Tuesday, 27 July 2004

Managing the public realm On Friday I was at a CABE Space seminar on 'alternative models for financing and resourcing urban green space.' All sorts of insights into how developers and investors might be persuaded to do this and that, and what sort of agencies - with or without local accountability - might deliver most efficiently and effectively. I was heartened to learn that CABE Space have a research project at the moment on 'the economic value of urban green space' and the report should be available later this year. The point was made that parks are perhaps the quintessential 'public good' and I've been wondering about that. Twenty or thirty years ago would we have argued that other resources - water for instance - are a public good and should therefiore be the subject of public ownership? When water shortages began to occur some years ago, and standpipes became a feature of summer life, I recall someone making the point that, when the service was publicly owned, peope would save water: they'd have a good moan about it, but they would reduce their use. With privatisation, behaviour changed, and people didn't see why they should save water when someone was making money out of their use of it. Related to this, when we're talking about responsibility for the management of local green spaces, there's a question about how a place gets perceived as being a community space, a civic space, or a public space. These are all grades of the public realm, but the less attention we give to the middle category, it seems to me, the harder it becomes to ensure a widespread sense of ownership over public resources. CABE Space recently published a report on international exemplars of urban green space management.
Social tapestries Giles Lane has published an essay on the new Urban Tapestries programme, Social Tapestries. "The Social Tapestries experiments will offer a platform to devise and understand actual uses of public authoring by people going about their everyday lives. By designing and implementing a series of experiments in real world situations, Social Tapestries will aim to reveal the potential of public authoring to:• create and support relationships that transcend existing social and cultural boundaries; • enable the development of new social and creative practices based around place, identity and community; • reveal the limits and potential costs (as well as benefits) that such technologies also imply.Experiments are being devised for:• education: looking at how local informal knowledges can be gathered, represented, understood and shared by schoolchildren. • community arts and regeneration: working with artists and arts organisations as facilitators for local communities in regeneration contexts. • social housing: exploring how new forms of neighbourliness could emerge where existing physical structures (such as tower blocks) create barriers. • local government: assessing the impacts on communities of locally specific information gathered by municipal and police services and possibilities for interaction." A couple of points in the essay struck me as I sat being distracted by the Here-Now of the birdloud garden reading it over an early coffee. (Tsssk, what a drag when the here and now is distracting you from thinking about Elsewhere-Then). First, an assertion that not only is the social and cultural construction of our environments more about place than about location - (of course, we might all say); but that it is "as much a group or commmunity activity as that of the individual." Secondly, some insights into the meaning of "presence" which, given the technologies of remote communication, include the "asynchronous inhabitation of place." This is about developments that imply meaningful presence in a remote elsewhere because of the possibility of remote sharing experience of that place. Bring it on.

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