A few years ago, the ECF Foundation launched a new fund for groups across Europe to bid for money to test out creative ways to building community. Nothing new you might say, except the way they did it was to start with your usual call for applications for ideas that met the criteria but should deliberately not be fully formed.
They then invited the top 25 ideas to a three-day incubator in Marseille where they inspired talks, tours around the neighbourhoods of the city and training around speaking, prototyping and media, but most importantly coached us to find ideas & people that shared similar values or principles and then hack our initial ideas to develop new collaborative projects.
With our “hack your borders”, I connected with two ideas — one which was about creating “open source devices” and another about reclaiming public space. Across each of our projects, we discover that the “networked learning” isn’t just about learning between the developers or even participants of the projects, it’s about learning about and between the systems and ecosystems that each project operates in, whether it’s Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, London, Madrid, Sevilla, Vilnius or Warsaw.
“Critical Observer” — Although the founder of Open Source Public Space Devices, Paco Gonzalez, curates the project and supports the practitioners taking part in it, within each activity, he positions himself organisationally and physically as a “critical observer”, so that he can evaluate the process the practitioners are facilitating. Through the “Hack (y)our Borders Pot Luck Dinners”, I also prepared the setting in inviting specific individuals from different cultural practices with a shared interest in public space, using the excuse of the guests Paco and Jekaterina introducing their projects, as a way to make sense of how people negotiate the use of time to tell their story, exchange insights and influence each other.
“Field Storyteller” — Although the blogger of El Canto isn’t directly facilitating the activities within the neighbourhood, he is setting the scene for the researchers to get under the skin of the neighbourhood and during the activity, is documenting the dynamics of the different actors and the actions they are enacting, as a way of helping people make sense of the interplay between each person
Each building houses a commission where people come together to develop the issue the commission is focused on, be it on community gardening or inclusive design
The parking space, which sits in the centre of the neighbourhood, could be perceived as being installed there to divide people and to create disruption. It also creates boundaries between the spaces reserved in green for residents and yellow for people just passing by.
The “half-pipe” is a device that seems to have been chosen, as it’s a space where people perform and where ideally people come and watch and learn. It’s a hybrid infrastructure whose outer layers are hollow so they can be opened up to be used as “meanwhile space” for other activities. It inspires different forms of movement that attract people.
The neighbourhoods we’re working in within each city, from Herne Hill to Can Battlo, are on the edge of cities. They’re not in the countryside, not even in suburbia, let alone inner-city neighbourhoods. They’re areas which are within sight, visually — through the skyscrapers — and culturally — through the people spilling over into the neighbourhood, of both the city centre and the green belt of the outskirts of the city. They are far enough that they have the space and time to reflect and build their own culture, but not close enough that they can easily access the infrastructure positioning within the centre of the city — from free museums to hospitals, but still close enough that they are aware of what they should be entitled to. From this, there may be a greater sense of urgency and unfairness that they want to build their own infrastructure while seeing the perverse consequences of urban development and gentrification on the horizon and increasingly creeping up on their doorstep.
The Hubs are the roots that have been transplanted into the foundation’s tree, who help grow the tree and expand the tree’s territory as well as negotiate the space in between the roots (in effect, the Hubs). That then makes the projects the flowers of the tree, which people on the outside can see growing, depending on where they are concerning the tree.