Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Art of Placemaking I: Taming the tigers

This was a workshop I attended in Brisbane. An amazing experience that took me to a level even deeper (It never stops!!). I believe it is worth sharing what I brought home from it.

One of the main reasons I had to attend this workshop was to take ideas used by the presenter and see what I could use for my own project. I was of course interested in the topic because placemaking and localization go together. But I didn't really know what to expect  about the contents, so I was more focused on the structure of the workshop. Funny thing, I came out completely in love with the contents and the experience, and not so much interested in recording features of the structure.

Localization is what I believe in, and all my ideas are focused on promoting it. I discovered that all I do in relation to it comes from the deep desire to ultimately reconnect with humanity and apparently, there is no better way to do that than getting to know your neighbors to name the least. Bring the inside goodness out. So  let's talk about day 1: placemaking or the external needs (tigers) of a place.

Make yourself at home.

Bring the inside out: What creates a sense of home in a public space?? That's what we ultimately want. Be on the streets and feel secure and safe as in home, be a participant and homemaker, rather than a mere observant. In the same way you transform your house into a home, the collective transforms the public space into place. Rather than confining yourself to your house, bring up higher fences, and retreat your kids to play in the backyard, start coming forward to the front of your house again. Bring who you are at home, for a walk and a chat with those who are in your surroundings, participate and create a good experience for others who share that space with you. Placemaking requires bringing people out, inviting them to create place with you. One of the thoughts that came up in my group, was that people living in the same area may have reasons to live there other than the geography of the area. What brings people to live where they live??  

Home is a feeling, not a location. Home is an experience. It is the same with place (i.e your neighborhood/local community/suburb). Place making is creating experiences that are transformative in nature. 
Focus on exchanges, not mobility. Here things connect completely with my work: 
Cities are an invention to maximise exchange and minimise travel. The role of transport is not mobility, but multiplying the opportunities to maximize exchange. 
Probably the biggest idea here is that David, the presenter and creator of the workshop, argues that cities are not only, nor more importantly, for the exchange of goods or services (planned or delayed return exchange), but they emerged from the spontaneous exchanges that imply immediate return: the exchange of stories, a conversation and an invite to have dinner or coffee. These social interactions apparently occurred often at places that were increasingly recognized, creating exchange spaces. I believe that it was the frequency and strengthening of these social relationships what evolved into communities and cities. So basically, the big implications for my work, is that to work on local economies, I need to have a physical local community.

The local community issue

I am a member of Transition Towns Brisbane and also BrisLETS. I was part of a particular transition initiative that was sort of local...not really, it just covered a smaller area, the south of Brisbane rather than the whole city. This initiative is idle at the moment and, from my perspective, we don't even know each other, just a few of us have had interactions with the 'usual suspects'. BrisLETS is something similar, members are scattered all around Brisbane, most activity occurs around a physical area well known for a green tendency, but the system is pretty stagnant in general terms.

So when I thought about the Business Model Generation for Community Organizations project,  where I would create workshop for individuals to create business out of their passions, I assumed I would work with the scattered Transition Brisbane and BrisLETS as communities of interest so that their individuals, with their businesses would make localization a scalable 'product'. But here it is the thing, how could an individual create a passionate business to solve a local need, if he/she has not connected with his immediate locality?? I believe communities of interest can deliver value to local communities and make localization grow, but after the workshop it makes much more sense to me, to have the physical local community first, and its observant residents engaged as participative citizens. This way, the idea of communities recognizing what they really need and deliver value by themselves via BMG, sounds a lot more real. 

It is my understanding that Transition towns in England came out of already formed communities with strong social relationships. Towns where neighbors knew one another rather well and where mobilizing ideas was not as hard. Here in Brisbane the story is different: I wonder how many of us know our immediate neighbors, at least their names. Localization without the physical locals that interact with each other sounds rather contradictory, if not unreal.
Place (read home) is not a product you can deliver. Citizens have to deliver by themselves. 
Only a few days ago, a friend of mine, who is a member Transition Brisbane as well, wrote me an email saying "the part i'm really interested in pushing forward with Transition is a step that I think needs to occur before, or possibly simultaneously, with this idea of business development of sustainability projects. This part is to do with community engagement. Without community engagement, transition is simply a small grouping of the most concerned individuals, making decisions for the community as a whole. Same with this idea of business development. If the validation of ideas only happens with the people currently involved in transition, then it's not representative of the community and not sustainable in the long term". 

I can't agree more. I must add that if this is going to be the case, then there is a narrative within the transition movement that needs to change. At the moment, it seems to me that we tell a story about fear of climate change and peak oil, so we mostly draw people who act out of fear of these futures, rather than focusing on opening a space where people can be moved from their fear to see other possibilities for a sustainable future. To be honest, I am not part of TT's because of climate change or peak oil, and I sometimes feel to much judgement and even hatred against particular groups of individuals...I think we have to face the fact that they share this world with us, and we can't leave them behind. Rather than focusing on acting out of fear of the future, how can transition project a message of opportunities and possibilities FOR ALL?? He, my friend, also said he is interested in proposing  to a particular Transition initiative to become a Project support project and also be involved in evolving the Business Model Generation for Community Organizations. 

Another team mate mentioned the need to recognize patterns and shared this link from the transition network, which I think is pretty in line with my thoughts. And it puts on the table something very important: The recognition of patterns. 

So, I would like to explore my thoughts on that to discuss with the team:

Should individuals create place, this is, re-create their physical local community and social local interactions, and so allow the emergence of communities of interest?? Or should individuals team up with people with similar interests, which is what I feel Transition Brisbane and all my other groups are at the moment, and then re-create their physical local community?? They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but to me, and for the reasons already mentioned, the former makes much more sense than the latter. 

However, what if for example, we can work on them simultaneously?? What if a kind of well formed Transition initiative, as a community of interest where most members live locally with strong(ish??) social ties (Transition Kurilpa in our case), uses BMG to create a social community enterprise (the project support project or PSP), and at the same time, members of Transition Brisbane, get together to put in place placemaking strategies in their own suburbs?? Placemaking strategies can be reported so that Transition Brisbane is aware of how things have changed, what is working where or what isn't and where, and what needs and projects are emerging. I would love if, for example, a couple of TT members decide to have a street party at someone's street, to give that person support in their re-creation process and also learn and start interacting and giving feedback from the process...I'd love David to support this!!

The PSP, although I need to read more about it, sounds exactly to what the idea of BMG for Community Organizations project would do, just that I had 'decided' that it was going to be through workshops, which of course can change because it is at an early stage. We can see here how a product and the Business model canvas can start to evolve through mobilizing the initial Canvas idea. 

In any case, what David suggests is "pick the low hanging fruit NOW!", which means, 
"Set up a trial on a discreet project. Create a 'best-guess master vision'. Brainstorm the "instant deliverable" that would move you towards that vision. Implement. Review. Choose next instant deliverable." 
The next instant deliverable does not necessarily mean a new deliverable, it may also mean, a new feature of the previous deliverable that would improve the experience of those who are using it or will use it. 

I recognized a lot of business concepts and applications in David's workshop. He uses the concept of Agile product development, which I first heard from Steve Blank's blog about customer development. I believe that it is necessary, before picking the low hanging fruit, to redefine terms related to business, profits, money, economy and so on. Because if we agree that business as usual is not working, then we need to define what the new business is. I'd love to see a 'translation' into 'localization language' of the terms used in the BMG canvas. And  this thought may be a bit rushed but, it seems to me that with this translation, creating an Energy Descent Plan will be a bit redundant. Energy descent has to be built in the Business Model, it has to be reflected in business actions. 

To do this, I found a delightful reading at David's website. You can go there and download that and many other articles. But I thought I would make life easier and just share it here with you. I strongly recommend it because it touches on the very basic definitions that can be used to create a new story of localization, communities and economics.


Local and creative economies

No comments:

Post a Comment