The other evening, I was out walking, when down the footpath came a large old koala wandering down the street on his way to somewhere. He stopped and looked at me and carried on by, just another member of the local Kensington community out for an evening stroll.
Not growing up in Australia, I am still amazed whenever I see the local fauna out and about, especially in an urban situation. My encounter, with our marsupial resident, started me thinking; why is it such an unusual or exceptional event to see koalas or other indigenous animals in our suburbs and why can’t we take a more fauna-centric view towards our cities. Perhaps, if we want our cities to be truly liveable and sustainable for all, we should cast our thinking wider than just the city’s human inhabitants. Is there a benefit to be gained by designing for wildlife in the city? Not simply form the point of view of curiosity, but from an ecosystem wide perspective.
When we add wildlife as a measure of success within our cities we start to add a new level of performance to the planning and design of our urban environments. For example, a measurement of bird species is not simply a count of animals. The type and number birds in an area can also represent the diversity of tree species, habitat quality and extent of urban woodlands in the city. Similarly, the number of koalas in the urban environment could signify the quality of habitat corridors and vegetation, whilst frogs could reflect the health and distribution of the creeks and water bodies. By using animals as a performance measure in our cities, we start to move away from the usual ‘function’ defined outcomes for infrastructure, especially green infrastructure (our creeks, wetlands and open spaces). If we are aiming to create liveable cities, perhaps a more diverse approach to design and planning is needed to allow us to achieve liveable and sustainable environments where bird song, koala sightings, bee hives, butterflies and frog spawn are measures of success rather than the usual social and economic indicators we use today.
Perhaps next time you are out in the suburbs try listening for the bird song and look around you. Does the amount of birds reflect to quality and quantity of trees around you as well as the shade and amenity of the street? Or consider this, if a street has no song, what amenity does it provide for people. How sustainable and liveable is that street?
Accidental Urban Designer – Warwick Keates – Director WAX Design
Further notes on new and innovative models for thinking about increasing the sustainability of creative practice (on not neglecting the business)…
(further to an earlier post and in response to the conversations and presentations made at Thinking through the City’s first forum: Incubating Creativity)
One major problem in my mind with the gallery model of engaging with contemporary art, is the convention – appropriate when the main audience for a given show is the group of potential collector/investors, but in-appropriate in the case of much contemporary practice – of supplying free food and drink to all-comers. Openings are fun, and a good chance to catch up with friends, or to network, or to celebrate together the culmination of a lot of thinking, care and physical effort, but often they are packed wall-to-wall and the worse of occasions to get a real feel for the art itself, which may require solitude, or at least some space for a worthwhile engagement. It often strikes me as bizarre that it is taken for granted an artist will put up the time, labour and material cost to make the work, and then in effect, is also expected to pay (to otherwise entertain) their viewers.
This convention is a habit rather than a necessity I am sure, and one that several Artist Run Intitiatives (Feltspace and Format in Adelaide for example) are dispensing with, supplying wine and/or beer at a cost rather than handing it out. No one seems to mind.
There are other models too that combine different notions of sustainability with relaxing over a drink or meal, alongside an art experience:
Crate59 in Cairns supports emerging artists by sub-leasing a portion of the gallery space that fronts their complex of studios to an iconic local business ‘Billy’s Coffee’ (which shifts from its home at Rusty’s Markets weekly on the days the markets are closed). Great coffee and a rich mix of curated and high rotation artist run shows creates a relaxed and inviting way to spread the ‘opening’ out, to sustain and give a platform to a diversity of local artists and to extend the invitation to people that might not venture into a gallery otherwise – as their website says “Art + other = good”!
I’ve been busy, and/or sick since the first forum hosted by Thinking through the City: Incubating Creativity…
but the rich mix of conversation sparked by presentations, continuing over wine and food as the evening progressed: the – often conflicting – ideas, attitudes, desires, and opinions about what conditions ‘creativity’ requires (what it even constitutes – in relation to both ‘art’ and business) and consequently the – again at times conflicting – plans hatched for the ‘incubation of creativity’ within a local matrix, has continued to play on my mind.
Up the top, in terms of my own response, is the absolute provocation I feel reading Gavin Artz’s post following the forum. He titled the post “on being provocative” but went on to suggest his key focal points were not provocative at all, merely common sense… ie: that business and ‘creative practioners’ really want the same thing, and that this same thing amounts to new value in the form of wealth creation. Aaaaaah (my heart sinks a little right here) once again, as seems typical of late (across all sectors and, increasingly – sadly, for me… progressively, in Gavin’s terms – in every little crevice of daily life) the bottom line for success is how much money will be made.
When Teresa Crea invited me to the Thinking Through The City Incubating Creativity Forum for the City of Norwood, Payneham and St. Peters, she suggested that I might like to be a provocateur. I like rocking the boat as much as the next person, but I felt that what the council is trying to achieve didn’t need that much provocation. Entering the ring of creative and digital industries through an engagement with community, business and creative practitioners seems eminently sensible. Of course that is not exactly what Teresa meant, but as it turned out it was not a role that was hugely necessary on the night. The conversations that developed during the forum, while diverse, had strong themes that demonstrated a real readiness to embrace a new way of thinking about how arts and creativity can work with business. This progressive conversation also served to highlight some of the less imaginative ways of thinking that have been plaguing a deeper engagement between creativity, community and business.
Think back to a time before computers took over the work place. It is like an alien world, for some of us it is a fading memory, for those entering the work force it is a world that never existed. It is getting hard to wrap our minds around now, but back before computers skyscraper were the computers and employees were the transistors. Imagine the rows of employees crunching numbers for banks or accounting firms. They were acting as computers do now; fixated on a small piece of detail, making sure it was correct. This type of world led to a rather perverse concept of what the best use of human intellect was. We had to train the human mind to have a huge capacity for detail retention and this went hand in hand with a need for focused specialisation. If this seems a bit like a rewriting of history then you never had a problem with remembering phone numbers. I did and only a few years ago to have such a problem was deemed a severe intellectual short fall. Once we had daily use of computers we needed these skills less, even less with the internet and even less with portable computing such as smart phones. It turns out that these feats of specialist knowledge and memory where not the pinnacles of human achievement, but a limitation we had to endure.
I have lived in Adelaide all my life, spent most of my holidays on the south and eastern coasts; love the dry hot summer and fresh winter chills (not so much, the droughts)… my first trip to Far North Queensland some five or six years ago was a moist, dripping green culture shock. The visit was a quick one: Sasha Grbich had invited me to run a two-day workshop with her for the Tanks Art Centre as part of ANAT’s Portable World’s education program. I remember the plane trip was frustrating – cloud cover the whole way – no view, no physical sense of the place I was approaching… remember the song playing as it tipped into descent (I think it’s from Sarah Blasko’s Planet New Year) ‘Waking with the birds, they’re falling from the sky’ causing some subtle anxiety that fell away as the clouds broke and the plane sank into colour: turquoise blue/green sea deep green blanketed mountain fringe; remember the heart-dropping/breath-held moments as the plane banked the bay: the beautiful liquid shock of it.
You wouldn’t do business with artists because they are too flaky, they do what they want to do, turn up when they want to and are not interested in making money, or worse they are hostile to making money. But it is not just artists; I get to hear the same thing about scientists. That’s interesting to me because I work with both on a daily basis and the thing that makes artists and scientists similar is their open ended, creative curiosity. A science paper is just a sign post of a much more complex exploration, the paper may give great insight, but the scientist continues to explore. The same is true of the artist’s exhibition. An exhibition is not a full stop, but a consolidation of thought and experience, readying them for much deeper exploration. So you wouldn’t do business with an artist or scientist because they exhibit unbound creative curiosity and business is up against it working on innovation, or application of ideas, let along spending time and money on mere speculation. Or it could be the best thing you ever did.
Last week, with some guilt, I went to Borders in the CBD to by a book. Guilty for picking over the bones of a dying business, guilty as the staff talked about their unknown futures. I was after a book that had been a business best seller for the last 6 years. Unexpectedly Borders had what I wanted on their shelves. I am so used to retail stores not having something in stock that my initial bad feeling left me and I got excited by the large 40% off tickets, I found my book and looked to the back for the price, calculated the discount and then it struck me, the deep problem that retail is facing. The discount price was still five dollars more expensive than if it had been purchased from Amazon (that’s including shipping). My emotions had swung from guilt to excitement to disappointment. (more…)
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries economies around the world once again legitimately welcomed some of humanities most long-standing professions into the economy. Creative and cultural industries where embraced and labelled in a way that allowed them to be measured economically. Some of this was due to new technologies mediating creativity, making it easier for them to be commoditised and some, such as art and craft, had always been economic contributors, but through industrialisation had somehow lost their legitimacy in the economy. This loss of legitimacy was partly due to the difficulty in fitting one-off objects into the new industrial framework, and partly due to art theorists who felt that this type of creative work should not be included in the economy. The new terminology of creative/cultural industries allowed a number of disparate economic activities to be linked through the commonality of leveraging intrinsically motivated creativity for economic outcomes. (more…)
I remember coming across the website for a project called [murmur] toronto some five years ago while Sasha (Grbich) and I were researching participatory art projects as part of the development of a project up in Cairns that we completed early this year… (more…)
In 1956, Johnny Cash penned a song that spoke of the eternal vigilance needed to balance choices that were easy and tempting, and those that were hard but ultimately better for him. The song was ‘I walk the line’. It is said that hearing a demo tape played backwards inspired the song tune – I can relate to this. It may seem surprising but many an artists’ inspiration has come from a creative misread; sparking an alternative way of seeing a problem and embracing a false premise to develop a wholly different response. Often, this comes in the form of accidentally reading a ‘section’ as a ‘plan’, or – in the case of my first year design studio program head – ripping apart the physical model I’d spent all week making and putting it back differently. A roof inverted. A cantilever re thought. A whole section of the plan removed and separated from the main form.
This ability to suspend the present, and imagine an alternative reality is just one capacity the ‘creative’ mind brings to communities. Their ability to ‘walk the line’ between the ‘now’ and the ‘possible’. Some fans suggest that the original title of ‘Walk the line’ was ‘I’m still being true (to myself)’. It may just be rumour, but there’s a nice theme to be drawn from both these stories. Somewhere in there is an admission that, if Johnny didn’t remain absolutely hyper-vigilant, that it would all come to a crashing end. And that ‘walking the line’ was only possible thanks to having his eye fixed firmly on a constant; a value set so clear in his mind that it made choices self-evident. And the original song title – “I’m still being true” – somehow revealed a deep desire for authenticity.
In what may seem a real stretch, what if we applied these two ideas to community building? The thought was posed in my mind last week at the annual national conference of Australia’s architectural peak body, the Australian Institute of Architects. In a session that explored how we negotiate the boundaries and definitions we give to things, the discussion looked at how architects and landscape architects ‘walk the line’ in their work; between intervening and not, between new and old, between collective and individual. And, by extension, how cities ‘walk the line’ every day; between chaos and control, between the planned and spontaneous, between economic rise and fall.
Cities of the past were planned around defined zones. We had a work zone (the CBD, the factory etc). We had a ‘living’ zone (our suburbs). And we had a ‘rural’ zone. That was the green bit where farmers and livestock lived. Today we’ve realized that zoning has produced many of the issues we face today. Clearly chief among them is traffic congestion. Each day we empty the suburbs to travel to commercial centres. Along the way we drop kids at school (what did happen to school buses?), or at daycare. Some cities have turned to car-pooling, or shared bike schemes to alleviate the pressure on roads, and to give a genuine alternative. But bike lanes take decades to become a joined up network, and car-pooling only accounts for a small percentage of trips made.
Many in the area of public health note the link between traditional zonal planning and the escalating instance of obesity, diabetes and a frightening projection in dementia (an increase of 350% by 2050). We’ve fallen in love with the idea of ‘convenience’: parking at the door, food delivered at will, air-conditioned comfort at all times. And in the process – as Dr Tony Capon from UNSW’s Faculty of the Built Environment knows – we’ve deviated from our biological predisposition of ‘hunter gatherer’ and become ‘homo conveniensus’. Remember that bit about choices that swung from ‘easy and tempting’ to ‘ultimately better for us’?
Perhaps on this one we’ve wandered off the line and need to look once again to restore balance. And perhaps, we might return to a more ‘authentic’ quality of life. A quality of life that is not ‘generic’ but celebrates an innate cultural identity of its people; Norwood is a great example of a community that bursts with the stuff of its DNA. In a city that is spending an inordinate amount of time coming to terms with ‘mixed communities’; Norwood lives it. As we encourage others to build communities around an established centre. Norwood has it.
Maybe we should ‘walk the line’ a little more in Adelaide; stretching some of our preconceptions about how we define things. And whether we even need to. Another tenet of successful city shaping is knowing when to ‘leave it alone’. Sometimes we need to design with gaps; bits for the community to fill in and own. And, every now and then, to get it ‘wrong’. In walking that line we negotiate the balance between what Rem Koolhas calls the ‘Generic City’ and the authentic experience of a place connected to its past, and confident about its future.
Tim Horton, SA Commissioner for Integrated Design
When we think of culturally vibrant cities with a strong community focus we often leave out business; it is something practical and removed from us as citizens. It may not be clear at the moment, but we are undergoing a transition from process to creative economies. The very things that make up culture and community will be the stuff of business, but not business as we know it. The great work of local groups like MEGA and Renew Adelaide show that today’s entrepreneurial mind set relies much more on culture and creativity for success and that once barriers are taken away, business suddenly has the potential to be a community and cultural activity, helping us to create the environments we enjoy, not one were we are subservient consumers. South Australia does this sort of thing well, if we look to our strengths, build what suits us and resist the pressure to slavishly copy other cities we will achieve the types of communities we want. We have everything we need right here, we each just need to trust our own vision and come together to make it real.
Gavin Artz, CEO Australian Network for Art and Technology
As both an art maker and an art lover, I am often moved more by the underlying motivations and processes: the difficulties and desires of the artist as embodied in the art work, than by the polished spectacle of singular finished pieces…
often these motivations and processes; the narratives that link art and life are somewhat lost-in-translation between studio and gallery. (more…)