugs campaigners, presidents and other generally authoritative but well intentioned souls. Its emotive double negativity strikes beyond reason to a land of certainty. The person wielding this phrase is powerful, she understands! Someone actually know what’s going on! Praise!

Dangerous and Wrong has a magnetic appeal. In mathematics a double negative becomes a positive. The mythic folk hero always travels to lands that are ‘out of bounds’ to learn a lesson that can only be brought back from beyond the horizon. As adventure tourism operators understand, in the dangerous death is summoned into being to reveal life. Just as it is often pleasurable to do things dangerously, it is also not always wrong to be wrong.

But lets not be subtle about this. For this issue and this issue alone we extend a warm welcome to subjects that should probably be avoided. I want to read things I don’t want to read. Go wild or get tight … say it like you wish you hadn’t.

Some starting points may or may not be:

cannibalism / the war against drugs / science fiction / disasters / communism / moralising / guns / TV / God / aetheism / sharks / coffee without caffeine / narcissism / vaccination / monsters / the man / silicone implants / riches / copyright / conspiracy / iPhones / terror / BP / erections / occupy / hate / shadows / the nuclear family / nuclear weapons / doe-eyed girls / charity / scented toilet paper / death / happy endings

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Kinfolk: a Melbourne social enterprise cafe

Kinfolk Café, Bourke St, Melbourne. Established in 2010. Social enterprise: a business which invests its value, either monetary or in kind, to reach social outcomes.

Kinfolk is based on the premise that the customer can choose where the profit from their coffee sale goes: to one of four community organisations in Melbourne, Palm Island, Ghana and Rwanda. The idea is empowerment via the ability to create change from at home.

Kinfolk is conscious of using sustainable food practices: all items from the menu are either organic, local or freerange, and always seasonal. Plates are created with the intent of giving the customers something to talk about.

Kinfolk also ‘gives back’ to those who work there: the café is run by 6 full time staff, and 30-odd volunteers at a time. Jarrod, one of Kinfolk’s founders, estimates that over the past two or so years, Kinfolk has had 200 volunteers lend their time, from age 15 to 72. People volunteer for all sorts of reasons, and Kinfolk aims to provide whatever opportunities people are reaching for.

”Some have come back from injury trying to get on the workforce, some from illness, some wanna do something fun on the side, some wanna make friends, some want an outlet to speak to people, whatever, just basically about helping that core team, and also create that atmosphere that it’s home. You know, you walk in, you’re not just walking in to any old café”.

What a perfect place to start this interview from: not just any old café. What is it that has attracted so many people to Kinfolk?

I meet Jarrod at the café for the interview. A few years ago I was involved with some of the more conceptual elements of Kinfolk, however I hadn’t been back since. It was so lovely to actually be there and see what had become of the vision and idealism that it was founded upon, and its realization into such a vibrant, warm and successful café.

I’m very interested in hearing about the reality of running a social enterprise. How do you balance the business sense with the social outcomes? Is there a compromise somewhere along the way?

Jarrod remains adamant that the good business sense needs to come first, before the social outcomes. “We’re a café first and foremost,” he says, “we want to be judged on the quality of the café” – a fact which I really respect. There’s obviously a lot of love in this café, a lot of community minded people who really do give a shit. But the business nous has not been lost amidst all this drive.

“If you think of a normal café, you’ve got a shareholder and at the end of the day he’s thinking of his pocket, his bottom line and all that. The way this place runs, there is no shareholder; if there’s any shareholder, it’s the projects [Jarrod’s referring to the community groups which receive profits from sales] but they’re not here running the place day to day. So it’s the people who are in here, running the place, it has to be run in a way that benefits them.”

Jarrod veers off talking about the business model to focus on the importance of the staff.

“If they’re not getting what they need personally out of the experience, if they don’t have the opportunities for growth, all those sort of things, it doesn’t work… If these guys have got the nurturing they need, the place does run.

“I think the volunteer aspect can be quite confusing for some people; they think, oh you know you don’t pay wages so it must be really easy to run a business like that, but it’s expensive as well because you’re investing a lot of time in the volunteers. So, more than just having a couple of staff on who know what their job is, instead you have more staff on so they can nurture the volunteers, their experience and all that, and that’s probably our biggest social outcome, really… the social outcome that we’ve actually helped influence with the volunteers that have been involved, far outweighs that $40,000 financial value, you know, that we’ve been able to distribute.”

I am really impressed: $40,00 has already been distributed, from a start up organisation, after only two years of operation! That’s a lot! I am very tempted to jump straight to talking about the logistics of that profit distribution, but I don’t want to interrupt Jarrod’s flow. So we continue to talk about the business elements of running the café.

“You might remember, back at the start when we were talking about it, we never wanted this social outcome, social cause stuff to be in your face – we wanted it to be judged as a café, first and foremost. And coz we do that, we’re able to maintain a really good level of quality, consistency, and you know that sort of stuff.

“Any social enterprise struggles to achieve that if they don’t focus on their commercial offering first, so we never compromised on that, you know, we’ve got really good people working here, we pay them the wage they need to be paid, you know, provide them the opportunities they need, and we just try to make sure that what we offer is consistent from day to day.”

Of course from this point the obvious question to ask is about that ‘commercial offering’. There was a lot of debate about the menu when I was involved with the café, so I’m interested to know what kind of decisions were reached – what does the café offer to the Melbourne CBD clientele?

“The menu changes every day here, so it’s quite challenging in that sense. We started off the café with Ravi, a really good chef with a lot of experience, worked in some of the finest restaurants in Melbourne – and I worked under Ravi for the first seven months or so as assistant chef – just to make sure I could do it if he wasn’t there. So, we designed a menu that was fresh, healthy where possible, and always seasonal, local and organic, as much as possible.

“We also try with that menu to have ingredients on there that will inspire and create conversation around the food – so we source things people haven’t heard of before. Just encouraging our customers to try different foods, and it also provides more in terms of that volunteer aspect as well… It just makes that whole training aspect of what they’re doing at a higher level, more sophisticated than just reading off menus.”

When we were starting to talk about the menu, way back in 2009, there was a lot of debate about whether to make it vegetarian, given the ethical implications. I ask Jarrod about that now, “why was the decision made in the end to have meat?”

“I think it really comes down to a business decision, and what he people of this are want. We always try to cater for something for the vegetarian, the gluten free, the vegan… but yeah I ‘spose it comes down to they way I think social enterprise should be looking at it.

“It’s a business offering that I’m gonna provide, and is it going to be sustainable or is it not. The vegetarian thing could have worked here, but not in the same format, like café-fare food… it just surprises me all the time. You know, we could have a beautiful, beautiful vegetarian toasted sandwich in the cabinet, and then have something not so fancy that’s got ham and cheese on it, and the ham and cheese one will go out the door and the vegetarian one, you know, later on in the day you sell a few… but it really comes down to business viability and all that sort of stuff.“

“So”, I say, with super excitement, “let’s talk about the projects! How’s that all been going?”

“Yeah, it’s been going great! Um, we distributed $40,000 at the end of 2010, after six months, but we didn’t get a chance to distribute last year. Any money we did have at the end of 2011 we invested back into this renovation, which has increased our capacity by about 25%, and increased our take away capacity by probably, I don’t know, 100%, 150%. So in terms of being able to provide the sort of financial support to those projects, we’re in a much better position now to offer some serious money over the next few years.“

The idea of consumer-driven charity in Kinfolk means that the customer gets to choose here the profits from their sale goes. This is done through the pictorial representation of a coffee bean in one of four jars, each allocated to a ‘project’. The customer drops a coffee bean into which ever jar that represents the charity they want to support. The team then distribute the profits according to this ration.

“Everyone’s got their own reasons why they connect with a certain project… you know, everyone’s an individual, they’ve all got their different thing that sort of pulls their heartstrings.”

The four organisations include a soup kitchen in Melbourne, called Credo Café, a project to support education for indigenous children, called the Cathy Freeman Foundation, a NGO which combats child trafficking in Ghana, and an community-developer based in Rwanda.

The café hopes to get to the stage where they can distribute the profits quarterly, but the reality is that they’ve got to make sure the café is sustainable and successful in its first few years, in order to ensure its longevity.

“So yeah, last year was a very big turning point in terms of small business, what you need to do in terms to survive, to invest your money in and all the rest of it. But sales are still growing, and they haven’t really stopped growing since day one. And I’ve learnt to think of it as well in terms of the social outcomes we achieve day by day for the people that are in here.”

“So do you feel, then, that they’ll be a deliberate shifting in focus away from just these four larger projects that were initially decided upon to fund, or is there a chance for it all to happen?” I ask.

“Um, you can’t really have one without the other. So, we’ve got a holistic approach in the way we run: we’ve got the projects that receive the profits, we’ve got the staff and volunteers and everything… I don’t think any of them’s exclusive to themselves – it’s a network, it’s a family of all these things – and I don’t think you could have one without the other. If we didn’t provide the profits to those four projects, people wouldn’t come in here and volunteer, if they didn’t volunteer you wouldn’t have all the social things that go with that, So yeah, they’re all entwined, and all support one another; it’s a good system.

“Day to day, there’s a lot of extra stuff that can go on in this space, you know, now that it’s running as a functioning café, you can support some of these community projects.”

Jarrod gives me a ton of examples of things that go on in the café, from meditation to stretching classes, to fundraisers to keynote dinners…

“It’s all around the conversations you have around food, and all the rest of it, and having inspiring people who are there. I don’t like to think of it as a keynote speakers, but sort of, someone who’s been invited, who’s got an interesting story… no one has an ordinary life, you know, so lets hear a bit about theirs.”

“You just must have such good access to really inspiring, wonderful, interesting people,” I say.

“Oh, there’s heaps of wonderful people,” Jarrod responds, “everyone’s wonderful if they’ve got the chance to show it, you know.”

It’s that line which pretty much makes the interview, and blows me away by its generosity and simplicity (that, and the delicious coffee which I’ve had over the course of the interview, and the prospect of a baguette with avocado, celeriac, poached chicken remoulade and fresh horseradish).

If you’re interested in checking out Kinfolk, head to:

673 Bourke St, Melbourne or www.kinfolk.org.au

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Civility and Food Trade

The recently proposed food bill and its consequent public backlash have once more reasserted how important the basic trade and distribution of delicious goods is to society. The general concern being that small scale food growing and trade operations will be hindered. More than this, it also inadvertently hurts the community sub groups which cluster around such operations. For me, things like community gardens aren’t just about growing some food to cut down your food bill, or taking on knowledge from green-fingerd gurus (as important as these things are), but also largely about forming small collectives around something which is central to our existence.

Things like growing and trading food are examples of what Italian architect Aldo Rossi called fixed activities. They are activities that have always existed in cities and always will due to their primary importance in sustaining the dense populations who reside in cities. It is no coincidence that food trade spaces were also the seat of political and festive life (i.e civic life) in ancient cities.

Allowing simple bottom up food trade to continue is of importance for cities to have the kind of public and civic life which nurtures sub groups within the greater collective of a city. It seems when the government considers the laws which govern how we grow and trade food they give very little thought to how food features in the public life of our cities. The city, in a sense, is what it eats.

The following extract is from a masters thesis I wrote last year on the topic of food trade infrastructure with a particular focus on urban markets and supermarkets and how these as urban typologies give form to cities and its public life. This particular piece looks at the links between civility and food trade space.

Hopefully it exhibits how food growth and trade is important to the public life of the city. Furthermore, I hope it will highlight that to over regulate something as elemental to society as food growth undermines bottom up initiatives which generate important variety within our civic world.

Without further ado…..

 

 

Civility and Food Trade

A lot of our public institutions – public libraries, public transportation, public parks and recreation

centres – are only partly for the sake of looking after those who couldn’t afford those services left on their

own. They are also traditionally sites for the cultivation of a common citizenship, so that people from

different walks of life encounter one another and so acquire enough… sense of a shared life that we can

meaningfully think of one another as citizens in a common venture.”1

 

From the above passage we can ascertain the faceted role that public institutions have in cities. These kinds of infrastructures have always hosted the practices of public life: they are the vital organs of cities.

Common ground is vital to fostering a sense of community for collectives, yet somehow food trade structures slip out of that circle of common ground when they take the form of supermarkets.

Due to factors such as market initiatives (intentional removal of the social dimension from the first self-service food stores to cut overhead costs), morally questionable atmospheric conditions (intentionally cold interiors to

push customers through faster), consumer demand for convenience (once a week bulk shopping supported by private motorcars) and monopolisation of the food cycle (companies controlling multiple stages of food industry from production to sales) food has receded from the public forum. So strange for something so vital to the existence of cities.

Food is presented to us like we are consumers, rather than citizens in a community:

“…the time may be right for a new kind of politics – a politics of the common good. What might such a

politics look like? Unlike market-driven politics, a politics of the common good invites us to think of

ourselves less as consumers, and more as citizens… when we deliberate as citizens, when we engage in

democratic argument, the whole point of the activity is critically to reflect on our preferences, to question

them, to challenge them, to enlarge them, to improve them.”2

 

Citizenship engenders coming together as strangers with awareness that the collective share a common destiny in the quality of the city and its society. Yet market driven societies and their cities have disconnected private life from public. That is not to say public life has ceased to be important, but the chemistry between public and private has been altered:

Today public life has become a matter of formal obligation…The stranger himself is a threatening

figure, and few people can take great pleasure in that world of strangers, the cosmopolitan city…We have

tried to make the fact, of being in private…an end in itself…to know oneself has become an end, instead

of a means through which one knows the world…Masses of people are concerned with their single life histories and particular emotions as never before; this concern has proved to be a trap rather than a liberation.”3

 

How we act impersonally to each other as strangers is just as important as how we maintain personal relationships with those closest to us. Food space has always offered a fertile forum for such interactions – markets, restaurants, bars, cafes, street vendors – these are venues in which strangers have happily coexisted:

These establishments also straddled the boundary between public and private, with chambers available

for more than culinary pleasures… Condemned by moralists as the haunts of drunken men and

disrepute women, cafes actually became a place for workers to socialize and for families to spend a quiet

evening; Balzac described them as the “parliament of the people.””4

 

Unfortunately supermarkets don’t offer such exchanges. The space of supermarket shopping can offer stressful conditions, the bringing together of people in these privatised commercial circumstances is reminiscent of the interactions experienced by motorists in overly congested streets.

The intentional curtailing of any activity except shopping ensures the separation of the supermarket from the civic sphere, yet common supermarket typologies assert themselves as prominent nodes in the urban fabric. The business of supermarkets gains every economical benefit of this exchange but offers little in return.

Fixed activities such as food trading and the sites they occupy are ideal places for individuals to come together as citizens in a common venture. This is not to imply that every food shop must be accompanied by political discussion, but that such an opportunity might exist: this would also provide the opportunity for bottom up community activity ranging in scale from sub groups to the greater city collective.

Creating public space for the sake of creating public space can often result in its emptiness and lack of activity. Historically and currently, citizens frequent public realms in the search for an event. Events which may be minor or major in scale, casual or formal in tone. The joy of coming upon unsolicited events is one of the defining virtues of dwelling in cities, and one that food markets historically accommodated, they engender suitable grounds for the cultivation of civility. The need for this cultivation is question of moral significance, and one that the compelling economical efficacy of supermarkets has crowded out. If we are to truly value food we need to reassert its moral significance with its presence in civic space, not as an economical commodity housed in privatised conditions.

 

1 Sandel, Michael. Reith Lectures 2009: A New Citizeship ? Lecture 1: Markets and Morals. Transmission on 9th

of June, 2009. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00kt7rg.

2 Sandel, Michael. Reith Lectures 2009: A New Citizeship ? Lecture 4: A New Politics of the Common Good.

Transmission on 30th of June, 2009. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00kt7rg.

3 Sennett, pg. 3?5. The Fall of Public Man. Published by Cambridge University Press, London, 1974.

4 Pilcher, Jeffery M., Food in World History, pg. 65.

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Can Paris burst its bubble?


Three years after President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his plans for ‘Grand Paris’, how are things coming along? Announced in 2008, Sarkozy conceived of the ‘Grand Paris’ (‘Greater Paris’) project as an urban renewal plan which aims to improve transport links between greater and central Paris, to increase housing and produce a cohesive blueprint to take Paris into the 21st century.

While there was never any doubt that Sarkozy would follow his predecessors and leave his mark on central Paris, most assumed it would be with a monument – a la François Mitterrand’s Louvre pyramid or Georges Pompidou’s Centre. But Sarkozy set his sights much higher, asking ten different architecture groups from around the world to re-imagine the entire city of Paris and project it 20 years into the future. While he gave them “the absolute freedom to dream” he demanded they come up with concrete proposals to create the world’s most sustainable post-Kyoto metropolis.

The Paris that most of the world knows – the elegant, romantic world of famed tourist attractions, endless glasses of wine, berets and baguettes – is a time-warped bubble of tourism and cliché. The real Paris is a far larger, far grittier and more socially problematic affair. This pervasive romantic notion of Paris is the result of one of the greatest — and most influential — urban achievements of the 19th century. When the city was destroyed during the Napoleonic era, civic planner Baron Haussman staged a vast and ambitious  remodelling of Paris. The wide boulevards, formal gardens, and beautiful sandstone buildings were a testament to civic order and his plans has often been emulated but never bettered. So good were they, Walter Benjamin once famously described Paris as being “the capital of the 19th century”.

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There’s nothing plain about the rail in Spain

Autovia 8, west of Bilbao, where it finishes

Spanish rail is a delight.

It’s cheap, about as difficult as getting on a bus, and more or less on time, and you can travel locally at our train speeds (for about two euro an hour) or at 300km an hour if you’re going cross country and want to spend a little more. It’s a goddam pleasure at that speed to just have a glass of wine, lie back, and watch the train unzipping the countryside. Barcelona to Madrid is roughly the same distance as Auckland to Wellington. In Spain that’s less than three hours, from the moment that you dive into one underground until the moment that you emerge out of another.

It’s a similar distance to travelling, say, between Queen Street in Auckland and Lambton Quay in Wellington. With our check-in times and the quality of our transport to and from each airport here in New Zealand you’re lucky to make that sort of time if you fly. And we easily the have the population density to support just one train line between our two main north island cities.

For years our transport policies have focussed on getting more land under tarmac and more vehicles in and out of cities faster while refusing to invest in any reasonable alternative. The revolution in communications seems to be happening, but surely our bodies need to keep pace with our minds?

Grumble mumble mumble.

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Christchurch, Lewis Mumford and 21st Century Enlightenment.

The video below by Urbanist and Architect Lewis Mumford illustrates some strikingly accurate observations on how we should manage our cities.  The planners and politicians in control of the Christchurch at the moment would do themselves a favour to watch it.

(Hat tip to Freeranger Minna Ninova for the video)

People sometimes ask what Freerange is all about.  What is it?  Why do we do it?  I usual answer with some vague statement about cities, politics, design and the need to think ethically about how to act in this strange world.  The beautiful illustrated video below for the RSA series explains it better than I ever could.  Brilliant stuff.

(Hat tip to freerange Nick Sargent for the suggested viewing)

 

 

 

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Reserve the Basin

Dear residents of Wellington.

I know these things are a pest, but I really don’t want a flyover to walk/bike under on my way to town. I think it would be depressing. Better options are around, and NZTA will consider them if enough of the public say that’s what they want. So please send a letter to info@witi.co.nz. (Before Friday, 26 August 2011) Here’s a proforma;

Re: Cobham Drive to Buckle Street Transport Improvements – Community Engagement – July to August 2011

Dear NZTA,

I support neither of the proposals currently put forward for public consultation by the NZTA for improvements to the Basin Reserve area. I would like the options for consultation to be broadened to include the NZTA report’s Option F and Architecture Centre’s Option X.

Regards,

……

For more information about Option F;
http://www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/basin-reserve/docs/basin-reserve-options-report.pdf

For more information about Option X;
http://architecture.org.nz/2011/07/21/the-public-needs-a-real-choice-option-x/

http://architecture.org.nz/2011/07/22/option-x-plus

The Architecture Centre is leading the campaign for option x.  This is the important stuff that cities are made of, have your say.

“The NZTA have proposed options for redeveloping the roading of the Basin Reserve.  But these are not really options. They are two schemes for flyovers which have very little difference.  We believe that the scheme/s proposed by NZTA exclude the public from making a real choice.

Currently the Basin is a mess.  From a multi-modal perspective (pedestrian, cyclist, car) the Basin is not a safe place.  Aesthetically it is a dog.  The inward facing cricket ground alienates its surroundings.  Recent building has reneged on its public responsibilities, creating some of the worst public street faces of architecture in Wellington.

We have no doubt that something needs to be done, but the choices to be made are at least on two levels.

1) Should the remediation work to improve the urban design of the Basin assume traffic levels will increase or not? and how should it respond to consequent changes in local conditions?  Data from the NZTA website suggest traffic levels have been plateauing for quite some time.

2) Should the remediation work use a tunnel or a flyover?

We think grade separation is critical to ensure better safety to all road users, and to help achieve speed consistency of motor vehicles, which will reduce emissions and noise pollution.  Both tunnels and flyovers have their problems for designers.  The scale of such infrastructure must respect the scale of the urban or suburban fabric it sits within.  Both can cause issues of severance or undesirable residual spaces.  We recognise that the NZTA images of the flyovers presented to the public do not reflect the potential design quality of the flyover structures, as these are yet to be properly designed.

Both flyovers and tunnel entrances can be poetic, elegant, and inspiring design.  Both will cost money to get the design right, and to guarantee that Wellingtonians end up with a Basin Reserve that we are proud of.”

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Infostructures

Freerange Press is proud to release the first of its academic publications.   Increasing energy costs (Guardian Article today saying Britain needs to prepare for 70s style oil shocks) are putting massive pressure on our existing transport systems. This combined with ubiquitous presence of technology in our lives is creating new dynamic opportunities in public transport. INFOSTRUCTURE presents the vision of interactive and responsive urban public transport environments where new forms of communication and information access are enabled through an overlay of urban digital media technologies.

Featuring research and projects undertaken by master students in architecture at the University of Technology, Sydney and Bachelor students in design computing at the University of Sydney, the book explores the augmentation of existing public transport environments with urban digital media technologies, to set in motion a transformation from infrastructure to ‘infostructure(s).’

Precedent based research and technology investigations underpin the twenty featured student projects, that address a nexus of space, urban media, sensor and mobile phone technology. The research presented in this book is a foundation for a series of future infostructure projects.

Only $25 online. Please go to the Freerange Shop for purchasing details.

The authors of this book combine several years of experience in designing for public transport environments and in urban computing.

  • Nicole Gardner is an architect with project experience in infrastructure planning and design and is currently teaching and lecturing at the University of Technology, Sydney.
  • Dr. M. Hank Haeusler has researched, taught and designed media facades and information architecture and has written and published several books on media architecture. He is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney.
  • Dr. Martin Tomitsch has a background in informatics and interaction design. His work has been published in international conferences on human-computer interaction and ubiquitous computing. He is currently a lecturer at the University of Sydney.
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