Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Windows on to urban futures

All photos by Anthony Crescini
  Via arupaustralasia's Flickr stream

PARK(ing) Day is "an annual, worldwide event that invites citizens everywhere to transform metered parking spots into temporary parks for the public good."

This open source project originated with San Francisco based group Rebar in 02005, and has since spread rapidly around the world. The following year saw 47 PARKs appearing in 13 cities including New York, London, and Rio de Janeiro.  Last year, in 02011, the official tally was a remarkable 955 PARKs in 161 cities, across 35 countries on six continents.

Arup's Sydney office participated in the 02011 event, and although I couldn't be there on the day, during an earlier visit I helped project coordinator Safiah Moore and her local team craft the concept for a "Cut N Paste Future Booth". This refers to an ongoing strand of investigation by Arup's Foresight + Innovation team, Cut N Paste Cities, in which people are invited to look at the city as subject to their own process of editing or reinvention.  Our idea here was to turn an on-street parking spot into an opportunity for people to imagine desired changes to the cityscape from that vantage point, superimposing their visions over the present-day view.

With this in mind, the Arup PARK(ing) Day team planned a concertinaed array of doors, framing views of the street to be progressively overlaid with drawn and written annotations.

Sketch by Alex Symes

In this way, the installation would provide passers-by with a series of windows (literally) onto alternative futures for this part of downtown Sydney; a kind of neoanalog augmented reality app.

A short video was produced (by Sydney-based creative collective Thirteen Itches) about the finished installation, with various participants chiming in on the conversation.

Arup Sydney has participated in PARK(ing) Day several times before; in 02010, 02009, and 02008. But to put this annual project into a wider context -- alongside popup cafes, guerrilla gardening, street fairs, and more -- early last year a useful overview document called Tactical Urbanism was produced by the Street Plans Collaborative and the Next Generation for New Urbanism (a.k.a. Nextgen). It provides an illustrated typology of urban interventions, which opportunistically create "a laboratory for experimentation" with urban possibilities, using the streets themselves.

The increasing popularity of these sorts of events reflects not only a technological facilitation process thanks to layers of hardware (ever-cheaper smartphones and cameras) and software (social media and content-sharing services), but also, perhaps more importantly, a human or cultural layer coming into resonance with those. There is a virtuous cycle of awareness, motivation, action and capacity on the part of city dwellers, who are fast adopting a more active role in shaping their surroundings, whether officially sanctioned or not.

As to the underlying intentions of this specific project, Safiah says, quite poetically:

We want to get to a point where;

Everyday we are injecting activity into the urban landscape,

Everyday we are imagining the possibilities for our city,

Everyday we are engaging with the city and having conversations about what we want to see in our city,

Everyday we are providing a taste for what is possible.

This hands-on conversational catalyst, aimed at getting citizens to think about and discuss the futures of their immediate surroundings, offered a modest yet meaningful step towards that vision, by using the street itself as a platform for visualising its reinvention.

This year's PARK(ing) Day is on Friday, 21 September. You can join in the fun through the project website.

Related posts:
> The Futures of Everyday Life
> McChinatown
> Future-jamming 101
> Four future news clips from MIT

Saturday, January 21, 2012

On the money

Image via [pdf].

Today, while browsing one of Melbourne's excellent bookstores -- which are still surprisingly abundant, despite global publishing industry turmoil -- I came across this striking image on the cover of an Australian literary quarterly, Meanjin.

It's from a 02008 photograph series called Oz Omnium Rex et Regina (King and Queen of All Oz) by Darren Siwes, an artist of indigenous Australian and Dutch descent.

A bit of context for international readers:
[The photograph] depicts a recognizably Australian gold coin, close-up. The words "Mary I, Australia 2041" are emblazoned onto its shiny surface. The future reigning monarch bears a distinct resemblance to a local, high-profile Aboriginal woman, leading viewers not only to question Australia’s current (and to many, anachronistic) constitutional monarchy, but also its legal legitimacy. In terms of natural justice, the obvious question arising is, "Why not an Indigenous monarch, or at least, an Indigenous head of state?"

~Christine Nicholls, "A Festival Of The Spirit" [pdf; essay reviewing the 02009 South Australian Living Artists Festival, in which this work also appeared]

Below is the obverse of the one dollar coin now in use, which, like all Australian coins, bears the image of Queen Elizabeth II. Who lives in, um, England.

Image via. [Note that the version of the Queen's head struck in Australian coins
does change periodically, loosely tracking the ageing process.]

Now, as some readers may guess from this blog's usual focus on experiential and performative scenarios, regarding the choice of medium, I personally resonate less with series of gold and silver painted-busker-statue type photos, appearing mainly in art galleries or literary reviews, than I would with an alternative execution of the same idea, in which the coins were physically produced, a tangible and diegetic (in-story) artifact, manifested, integrated and discoverable in everyday contexts, today.

Image via.

In any case, the proposition offered here remains challenging and culturally relevant, and currency proves an especially potent symbolic vector in which to embed it. Like other future artifacts from the same "family" -- e.g. the Amero, or the Aung San Suu Kyi kyat -- this embodies the hypothesis of an epoch-making change of governance in the near future, and it invites us to spend time with the idea for real.

Image via.

"Culture is something that is done to us. Art is something we do to culture."
~Carl Andre *

Related posts:
The currency of Burmese dissent
> The value of hypothetical currency
The act of imagination

* Quoted in Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World.