I had an interesting conversation with the Finsbury Park fruit bowl man

Heya

Heya

You not working?

Na mate I’m looking for a job. Need to make some money.

You want to be a rich man?

Well I don’t know. I’m not after making a fortune – just enough to live off.

Money is good. Money is bad. Money is good. Money is bad. When you see a rich man too much money. Is not good.

Yeah it’s more just to be involved in society is what I’m after. When I’m lying about doing nothing that doesn’t feel very good you know. So maybe I can come and work for you.

Life is very hard.

Yeah – a few hours in the afternoon maybe?

Life here is very hard.

Where does the fruit come from?

Where from? From Spain, Italy, Africa, all over.

No but where does it come from – where do you get it from?

From Camden Market. You know big market. But I don’t get it. The big boss gets it.

The big boss. How many fruit stalls has the big boss got?

Oh I don’t know 200, 300 it depends.

Shit that’s a lot of fruit stalls. Like a fruit empire. He’s the king of fruit.

Yeah he is big man.

Yeah? He makes a lot of money?

Yeah he is big man makes a lot of money. But he is good man as well.

Yeah what’s he do with all that money?

He is not bad man.

All right mate I think I’ll take a bowl of bananas. And one of oranges. And go on then the kiwis as well seeing as you’ve been putting all those out there looking so nice.

Cheers.

Thanks then.

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Living and making work in London post-MA

How to find an affordable way to live in London and maintain a lively creative community beyond the MA..?

I’ve been mulling this over and developing an idea.

The idea involves partnering with a property guardianship organisation to establish a creative live/work space in an empty building.

Last term I started to discuss this – in a very preliminary way – with guardianship organisation Dot Dot Dot. I approached Dot Dot Dot because they’re interested in their guardians having a positive impact on local communities. Also I met two of the people involved in setting Dot Dot Dot a couple of year ago and they were very nice guys.

Then, sometime before Christmas, I happened across an article about Green Rooms arts hotel up in Wood Green. It’s a budget hotel for artists due to open up in March this year. Just so happens that the guy who’s the driving force behind the project – Nick Hartwright – is an old pal of mine.

Nick’s been busy since 2008/9 when I was working with him at Battersea Arts Centre. He runs The Mill Co Project based at the Rose Lipman building, a former public library in Hackey. The Mill Co rents studios and workspace to a wide range of artists, designers and creative enterprises including Open School East, RIFT and many other interesting projects.

He’s also set up a guardianship company called Art Guard.

I got in touch with Nick over Christmas and explained where I’d got to with my plans and discussions with Dot Dot Dot.

It didn’t take long for us to agree that the idea I’ve been developing has potential to be a perfect match with how he wants to see Art Guard develop.

So…

Drop me a line/catch me for a chat if you’re interested.

Audience Participation / Elizabethan Staging / Extra Live

I’m very interested in Shakespearian/Elizabethan modes of staging in relation to audience engagement.

I started to write about this here.

I’m interested in creating the kind of energy/atmosphere advocates of ‘extra live‘ performance are discussing…

Radical Placemaking: Socially Engaged Practice vs the Redevelopment of London’s Council Estates

In this short essay I’m going to sketch out some of the key features of a type of practice I’m calling radical placemaking.

I understand placemaking as the process by which a place comes to have a unique cultural identity. The term has been co-opted by town planners and developers as part of a top-down approach to designing the built environment, but when I talk about placemaking I’m talking about a social phenomenon that’s intimately bound up with community and local identity. (1)

Placemaking is also bound up with power. Who has the power to shape the way a place develops? Historically cities like London have presented opportunities for cultural minorities and economically less advantaged groups to make parts of the city their own. But this type of placemaking has largely been overtaken by the economic forces driving the widespread gentrification and corporate mega-development we see today. Rising rents have played an increasingly significant part in determining who can afford to live in many areas of London. And the vast majority of the developments we see in London today are large scale, corporate projects. (2)

Perhaps one of the most alarming features of the way London is developing now is the issue of council-owned estates which are earmarked for demolition and redevelopment as luxury apartments.

According to research by Birkbeck University there are currently 90 estates in London facing demolition (3). Borough councils rationalise this redevelopment as a way of raising income in order to build more social housing, but the reality is that most of the social housing earmarked for demolition isn’t being replaced and long-term residents are being forced to move away from areas and communities they have lived in for decades in a process that can justifiably be described as social cleansing.

The films Estate: A Reverie and Concrete Heartland both capture the situation faced by tenants of council-owned estates when the council decides it’s going to redevelop.

Estate: A Reverie was filmed over seven years on the Haggerston estate in Hackney. The film documents a number of social rituals organised by residents before, during and after the demolition of the estate and it’s redevelopment as well as including a number of more performative and dramatised elements. (4)

ESTATE REVERIE COLLAGEStill images from Estate: A Reverie, Andrea Luka Zimmerman, 2015

Concrete Heartland exposes the social cleansing of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, South London. The film combines video documentary footage of the Heygate estate shot before the estate’s demolition in 2013/14 and 12 years of archive materials charting the struggles of the local community to keep their homes, stay living in the area, and maintain communal benefits in the face of extreme development pressures. Inserted among these recordings are sections of a performance protest staged in 2012 on the then still-inhabited estate. (5)

Verbatim theatre projects Where Will We Live? by Brixton-based Changing Face Collective and Land of Three Towers by You Should Have Seen the Other Guy draw on the experience of displaced residents and residents facing eviction.

Where Will We Live?, which recently had a successful run at the Southward Playhouse, grew out of in-depth interviews with a range of the people involved in, or affected by, gentrification in Brixton and Lambeth – residents, local businesspeople, politicians. (6)

Land of Three Towers is currently in development but is following a similar process in telling the story of the Focus E15 Open House Occupation on Carpenters Estate last September. (7)

d6236bf71e397b4d5fd1a7b0d1b97a44_originalE15 Open House Occupation on Carpenters Estate, September 2014. Photo by Jess Hurd/reportdigital.co.uk

All of these projects are motivated by a refusal to stand by and do nothing whilst local authorities conspire in development plans which will tear communities apart.

I suggest there are a number of ways these kinds of projects help push back against development –

  • By celebrating the richness of longstanding community to build community cohesion and raise awareness of the value of the community which is threatened by redevelopment.                         
  • By elucidating the political and economic processes which are driving redevelopment in order to facilitate resistance.
  • By opening up a forum for discussion about the redevelopment of public housing and putting the voice of the community at the centre of this discussion.

These tactics of resistance suggest some of the key features that the projects I’m discussing here have in common –

These projects involve working with local communities. In practical terms this means that projects are co-designed with participants and decisions are made in a consultative and democratic fashion. The artists’ role is to create a space and structure within which participants can (re)discover their own creativity and creative agency in relation to place.

In these projects the value of the process is intimately entwined with the value of the product. These projects harness the collaborative efforts of a community. As Andrea Luka Zimmerman writes, “[Estate: A Reverie] would have been impossible to make without the enormous commitment of the residents and many others – who gave freely of time, equipment and resources to enable the film’s production. In this way it was deeply collaborative.”

It takes time for artists to become embedded in the communities they’re working with. Projects are likely to develop over an extended period of engagement with a community. Estate: A Reverie was made over the course of 7 years during which Andrea Luka Zimmerman lived on the Haggerston Estate. Concrete Heartland draws on 12 years of archive recordings. Where Will We Live? draws on journalist and scriptwriter Elizabeth Winkler’s long-running engagement with issues of gentrification and redevelopment.

Another key feature of the kind of practice I’m endorsing is that it sets out to foster greater engagement in civic decision making. This is both a vital channel for the fight to save public housing and an essential component of community-led placemaking. As Susan Silberberg writes, “When people come together to flex their civic muscles, to test their political voice and to deliberate, disagree, decide and act, they are imbuing their actions and the resulting product of public space with identities, worldviews, cultures and traditions … [Community-led placemaking] provides an opportunity to rebuild social and political capital after the 20th-century decline in an active and local political voice in communities.”

Concrete Heartland and Estate: A Reverie offer a retrospective insight into the failure of democratic process, but there are many ongoing fights to save council blocks. Public performances and screenings can be a rallying cry for ongoing activism. This is clearly the aim of Land of Three Towers which will have its first performance as part of an afternoon of workshops and housing activism skill-shares during the Whose London is this Anyway? Festival at Camden People’s Theatre in January.

In some cases there is a strong basis for legal action – where local authorities have signally failed to fulfil their duty to consult with existing residents about redevelopment plans, for example. The recent legal victory of the residents of the Cressingham Gardens estate shows that it is possible to challenge local authorities through legal channels and win. The legal expertise involved needs to be shared with other groups facing similar struggles.

It’s interesting to consider whether local history research could be a productive angle to pursue in relation to radical placemaking. The importance of local history in relation to place is well established. As Susan Silberberg writes, “[The failure of top-down placemaking to consider] local identity and history represents a missed opportunity to produce uniquely different places, each reflecting the the context of culture, geography, history and identity of the specific place and its users.”

Eastern Angle’s project 40 Years On is a good example of a project combining local historical research and theatremaking in Peterborough. The project was built on a community research exercise employing oral history and archival research, leading to a number of performance outcomes. (8)

A local historical approach has the potential to open up funding opportunities (Heritage Lottery Funding for example) and lends itself well to partnership working with local museums and libraries (especially where a local archive is held by the local library). In this respect it aligns very well with Arts Council England’s funding priorities.

I hope this essay provides an insight into the energetic range of practice currently addressing the issue of gentrification and the redevelopment of public housing in London. This practice combines elements of housing activism with socially engaged arts practice. It involves artists working with communities to celebrate the value of what will be lost if redevelopment goes ahead, to raise wider awareness of the threat of redevelopment and to facilitate resistance. In doing so it returns the concept of placemaking to its origins as a community-led activity.

Historically placemaking has happened ‘by accident’ as the inhabitants of a place have gone about making it their own. In the current economic and political context it’s clear that this process is under huge pressure. Socially engaged arts practice can play an important role in pushing back against economic and political forces and helping the voices of communities to be heard.

 

Notes:

(1) As Susan Silberberg argues in a recent article for the RSA, there is a need to reclaim the concept of placemaking and return it to its original use describing the work of urban sociologists who “put communities and people ahead of sterile design aesthetics and the thirst for clean, orderly and chaos-free cities, advocating instead for the complexity and seeming disorder of multifaceted neighbourhoods, the layers of history and culture that make our cities the rich, interesting places they are.” Silberberg, S. The Common Thread; Placemaking has traditionally focused on ‘place’, it’s time ‘making’ got a look in, published in the RSA Journal, Issue 3 2015

(2) As Saskia Sassen puts it, “Cities are the spaces where those without power get to make a history and a culture, thereby making their powerlessness complex… But it is this possibility – the capacity to make a history, a culture and so much more – that is today threatened by the surge in large-scale corporate re-development of cities… We are seeing a systemic transformation in the pattern of land ownership in cities: one that alters the historic meaning of the city. Such a transformation has deep and significant implications for equity, democracy and rights.” From Who owns our cities – and why this urban takeover should concern us all, Guardian online, published Tuesday 24th November 2015 http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/24/who-owns-our-cities-and-why-this-urban-takeover-should-concern-us-all?CMP=share_btn_fb

(3) Dr Paul Watt, quoted in Minton A. Developers at London’s property fair are plotting how to demolish our homes, Guardian online, published Wednesday 21st October 2015 http://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2015/oct/21/mipim-uk-london-property-fair-developers-demolish-homes

(4) See www.estatefilm.co.uk

(5) See Ball, S. & Novaković, R. artist statement at http://concreteheartland.info/

(6) See http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/archives/where-will-we-live/ and https://medium.com/@ewinkler/where-will-we-live-af8cc640d14b#.xw3txxbwk

(7) See https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1629314913/land-of-the-three-towers

(8) See http://www.vivacity-peterborough.com/libraries-and-archives/forty-years-on/

 

Prime Minister’s Questions, 16th September 2015

Good to see some genuine debate at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions.

Cameron repeatedly falls back on the idea that we need a strong growing economy, and that only he and the Tories can ensure this.

I take issue with the kind of economic growth the Tories are promoting for a number of reasons –

– Because they are signally failing to address systemic structural issues of the kind that caused the 2008 crisis, necessitating bailing out the banks – a massive transfer of wealth from public funds to the private sector which created the deficit.

– Because the rewards of the kind of economic growth the Tories are promoting aren’t shared equally. Austerity measures mean that for the first time since the industrial revolution, most people aren’t getting any better off. Meanwhile a small economic elite are claiming obscene levels of pay.

Labour need to find ways to challenge the Tories on this.

I’ve got a feeling I might have to buy a copy of Paul Mason’s #Postcapitalism…

Can anyone lend me a copy of Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism? otherwise I’ll have to buy one and – you know…

Also I’m interested to discuss his central premise(s).

I can see that technology is enabling a new type of consciousness. I can see that there is more potential for radical networks to develop now than there was before. I like to think I’m part of some.

I can also accept his argument that we live in increasingly immaterial times.

But does this really imply the end of capitalism as we know it??

Some of my concerns/questions are –

– that the social change the internet facilitates is happening on a relatively superficial level. Can it really precipitate the kind of change he heralds??

– although parts of the economy have shifted towards the immaterial, in some ways we remain stubbornly dependent on real, offline ‘things’. Things like furniture and food. And fossil fuels.

– Yes we can point to and celebrate and take part in alternatives to capitalism-as-we-know-it, but still the machinery of capitalism grinds on on a vast scale. Driving economic inequality the likes of which have never been seen. Driving environmental devastation. And hasn’t there always been a sharing economy?

– The capitalism of today has evolved beyond being tied to things in the way it once was. I’m not convinced by Paul Mason’s arguments in relation to financialisation, the ubiquity and influence of the markets etc.

Politics Workshops

Let’s Get Democracy Working is an ongoing series of workshops & events.

The purpose of the project is to open up spaces for thinking about what’s wrong with our democracy and how we can help to make it work better.

I’m currently making a banner to display in public spaces with the aim of drawing people in/provoking some interesting conversations

2015-08-24 13.27.01

I’m also writing a guide to citizen lobbying. This is a work in progress here – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bi36WbAtMx8G59NE3BczPOXdy5yOrEvC7MIrEnRIe1U/edit?usp=sharing

The plan is to make this into an A5 pamphlet to hand out.

I’m getting there with the text but I’d really appreciate some help making this communicate visually. If you have ideas/time/energy to work on this please drop me a line on hugochapman[at]hotmail.co.uk

Someone needs to make a film about a community energy project

I’m reading solar energy entrepreneur Jeremy Legget’s excellent ‘Winning the carbon War’ at the moment. I just got to a bit where he goes to meet Roger Harrabin at the BBC to talk about how the Beeb can cover renewable energy better –

“Roger opens our meeting. I am very aware that there is an immense economic upheaval underway in society, he says, a complete energy transition, and that we are not covering it at all well. I read a lot of things about how clean energy is exploding, and I get it about the crossover into storage and transport. I accept that there is a major running story around the carbon bubble too, as yet largely untold on television. But to tell these stories on the news, I need moving pictures. It can’t be solar farms or solar lanterns. It can’t be rooms full of investment bankers.

You seem to be saying that we are at a newsworthiness disadvantage, I say, because we can’t do stuff like exploding oil rigs, burning oil trains, and oil-caked pelicans.”

“It can’t be solar farms

Why not Roger??

Someone needs to make a film about one of the many fantastic community energy projects that are happening all over the UK.

I’m annoyed that I didn’t think of this in time to film Reach Community Solar Farm in development. They’ve achieved their funding target now so my gut tells me that a lot of the drama has happened already.

But this is exactly the kind of project that makes renewable energy a ‘moving’ story. Emotionally. An audience will be seeing a group of people taking the responsibility for sorting out the energy transition we need to make into their own hands. And overcoming obstacles to make it work.

An absolutely fantastic story to be telling right now.

You can download The Winning of The Carbon War free here

should UK government be worried about legal action on climate commitments?

A Dutch environmental group recently took the Dutch government to court over failure to meet its climate commitments – and won. (1)

In Washington a judge ordered Washington Department of Ecology to reconsider a petition asking for carbon dioxide reductions organised by eight young people. (2)

Should the UK government be worried about similar legal action?

Let’s examine the evidence.

In recent times the Tories have –

– announced the expansion of the Climate Change Levy to renewables, combined with further tax breaks for fossil fuels (3)

– made changes to planning laws that will make it more difficult if not impossible to build new onshore wind, whilst bending over backwards to facilitate the development of fracking in the UK (4)

– announced that the zero carbon homes policy will be scrapped (5)

– shown signs of a possible U-turn on airport expansion

They’ve been able to do this without any significant political opposition. Labour are still in a state of disarray, and the Lib Dems’ influence has been dramatically reduced.

If the Tory cabinet continue to show this level of disdain for their obligations in terms of climate legal action may well become appropriate.

A coalition of environmental groups and progressive business could already be starting to prepare the case against.

Know anyone who can help..?

*

(1) https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27774-dutch-government-loses-worlds-first-climate-liability-lawsuit/#.VZ_h_6ESwr1

(2) http://www.westernlaw.org/article/washington-state-youth-win-unprecedented-decision-their-climate-change-lawsuit-press-release

(3) More on this here from the Campaign Against Climate Change- http://www.campaigncc.org/emergencybudget & here from Friends of the Earth – http://www.foe.co.uk/blog/like-making-apple-juice-pay-alcohol-tax-clean-energy-faces-carbon-tax

(4) http://www.campaigncc.org/fracking_wind_local_democracy

(5) http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/10/uk-scraps-zero-carbon-home-target

*

Some responses –

Screenshot from 2015-07-14 08:38:17 Screenshot from 2015-07-14 08:38:52 Screenshot from 2015-07-14 08:39:33 Screenshot from 2015-07-14 08:55:52Screenshot from 2015-07-14 09:48:04Screenshot from 2015-07-14 12:20:29Screenshot from 2015-07-14 12:21:09

the social psychology of citizen lobbying

I’m interested in what research has been done into the social psychology of citizen lobbying.

I’m particularly interested in how politicians respond to criticism vs how they respond to positive affirmation, how this changes depending on how well they know the person dishing out the criticism/affirmation and what the implications are for the relationship between the politician and the person dishing out the criticism/affirmation.

My guess is that politicians (like people in general) are much more likely to listen to people they feel are ‘on their side’. Be great to know if research backs this up.

I’m also interested in how ‘groupthink’ can develop which allows a small group to ignore almost any amount of criticism from ‘the outside’. My sense is that this factor is at play in the way our democracy works at the moment. A small political elite seem able to insulate themselves from the voices of the many.

I’m interested to find out more as research for the guide to citizen lobbying I’m writing – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1E4IlbJf7btLDKAECsqww_V8GArm2c8bxs5j2kF2eGxk/edit

Links to relevant research much appreciated.