Wednesday, June 28, 2017

For Imaginary Development: A Playtime? Place of Business?

Palle Nielsen's "The Model for a Qualitative Society," produced indoors in Sweden in 1968.

So yesterday I went to the “Imagine Madrid” meeting at Matadero to hear all about that program of participatory urban development. It's part of the municipalist city government of Ahora Madrid's expansion of the brief of their cultural agency, Intermediae. The project directors gave their pitch to an audence of architects, artists, profesors about Madrid city's solicitation of proposals to make designs for disused or under-used public spaces in Madrid. This was as I saw it a relatively normal kind of meeting between a city commssioning agency and a bunch of interested professionals. The political question it opens of course, is what of the social movements? What role can they play? The citizens' assemblies, the social centers of popular organization – are they invited to make proposals as well? And would these proposals have any chance of surivival in the winnowing process of selection? Could it be that the ideas of citizens living in the area might be better than those of architects? Well, the problem is how to gather those....
There is a process of collaboration built into the development of all these projects. But how it will work is fairly unclear, and it is a ways down the road, after the proposals are made. The commissions themselves – 40 to 70K euros – are pretty small. So they would fund only ephemeral temporary projects, not any kind of real built infrastructure. (Maybe something of wood, or demountable steel tubing, or an inflatable could be possible.)
So it becomes something like a prestige project for an architect or group that needs a resume item. Because they sure won't make a living off it, unless they are able to corral several of the sites under one plan.
I mentioned some of this to my friend in Intermediae. She was of the opinion that the whole thing was happening too fast, and that it should be circulated rather more privately to the professionals rather than in an open call. People in social movements were already angry about the Vallekas projects, and Intermediae had to field a lot of complaints.
Well, maybe there could be a different way of doing this? One that puts to work the volunteer energies of citizens in a way that achieves actual results? We'll see how it plays out. It's a good start, but seems rather in a way timid. All the city agencies of culture and development, however, have to deal with the reality of the bureaucracy that is – despite the best intentions of many of its functionaries – as Ana Méndez said, that is a system "designed against us" (my blog post of June 15, 2017).
I can't go to these kinds of presentations without having my own ideas. It's almost like a kind of disease with me, I'm afraid. I imagine myself an architect, while I am only a reporter. My thoughts this time included a rotating Feria de Economia Solidaridad y Vecinos Artesenales going around to all the sites. And a “cardboard city” like the adventure playgrounds built by children, constructed under the watchful eye of young facilitators and watched at night by security guards. This would also rotate amongst the sites. The first of these projects would be about building economic structures that were market-based, but not capitalist – in other words, answering the question of one professor at the presentation about how these projects would include businesses, typical, he said, of these kinds of civic activation proposals. (Cities usually usually just offer business concessions in public places as an activation strategy.) As cooperatives and artisans, of course! The second project is just about play, fantasy, and the kind of spontaneous construction that takes place when you give kids a golden opportunity to build and run things by themselves. We see it in controlled and commodified form, in amusement parks and in – god help us – work-a-day play centers in childrens' museums. The post-war adventure playground movement was totally different, and largely forgotten today.
Artist Nils Norman has done work on that, archiving the traces of what amounted to a philosophy of childhood radically different from that of today. Palle Nielsen's "The Model for a Qualitative Society," produced indoors in Sweden in 1968 is the most well-known (though little-known as well) example of this. Ah '68! Those visions of liberty never die.
I contacted Madrid La Feria de la economía solidaria, which produces the annual event at Matadero, and also a website called Pop Up Adventure Play in UK to suggest they make proposals. It would be good to circulate the proposals as well to social centers if there are some in the areas of the sites. They could begin their own process of imagining, or 'collective production of desires' as did the developers of Hamburg's Park Fiction called it in the mid-1990s.
Anyhow, I wrote a couple of emails and forgot about it. Got to move on, y'kno...


Imagina Madrid: 9 Lugares por transformar

Nils Norman's archive (see also other links):

text about Palle Nielsen's project in 1968; this was included in the landmark 2014 exhibition “Playgrounds” at MACBA and MNCARS, Spain. There's a book about it, as well.:
The uncredited photo at top is from this blog post where The Model was remembered in Liverpool:

The annual fair of solidarity economy in Madrid:

Pop Up Adventure Playgrounds blog:
Park Fiction, Hamburg development process (lots more on line); the archive of citizens' desires is the part of the project that never got built:


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