Resisting Heathrow’s Expansion through Dwelling

Mural on the wall of an Indian restaurant in the center of Sipson, image available here

Resistance against the expansion of Heathrow Airport has been led largely by an off-grid, eco-utopian community (…) the protesters originally occupied the site of derelict plant nursery in 2010 (…) The principal living space has been created from a greenhouse dating from the time of the plant nursery, one of many that once populated the neighborhood and whose passing was lamented in the mural opposite the post office (…) Some of the dwellings within the enclosure take the form of tree houses (…) whereby beams are secured to trees in such a way that the rope does not cut into the trunk; as the trunk swells with moisture, the ropes slacken to accommodate the process. This ancient practice is indicative of a wider and reciprocal duty of care that exists between tree and protester (…) dwelling as an internal psychological state that can produce oppositional political effects (…) Here dwelling is not about oppositional action; it is about the inhabitation of a site in order to produce a quasi-autonomous sphere in which the politics of its occupants are performed (…) The consideration given to scale, quality, and the public display of lifestyle preferences might be counted as another form of the tactical knowledge that is being cultivated at Grow Heathrow (…) The process of becoming a permanent camp resident is protracted, requiring a series of trial periods; a tent provides the flexibility and portability to make possible these short-term commitments.

Nicholas Ferguson, Dwelling as Resistance, Places Journal, full article available here

Participatory Budgeting

Image available here

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a form of direct democracy at the local level, where all citizens state annually prioritized sectors to be financed before allocating investment resources in projects of their choice in those sectors. It has four key moments: diagnosis, deliberation, decision-making and follow-up (…) The epitome of PB is Porto Alegre (…) Five criteria required to qualify a PB: all citizens participate to the choice of the allocation of resources, this occurs at an administrative level of power (for example a town, but not a quarter), this process has to be repeated over years, a deliberation must take place in a specific institution, and finally citizens should be informed ex post of the status of the budget and the projects (…) The city government’s “Presentation of Accounts” from the previous year marks the beginning of the PB process in March-April. From April until May, regional and thematic assemblies take place with the objectives of establishing thematic priorities by voting, electing councilors for each region, defining the number of delegates, and repeating the budget review for the preceding year at the local level (…) These meetings are open to all citizens and constitute the central and most inclusive component of the process (…) The five thematic areas discussed in the PB at city-level assemblies are: transport and traffic; education, leisure, and culture; health and social welfare; economic development and taxation; and organization of the city, urban and environmental development. (…) One of the main reasons why Brazilian reforms have moved so quickly after the dictatorship has been the passing of a new Constitution in 1988. This Constitution strengthened municipal autonomy, validated the participation of community groups in municipal decision-making, and attributed important social and economic policy functions to municipal authorities (…) there are four keys for a PB to be successful: a strong mayoral support, an active civil society, self-ruling given to citizens for the mechanisms of the PB, and consequent financial resources to fund the projects selected by citizens (…) The main findings are: a better allocation of resources (more equitably and appropriately distributed among sectors and communities), an increase in the financing of basic needs, and a more inclusive, less corrupted democracy.

Adrien Frank, An Overview of Participatory Budgeting, 2015

Porto Alegre, the coordinative model of a smart city

Image available here

(Olivio) Dutra (Workers’ Party) was elected mayor of Porto Alegre with 34% of the votes (…) Dutra’s term as mayor of Porto Alegre, starting in 1989 and ending in 1992, was the first of four consecutive terms of the Workers’ Party in the city, totaling 16 years of administration (…) Porto Alegre became a sort of display cabinet for the party in the rest of Brazil: A place where it experimented successful and innovative initiatives such as participatory budgeting (…) participatory budgeting has led to direct improvements in facilities in Porto Alegre (…) According to Fedozzi and Costa, this system has been recognized as a successful experience of interaction between people and the official administrative spheres in public administration and, as such, has gained a broad impact on the political scene nationally and internationally, being interpreted as a strategy for the establishment of an active citizenship in Brazil.

Wiki & Wiki

The process began in loose neighbor assemblies (…) access was open (…) the data were organized so that they could be debated (…) Conflicts between neighborhoods were dealt with by elected reps (…) The system flourished for 20 years but was later squashed down by top down power (…) it began to loose coherence (…) vast waves of migrants were not integrated (…) with the advent of big data, smartphone etc, it is now possible again to coordinate participation at a megacity scale (…) a system including organized, debatable data, online chatrooms that assemble views and feedback is now running in over 250 Brazilian cities (…) use of technology helps people choose (…) people have to get engaged in the data, interpreting it (hermeneutic) and acting on it (…) the coordinative city is democratic whereas the prescriptive is authoritarian

Richard Sennett’s, Building and Dwelling, Penguin Books, 2019, pp. 164-165
Porto Alegre – RS, 11.05.2011 Temática de Habitação, Organização da Cidade, Desenvolvimento Urbano e Ambiental. Local: Teatro Dante Barone – Assembléia Legislativa Foto: Ivo Gonçalves/PMPA, Image available here

Songdo, the prescriptive model of a smart city

An overview of the Central Park in Songdo, seen from the Observatory on the 29th floor of G-Tower. 18.08.15, image available here

Built on a polder of 600 hectares reclaimed from the Yellow Sea  (…) The idea was to create a genuine ‘business centre in North-East Asia’, attracting investment from all over the world and offering an unrivalled quality of living which would serve as a model to be exported (…) Songdo is also a town under constant surveillance: 500 cameras ensure total grid coverage to regulate the traffic or detect ‘suspicious’ behaviour. Even the opening of a sewer cover is immediately notified to the IFEZ management centre in one of the towers in Songdo (…) As to the environmental aspect, the town, whose name means ‘Pine Island’, is built on a coastal strip which used to be known for the wealth of its ornithology, and includes 32% of green space as compared with 21% in Seoul (…) Sterile and soul-less, the city looks different from Korean cities. There are no poor people, no street vendors, no old people

Le Monde, full article available here

(Songdo) originally conceived as a weapon fighting trade wars (…) to entice multinationals to set up Asian operations with lower taxes and less regulation (…) big tech was added to make the city more attractive (…) technologically mediated/regulated environment (…) control center (cock pit) has an array of giant screens showing what is happening to the city’s air quality; electricity usage; traffic flows; etc (…) the control center makes the interpretation of what any of this information means (…) the whole city operates at the behest of the big data assemblages (…) (Songdo) it embodies a prescriptive model of smart city, a city in the sense of a luxury good (…) it is not smart at all: it operates in a stupefying way

Excerpt from Richard Sennett’s, Building and Dwelling, Penguin Books, 2019, pp. 159-163

Festinger’s Research on Cognitive Dissonance

Image available here

Cognitive Dissonance – Definition: The concept was developed in the 1950s by American psychologist Leon Festinger. It is the mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The unease or tension that the conflict arouses in people is relieved by one of several defensive maneuvers: they reject, explain away, or avoid the new information; persuade themselves that no conflict really exists; reconcile the differences; or resort to any other defensive means of preserving stability or order in their conceptions of the world and of themselves. People need to maintain consistency between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Simply put, once we form an opinion on a particular topic, we refuse to believe anything contrary to our beliefs; even going as far as to reject factual information to rationalize our own opinion (Medium).

Experiment No 1- Mrs. Keech’s flying saucer: Festinger posed as believer to a group of followers to a Mrs Keech who thought extraterrestrial beings would rescue true believers. He wanted to see how the group would react in case her prophecy didn’t materialize; in fact, the more committed members started to proselytize through newspapers ” as enlisting social support for their belief to lessen the pain of its disconfirmation.”

Experiment No 2 – The forced-compliance paradigm: participating subjects performed a series of repetitive and boring mental tasks and then were asked to lie to the “next subject” (actually an experimental accomplice) and say that the tasks were interesting and enjoyable. Some subjects were paid $1 for lying, while others were paid $20 (…) the subjects who were paid $1 for lying later evaluated the tasks as more enjoyable than those who were paid $20. The subjects who were paid $20 should not have experienced dissonance, because they were well rewarded and had ample justification for lying, whereas those paid $1 had little justification for lying and should have experienced cognitive dissonance. To reduce the dissonance, they reevaluated the boring task as interesting and enjoyable.

Experiment No3 – Pigeons: Festinger used cages where various obstacles hid the watering tubes or their feed troughs. While some pigeons were disoriented, others became more alert; when confronted with dissonant circumstances, the birds had developed a capacity to focus on the dissonance itself. Festinger believed that humans, like other animals, become more cognitively alert by struggling with complicated realities, rather than walking away from them* (R. Sennett: Building and Dwelling, Penguin Books, 2019, pp. 157)

*Remember Neuroplasticity and the comparison between taxi and bus drivers

Baby Cages (?!)

Baby cages , image available here

(…) these were actual mesh cages suspended from apartment windows, much like a window-unit air conditioner would be today (…) it was believed that babies who are exposed to daylight during the afternoon hours slept better than those who were not (…) Invented in the United States in 1922, baby cages really took off in London in the 1930s and allowed for city-dwelling moms to offer their young ones a bit of fresh air when heading down to the local park just wasn’t an option (…) The cages became popular in London in the 1930s among apartment dwellers without access to backyards (…) Once installed, a caretaker could simply place their tot inside the wire basket and go about tending the home

Excerpts available here and here

Social Cartography

Leonardo da Vinci, Town plan of Imola (first ever use of planar view instead of perspective), image available here

Social Maps Definition/History: maps whose purpose is to represent specific aspects of society at a given time and place, (usually statistical data put on a map)/ they emphasize the power of space in shaping society over time/ in its earliest incarnation, the social map was concerned with epidemic disease, particularly cholera/ later in the nineteenth century the perceived problem of mass migration to the growing cities led to the application of segregation as a political device to separate disparate populations/ the use of mapping as a tool of social investigation reached its peak with the emergence of a science of social investigation in the 1880s/ maps shifted from having a symbolic power to having a descriptive (arguably scientific) power/ they used dots and circles or cloropleth maps of different shades/ these helped hypothesize on the actual causes of diseases or crime and poverty/ London was forefront to cartographic innovation due to mass urbanization and the need to manage a diverse, densely crowded population

Maps are social constructions, whose integrity as scientific objects is limited to how precise they are when taking account of their scale and similar measurable parameters. As soon as decisions start to be made on selection of data and the way in which those data are to be presented on maps, the social and political context in which they were created will start to influence how they are read. Once this fact is recognized, one can get beyond the traditional criticism of maps and start to consider what they are in reality: objects laden with meaning, which reflect the context of their creation. Yet maps continue to be incredibly useful for capturing data as well as for providing a starting point for analyzing those data statistically.

Inherent weaknesses: stat errors/ positioning can affect how the world is viewed/ they are influenced by the social and political context they are created in/ their study in rapidly changing populations impose a false appearance of stability/ as records it is essential to take into account the historical time they were created in/ iconographic: color can carry powerful moral connotations, it can also be used for propaganda/ by drawing boundaries around people other from themselves, European powers defined the separation of the center from the periphery/ the complex use of space belies the normal approach to interpreting segregated social space, which tends to focus on the residential location of a minority group, overlooking their opportunities for movement across the city, throughout the day and the week/ not all spatial arrangements are a direct reflection of the societies: more complex societies are normally comprised of a structured non-correspondence

Notes and excerpt from Laura Vaughan’s: “Mapping Society: The Spatial Dimensions of Social Cartography,” UCL Press, 2018