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Intro to Street Training for architects and planners
Submitted by Lottie on Fri, 2010-08-27 14:18
Venice Street Training August 28th
Welcome to your Street Training program. Street Training is a name for all the joyful, funny, subversive, responsive or poetic things people do as we use the streets. And everyone does things over and above just walking down the street with your walking down the street face on, going shopping and going to work as fast as possible. What do you do? Imagine what people are thinking, stop to smell flowers, secretly race people?
The Situationist Ralph Rumney who’s story is described by Adrian Dannatt in this fold out poster (to be found in the press packs) is said to have invented the word psychogeography – Debord’s definition of which is the study of the effects of place on the mood and emotions. Rumney came to Venice, commissioned to prepare a contribution for the first Situationist International publication; he didn’t complete it in time and was thrown out of the SI. He did produce a photo story, as are sometimes found in romantic magazines. His story includes photos of a child playing it says “A is aware of photographer and is showing off, nevertheless environment is clearly effecting his play pattern.”
Perhaps Street Training is also a martial art, which when practiced consistently makes incremental changes in the practitioner and their environment. Today we’re going out to train ourselves to be more observant and more responsive to what is around us and we’re going to learn these skills from children and other users of the locality.
Street Training developed in 2006 with two 24-hour walks in London during which I asked every one I encountered two questions: how to be safe in the streets? And how to be joyful in the streets? People loved the first question dog-walkers, toddlers, street cleaners and homeless people all waxed lyrical about the risks and dangers we all supposedly have in common in our shared public spaces. The most consistent answer was ‘don’t go out on the streets it’s dangerous’ It seemed the perception of danger was, for me at least disproportionate to the real risks. To the second question people couldn’t respond, it was a non- question. But one can always see children climbing low walls, chasing pigeons, mucking about and so perhaps joy is part of public life. I began to apprentice myself to children and young people to relearn what my social conditioning had undone: sensual, playful, humorous responses to the built environment and people using it. What I quickly realized was that I would get awarded an international art residency where one of the – people, frequently black and from economically deprived places would get a police caution or an antisocial behaviour order for exactly the same behaviour. I complied the accumulated research into ways of being safe and joyful into a number of Street Training Manuals – consisting of the path of joy and the path of safety, the most recent of which is the Rio Street Training Manual – soon to be published by the British Council in Sao Paulo.
Much research points to the presence of children playing as a marker of a healthy public space, yet children’s behavior can be seen as in an impediment to smoothly flowing commercial spaces and at worst genuinely playful behavior can be misrecognised as criminal. A shift in perceptions can help and the best way to do this is to step into children’s shoes, move as they move. In the UK contact between adults and children who are not related has been controlled and limited in fear of bodies spiraling out of control, The result of this is outside of families we live in a strictly age segregated society. Street Training sessions bring people with very different perspectives and approaches together, modeling behaviour, making friends and exchanging skills. And it is possible that sometimes architects and planners design for places they don’t want to go to for people they don’t want to meet. This approach requires tuning in, being physically present, moving and seeing in ways local people do. This absorption and close looking is at the heart of muf’s approach. Children are the experts but any behaviour that is seen as an obstruction to sanitized space – if understood and embodied can give clues to the layered nature of vibrant and successful public spaces. And as people from Doreen Massey, Rosalind Deutsch, Rebecca Solnitt and Chantal Mouffe write, public space is not previously harmonious space to which conflict befalls, public space is constituted by conflict.
So we go out to train let’s be aware that following desires other than the ones to produce and consume can require negotiation or incite conflict.
In June I first came to Venice to meet a group of school children in order to learn their ways, I introduced the session with a few skills and ideas that I had learnt in cities from Munich, to Brussels, Helsinki to Rio and ideas I’d had while wandering for the first time, responding to the textures, cultures and what I perceived as a mass sacrifice of the public spaces to tourism. A few desires I’d had were to bask in sunlight reflected by a window, stop to hear music from people’s homes, ring a doorbell and run away. The children proposed: rolling down the bridge, climbing the façade of the church. So some of the techniques I’ll demonstrate have been taught to me by Venetain teenagers.
I’m working with muf on a stretch of road near to my home in east London, presently called Mile End Road and soon to be called ‘High Street 2012’. I’ve been learning from my seven year old neighbour Tasmina engaging with her as she engages with the details, ephemera and experiences that the sparsely populated stretch (also known as the waste) has to offer. This child who has grown up in a place dominated by cars, with no scope for independent outdoor play found joy in the loose elements, such as a fallen bollard, the wind – by running along and letting her scarf fly behind her, the statues as climbing frames and the seemingly universal practice of chasing pigeons. I will demonstrate some of Tasmina’s techniques on Via Garibaldi which I have, in situationist tradition overlayed with Whitechapel High Street. When we walk along here in Venice we will also in some ways be in Mile End. The behaviours I’m learning from Venetains about how successful social, layered and complex spaces like Via Garibaldi work and taking them back to Mile End, to the Waste and the East London equivalent of bar Mio, the wooden shack called Billy Bunter’s that’s been selling tea to taxi drivers for years.
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