WRITING | Changescaping

Posted on 17/02/2011

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It’s been a slow time coming … As I prepare to document the Placing project in a monograph, I’ve been sifting through the many proposals that were sent to me. At this point, I wanted to acknowledge this inspirational work as well as the ventures I have encountered and been involved in under the umbrella of this project. To date, I’ve been tracing, endeavouring to explore some of the key tendencies and attitudes that are coalescing as place writing and writing place. I’ve also been noting other important initiatives in this space e.g. The Enabling City by Chiara Camponeschi, Mimi Zeiger’s The Interventionist’s Toolkit series for Places Journal, and others. I’ve also been tracing the work of Ezio Manzini, Tony Fry, John Thackara and others who are all calling for change in the way we do our cities. By ‘do’, I mean practice. I didn’t want to write another treatise on creativity and the city – it’s an area that seems overcooked and I was interested more in the strategic and tactical aspects of changescaping and enabling.

More recently, there’s been a conceptual turn in my project as I churn the notion of changescaping. The first incarnation is in my Arts Hub piece, Changescaping: doing the city, in which several projects loosely defined as ‘changescaping’ are discussed. I am now working on a monograph that documents some of the work I have encountered (as exemplars, as experienced, as embraced, as engagements and/or as escapes) and through this I will outline changescaping in more detail. In part, it’s about developing an ethos or framework for my own practice – learning from others while also offering my own interpretations and projects in this specifically Australian context, part of a public conversation and feedback loop. In Australia, over several decades, a breadth of events, projects and practice has made for potent and diverse engagements with place – negotiating identities, harnessing hidden strengths and altering fortunes.

Many of the projects I’ve looked at share an engagement with the city that is about charting difference and engaging the plurality and otherness of the city. They emerge from practices which express their care for the city through action and agency. So as I revisit my writings over the past year, I will return to the original purpose of Placing project to document emerging and changing ideas about urban place in Australia with a particular emphasis on the role artists, designers, planners, architects and other urbanists can play in changemaking. Hence, engaging creative and innovative ways of ‘doing something’ or catalysing something at all scales, changescaping becomes potent for how we engage with our cities, our communities and our work.

So here’s the work I’ve been reading and thinking about since commencing this project (more writing on each of these to come), and which will take shape online. It’s not a comprehensive list but these project highlight some tendencies in work across the spectrum of what might be framed as changescaping – at different scales/scope and engaging complex systems:

There are other projects that have already been woven through PlaceBlog and other grassroots or collaborative practices that present ‘different’ ways of doing things and warrant mentioning like geocaching, community/guerilla gardening, small scale markets (e.g. Suitcase Rummage) and design labs (e.g. Unlimited AP). Then there’s also social networks that seem to be engaging the city as software. The idea of an open urban operating system is evolving. For many, this metaphor evokes alternate flows, structures and systems of power and empowerment founded on ecological ideals. While only a handful of projects are discussed here, showing to some extent what we can do with the city, a question emerges about their aggregated impact and the myriad online interactions and flows.

My exploration has been somewhat nomadic, random and happenstance. It’s part of an exchange with the world that has gradually evolved through my positioning as a critic, communicator and consultant working predominantly in cultural and urban fields. With the rise, even mainstreaming, of tactical or grassroots urbanism and the development of various toolkits and handbooks, it was important to develop this work as a kind of writerly mapping project, inquiring and seeking rather than resolute and deterministic. I also wanted to acknowledge many of the small consultancies comprised of daring practitioners and colleagues who endeavour to introduce advocacy, creativity and innovation into their work, drawing on methods of co-design and co-creation. In this context, ‘professionals’ are connective as enablers and facilitators. There are also platforms like Pecha Kucha and Park(ing) Day. Ultimately, this expanding dialogue reshapes the way ‘we’ do business. All of these practices and practitioners, I think, do what Camponeschi says in The Enabling City – they demonstrate what social innovation can look like in action. They also, I believe, begin to inscribe and introduce a cultural shift in the way we think, talk, process, act and make in, for, with and about our cities and communities.

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