“Is this what we want?”

While walking through Leeds city centre yesterday, something kept popping into my head.  It was a question: "Is this what we want? is this really what people want our country, our cities our urban life to be like?"  And even if it is, how would we know?  And if it isn't then what can I do about it?

I think it was mainly inspired by the contrast between the huge municipal and commercial edifices from the 19th Century, the glass and steel of the latest 21st Century builds and then the horrible concrete blandness of the stuff that sprung up in the time inbetween.  It's not a direct criticism of Leeds, all of the cities I've visited in the UK have some element of it.  And I'm not sure it's entirely a criticism either, it's more like unease.

Of course new forms in our cityscapes are created primarily by whatever the current dominant economic force is.  And I'm not nostalgic for Victorian times, but I couldn't help thinking, especially as I sat in the Tiled Cafe of the City's Art Gallery under a bust of Dante and facing one of Homer that at least the Victorians seemed to care a bit more what it all looked like and what it meant.  And, well, I suppose I'm not that keen on the idea that it's the modern equivalent of Mill Owners who have the most say about what goes on in our public and commercial spaces, even if the Mill Owners themselves seemed to have done not too bad a job.

I think we're just seeing the beginnings of the emergence of a desire for more interaction in all areas of our lives.  The interactivity of the web and the way that social media have created two-way streets where once there was only broadcast, together with the mobile devices we use to interact with each other are all raisng our expectations about having a voice, having a real say in things, not just being consulted, but being iinvolved in co-creation.  And the design of the high street and city centre and the uses to which those public spaces are put should be as much up for grabs as anything.

Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous

I’ve started working on #wewillgather with @artistmakers and @sophontrack

I can't remember whether I've mentioned it here, but I've just started working with Dan Thompson and Sophie Collard on a project that initially was called #futurecleanup – here they are talking about it.

Since then we chose to rename the project #wewillgather to make it clear that it wasn't just about cleaning up, we want to help people organise useful stuff in their communities whether it has to do with cleaning things or just getting together to do anything positive.

So we receive funding from NESTA's Innovation in Giving fund and Sophie and I attended a meeting yesterday with other recipients of the fund to make connections an help NESTA collect some information on progress.  I thought they got  the balance just right.  All the activities involved us interacting with each other in some way and so we were finding out about other projects and recording it to be collated by the NESTA team.

We met Alice Casey who's going to be our key contact for now – I knew I'd seen her before somewhere and confirmed that she'd been to Tuttle ages ago.  So I encouraged her to come again! (and she did…)

We're at a different stage of development from most other projects in the room.  We don't have a site that we can talk to people about in detail or measures of participation yet.  We do have a damned good origin story and a growing list of people and organisations who are interested in supporting us and using the site once it's open for testing.

So it was great to be in the company of other people who are a little bit further down the road.  Sophie and I spent our time in the biggest exercise interviewing and being interviewed by Patricia Mahon of Spice who do time-credits (a piece of paper that people receive for doing an hour of something useful in their community and can "spend" it in time they'd otherwise have to pay for eg an hour at a local swimming pool) and Wingham Rowan who works for Slivers of Time, which has a platform for creating markets in unused time, both for public services and the private sector.  It was a really useful exercise in fact- and insight-finding and hellped me a lot to get a grip on where we are actually at and what needs doing next.

The last exercise involved sharing some of our milestones so that we could map out across all the projects what was going to be happening over the next few months.  In what is becoming #wewillgather house policy improv style (you say it, I write it down, it's policy until we change our minds) I wrote a card that I may later regret saying "Make media wet their pants".  If you know any incontinent journos you know where to send them, come August.

Overall I came away feeling a lot better about what we're doing – it really helped to be explaining it in a context other than persuading people that using it would be a good thing.  I was encouraged and stimulated by Patricia and Wingham's questions and feedback.  So much so that I was able to write this, my first post for the project within hours of attending (even if it then did take another 96 hours to publish it).

PS I really like the look of ProjectDirt's forthcoming roadtrip.  I may have to be restrained to keep my attention on our project not theirs.  Of course #wewillgather willl be doing our roadtrips by train.  We're definitely train people.

Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous

Olympic Torch Audio Collage #halfbaked @bowbrick @billt ?

Here's a quick idea inspired by a bit of my conversation with Matt Edgar whom I met this morning thanks to a twitter shout out from @Deirdre.

We were talking about mobile apps like instagram and the problem with them being tightly coupled, so you can't easily get at bits of the data, and link to them or do very much else really.  And Matt brought up PICLE which (on Android please!) allows you to capture a clip of sound.  And we were also talking about (not) seeing the olympic flame come through Bradford and Leeds yesterday, and that led us onto the subject of analysing the sound of crowds cheering.  It was that kind of conversation, we are that kind of person.

And I thought –  wouldn't it (have) be(en) interesting to take a sample of the sound of crowds cheering the Olympic Torch at each of the locations where large crowds have gathered and then see whether you could detect any regional variation as the torch moved around the UK.  Would it sound different in the North than in the South.  How about in the North West compared to the North East – would you be able to tell a Geordie crowd from the Cockney geezers and geezettes of the East End?  Or would it all sound the same?

I'm pretty sure the BBC has been covering all the events – how would we get someone there to compile an audio collage?  How much would you need in each clip?  How long would the whole thing be? How would you describe the differences even if you could distinguish them?

It's one of those things where you really don't know whether it would work or not until you try.  What's one of those things called?


Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous

Locational Promiscuity

I've been on the road for eleven months now.  And as the anniversary approaches and I'm more and more able to say "I've been doing this almost a year" the reactions of others (and my own feelings) have moved from "Yikes! That's scary" to "OK, so it seems to work for you, that's interesting".

One of the things that comes up regularly is the idea that I'm travelling through my network, through people rather than places.  It was one of the big learnings for me from #PLATE11 and it's continued to be an important insight.

It's not that I don't like the places I've been or that I'm not interested in seeing new sights, it's that the people are much more important to me.  My commitment is to the people in my network (that's a horrible way to talk about acquaintances, colleagues, friends and family, but still) not to any one place or space or house or community.

It helps me to think about it in the frame of interpersonal relationships.  I think that what's happened is I've let go of the idea of a long term, exclusive relationship with one place, one set of rooms in a fixed location, one group of people who share that space.  I can't be married to a postcode anymore.  I get more out of being able to move between them.  And i'm able to give more too, but it does mean that my community work is distributed, not concentrated in one place and sometimes I make that mean that I'm not doing anything valuable, because there's little to show for what I've been doing, but I think overall that I'm actually more effective.

I hope that they all know that they're all special to me, but that I can't, at the moment, stick with any one.

And I expect that, having noticed it and written about it, it will probably change.

PS If I heard anyone talking about their intimate, romantic relationships like this, I'd say they were kidding themselves. That it would ultiimately lead to too much pain and confusion. What's the difference?  Is it something to do with places not being people? Am I kidding myself?  How would I know?

Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous