by Linda Carroli
Enabling Suburbs is about experiments that enable suburban communities to speculate about the future and engineer, envision and enact change. It is also about developing collaborative partnerships between communities and practitioner. Each of us, as urban practitioners, is proposing initiatives or thought experiments that engage this possibility for change at a micropolitical level. At present, I am working on a project titled Long Time, No See? as a Community Catalyst with an interdisciplinary team of artists and designers. As an Australia Council funded Broadband Arts Initiative, developed by media artist and QUT researcher Dr Keith Armstrong and interaction designer Dr Gavin Sade, the project is intended to utilise the capabilities of high speed broadband in an artistic endeavour. Long Time, No See? is an online art and technology project that will engage with several Brisbane communities (and beyond) to imagine the long term future, something that doesn’t really happen in planning process. The project draws on Tony Fry’s ideas of futuring and sustainment to enrich understanding of the idea of a ‘future with a future’ – that our current condition of growth at all costs is ‘defuturing’ in that it takes the future away or closes the future as a result of humanity’s unrelenting consumption of resources in a finite world. Consequently, there is a need to ‘make time’ and to address alternative schemas of progress and development.
As the first high speed broadband enabled areas in the city, Aspley and Brisbane’s north will host the pilot for the project’s community and artistic engagement. Through innovative storytelling and mapping capabilities, the project will develop new understandings about our place, our environment, our community and our future through social media and content sharing. The intention is to engage communities in a process of visioning the long term future in a way that creates links between the local and the global, the everyday and distant future. This requires a cultural approach to change and futuring founded on dialogue and the generation of new stories.
One of the central aspects of high speed broadband is the way in which communities can form and mobilise around activities that are consistent with the Enabling Suburbs objective – collaboratively and collectively imagining and creating a better future (by better, we mean sustainable, equitable, responsible and respectful). There are warnings here too – technology is not the answer. In this venture, artists, planners and designers are facilitators of or catalysts for that community engagement, creating tools and platforms for communities to use in the charting of this future. The first iteration of this project is playing out in Brisbane’s north, with a specific focus on Aspley as an organising centre for the project. This project is really happening; it is not a proposition.
As the Community Catalyst, I am developing a multilayered approach to engaging communities and residents – creatively, pedagogically, phronetically. As an urban practitioner, I understand that, as Healey says, planning should not be regarded “merely as an enterprise in imagining futures but as a practice of bringing imagined futures into being” (2010, p. x). Weaving this into the creative enterprise of Long Time, No See? makes for a potent belief that we can make a difference through our extension into the assemblage of suburban existence or ontology. Importantly, planning can be both macropolitical and micropolitical. While it may be difficult for any of us to change planning at the macropolitical level, we can certainly address undertake collaboration and cooperation as a micropolitics of change. Flyvbjerg’s proposal for phronetic planning research intends “to clarify values, interests, and power relations in planning as a basis for praxis” (Flyvbjerg, 2004, p. 290). If the artistic, designerly and plannerly projects can share anything, it is perhaps a commitment to praxis (as movement) and phronesis (as disposition) as the modalities for relational and intersubjective engagements. In outlining Heidegger’s analysis of phronesis, Wikipedia notes that phronesis is “a mode of comportment in and toward the world, a way of orienting oneself and thus of caring-seeing-knowing and enabling a particular way of being concerned.” Clearly, there are socio-cultural aspects of these projects that are often overlooked and essential for the task of ‘enabling’.
Long Time, No See? is endeavouring to develop this enabling momentum through a carefully designed community engagement process. My place-based priority is the relational dimensions of place, community, governance and environment. I considered processes like learning circles and arts-based approaches such as University of the Trees with a view to addressing a loose micropolitical or grassroots governance. Too many people seem to participate in engagement processes in a ‘non-participatory’ way. The inherent contradiction of mainstream approaches to public participation is to engender a kind of ‘non-participation’, an engaged disengagement. And so, having been involved in several Design Futures masterclasses and hothouses with Fry, this thought experiment is about creating a platform for ‘caring-seeing-knowing’ to enable a particular way of being concerned in a suburban community. Phronesis has that element of lived experience – the case by case – that is grounded in the everyday and activated through human agency. Case by case, in this sense, means the micropolitics and specifics of place and intersubjectivity as the determinants or shape of process, deliberation and difference, and realisation of potential. It’s about activation as a transformative dynamic.
The proposition has an element of provocation embedded in it together with a recognition of limitation. All we can do, as the artistic team, is create the platforms for others to use and enable their use as the basis for their community action. These platforms consist of (a) a technological artefact, being an online generative and interactive artwork and (b) some tools and processes for interested members of the public to access and use in their own creative articulations of change or difference such as workshops and social networks. The participants themselves create and strengthen the networks. The work can only be successful if people engage with it over time – in other words the engagement or participation is not an end in itself, but rather is directed to some change.
In the Long Time, No See? project the Community Catalyst process involves providing a couple of entry points into the project so that the community network can continue to develop after our initial period of research and development. Therefore one aim is to grow a network of people and enable participants to engage with interesting and complex questions about sustainability, community and the future. The project team is developing a multi-streamed approach comprised of face to face, peer to peer and DIY approaches, with the first iteration of the project to occur in Aspley in February 2013 at a favoured local coffee shop, Cup from Above, which is already serving an important social function as a third space. So we are activating the principle of using and working with what already exists in our locality. The project creates a space to explore rather than presupposes the solution or the response. It enables participants to create new stories and to discover or rediscover their connections with each other and place. It also seeks to ensure that participants are enabled to continue to contribute to, work on and collaborate in Long Time, No See?
Fundamentally, my design proposition is a redesign of the engagement process itself, as the foundation of a socially productive and constructive approach to learning, knowing and caring. Long Time, No See? is a frame for this. In its entirety, Long Time, No See? enables an engagement built on complexity, multiplicity, reflexivity and difference, recognising the politics and power embedded in and stripped out of everyday life. This community engagement dimension seeks to imbue awareness, through processes of negotiation, conversation and exchange, of the kinds of social relations, gatherings and dynamics that will not only catalyse communities of change, but also seed an awareness of a future with a future.