TRANSFORMATION | Relational Reflexivity

Posted on 27/06/2009

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I’ve spent today researching around themes of culture, change, cities and communities, which are the broad concerns of the Placing project and the writing I will do for Proboscis’ Transformation series. Fundamentally, I am concerned with how change happens, how values and beliefs come to be renegotiated for urban change and how, if such things are considered as memes, new memes are introduced. Change involves the introduction of difference and/or something new or other: change we are told is constant. This, in turn, relates to my specific interest in suburban environments and communities. I often feel compelled to stress, in my negotiations of the urban environment, that the inquiry is primarily concerned with people and how we live.

In listening to the podcasts from the Melbourne Festival of Ideas, I’ve became frustrated because the conversations focus on consumption and production, they address energy, water and climate, they exhort new design and planning methods, and they speculate about capital and policy. They focus on the behaviours of people, cultural institutions and social change without actually referring to people. There is extensive mapping of ‘the problem’ and some tilts towards solutions – compelling, appealing and achievable solutions at that. I was particularly taken with ideas about the suburb as a productive landscape able to achieve self-sufficiency in energy and water, as well as the need to address the fictions we tell ourselves about the issues are facing and the price we are paying for climate change. Another proposition was focused on how to redesign the suburbs for walking. I would extend that proposition and suggest that we redesign the suburbs (perhaps the whole city) for frailty. I live in area with many retirement villages and aged care facilities. This means that many people in my community are experiencing reduced mobility and are reliant on various kinds of technologies to move around.

So in consideration of the suburbs during those Festival of Ideas sessions, talk turns to gardens and houses, roads and cars, suburban form, the symbolic: not people as agents within a cultural or social sphere. In this sense, Grossberg’s notion of ‘mattering maps’ is useful in its patterning of desire and investments. Invariably, in these discussions, a final point made is that for much needed changes of suburban and urban life to happen, a deep engagement and collaborative design with a willing community is needed. I’m moved to consider how we come to socialise or acculturate these possibilities, issues and concerns and how our suburbs can become sites of engagement that might foster a relational reflexivity – that is, fostering alliances and openness – linked to modes of habitus.

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