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Project relationships

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

People have been taking a lot recently about ‘joined up thinking’, usually in reference to large institutions or government policy, but what happens when we apply this concept on a smaller scale? During last week’s session, the Out Loud team began to see their projects in terms of their themes and not their methods (eg the noticeboard project became more about engagement and not simply about the provision of information). By exploring the projects in this way, Out Louders were better able to see the overlaps between each of their projects.

In order to explore this further, the team were engaged in a visualisation exercise. Each Out Louder was supplied with one sheet of A3 paper and one black marker and invited to draw how they saw all of the projects fitting together. With this exercise, the team began to understand the inter-relationship of all of their projects and identify the spaces where collaboration could happen. By the end of the evening, a decision was made by the team to join up and work more closely together.

JC-Tenement House.

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Tenement house built as part of an arts project by senior citizen in Macro Centre, North King Street.

JC-Old Debtors Prison.

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

The old debtors prison on Green Street, presently being restored.

Prototyping Process!

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

What did I hear?

Relating to the post-it topics previously blogged about, here are some of the quotes and observations  that led to those topics;

My Lack is About…

Ownership and citizenship.  There’s an anecdote I’ve heard which probably summarises it nicely;

A councilor was canvassing around some flats. A woman answered the door to him and when asked if she had any issues or problems, swung the door back and forth at him. It squeaked. She pointed in at her husband in the sitting room and said “His heart is broken, he’s up and down to the council everyday about it and they haven’t done a thing.”

Before you judge the woman in the story (whether real or fictional) think about every time you’ve complained to your landlord to fix something in your rented house; every time you’ve seen something wrong and said “Someone should do something about that” and not been that someone; every time you’ve ignored something because it wasn’t your problem. It’s easy to demand something be done by someone else if you feel it is outside of your remit, or that you’re not allowed to intervene. If you’ve been told you can’t decorate or perform DIY in your house, perhaps the natural assumption is that you shouldn’t oil the hinges either.

My Core Thesis

But where did that come from?

But what is the underlying ambition behind the motto? It implies that if there was ‘obedience’ to the law, if everyone followed the rules, harm would be minimised and everyone would be happy (if you read ‘happy city’ as ‘happy populous’).

If this were the literal case, if everyone obeyed the law and no more, then the city would certainly run more smoothly and no doubt be more pleasant overall. But shouldn’t we set our ambitions higher? If a person falls on the street and hurts themselves, there is no legal obligation to aid them.  Can we go above and beyond the demands of law? If instead of being told to ‘obey’, we were encouraged to be active, to create, to help?

I propose a new motto for Dublin city;

Feel free to correct my Latin.

Having responsibility means having a duty of care towards, or control over, someone or some thing. Coming from the same root as ‘response’, the word ‘responsibility’ as a concept is inextricably bound up with notions of control – personal or collective – and also entails a degree of action (response).

Just to reiterate:

Responsibility and control are two sides of the same coin. They feed into each other cyclically.

The net result of this cycle is a sense of ‘ownership’. Ownership is not something that can be bestowed on someone (outside of the literal sense of ‘owning’ something). As a concept it is merely the side effect of someone (or a group) having agency (control) and a perceived duty of care (responsibility).

For someone (or a group) to take ‘ownership’ of something, certain factors have to be present;

All these factors must be present (and usually in order, from bottom up). If any are missing, it is Somebody Else’s Problem.

In the above diagram, “Permission” can also be seen as falling into “Control” – as in, ‘it is potentially under your control’.

Some really everyday scenarios could be the following;

So, if we examine the six criteria for active ownership a little more closely:

“Can you IDENTIFY the problem”

To solve any problem, one must first be able to consciously and objectively recognise it. In addition it must be spotted early so it can be addressed before it becomes unmanageable and related problems must also be identified so that the solution works.  It is also important to address whether the problem is a symptom or a cause. If it is the former, then the underlying causes must be followed back until you can identify at which step in the chain you have the capability to intervene. Something may annoy you for years without you ever becoming aware of what the actual problem is. We simply, unthinkingly tolerate a bad situation because we are not mindful enough. A problem arises between what “should be” and what “is” and it is often difficult to identify what “should be”.

“Do you ACTIVELY want to solve it?”

You may identify a problem, you may have permission to address it, but if you don’t care, why would you ever do something? My bedroom is a mess, I’m certainly permitted to clean it, but once it stays below a certain volume of clutter, I don’t care and hence don’t tidy. Apathy can be more pernicious than simple tolerance of a situation, however. It is a serious social problem when considered as inherent passivity. The causes vary from group to group and may stem from enabled passivity (learned helplessness), consumerism (the demand for instant gratification), relinquishing control (submissiveness), generally not being held accountable for your actions and a thousand other reasons, depending on the individual or society in question.  Someone may not tidy their room because their mother does it for them so they don’t have to, because they allow someone else to do it, because nobody else ever puts pressure on them to do so (because it is not a shared space). To solve the problem of apathy, you must first discover what the root of it is in a certain scenario.

Do you feel you have (or can you get) PERMISSION?

Permission comes in three flavours;

Overt
Tacit
Irrelevant

Overt permission is when it is obvious that you are permitted to perform a certain action; it is directly stated. It may be that you can park in a car park or skate in a skate park. It is obviously impossible to list all of the activities you may perform in a given space because the possibilities are infinite. Overt permission does not rely on verbal or written signs. It can be communicated through objects. For example, it is possible to sit on any flat, solid surface, but the presence of a bench states “This is a place for sitting”. Our society tends (at least verbally) toward the opposite tack – listing the activities you are not allowed to perform (No dogs, no smoking, no ball games, etc.), because when it comes to the fuzzy middle ground of things you may or may not do (where it is unclear which activity is permitted or not) damage limitation (forbidding certain activities) is preferable to encouragement (stating which you may do). This approach is endemic in Ireland, leading to people generally presuming that a given activity would be prohibited (following from the precedent of the “No”s). We could describe this as tacit non-permission (more on that below).

One particular project which plays with the idea of overt permission is “Freezone” by Bosch & Fjord, which displayed signs around Copenhagen suggesting certain activities in given areas. For example, meditation areas, prayer zones, picnic spots and kissing areas.

The creators state that these signs “created free zones where one was allowed to deviate from conformity” but I have my doubts. It may have just created a localised conformity to slightly unusual behaviours and it is questionable (though not impossible) whether the participants realised that their activities could be performed anywhere and not just in these temporary zones.

Tacit permissions are given when a precedent is set somehow. For example, although it is obvious that you may park in a car park, on many streets it is not clear. In cases like this, people will generally look to see if someone else has performed the same action before doing it themselves. Tacit permissions are about setting a precedent or implying a permission somehow. This is dependent on at least one person deciding that permission is irrelevant.

Irrelevant permission doesn’t really exist. Ostensibly it describes a situation where someone decides that permission for a certain action is irrelevant to them. For example, someone on a bike may break a red light to make a left turn because the risk is minimal and the reward is good; the rule regarding red lights in this situation is irrelevant to them. However, in these cases, social mores are extremely important. While one may break a formal rule, they have tacit permission from their peers. Graffiti is an obvious example. It may seem that permission as to whether or not you may graffiti somewhere is irrelevant to the practitioner, but in actuality is fraught with complicated social rules which vary group to group and individual to individual.

“Do you KNOW how to solve it? Do you have the RESOURCES to solve it?”

What knowledge and resources you need are dependent on the particular problem, but for big issues, you will often need to outsource to some degree. A problem cannot be solved if you don’t know the right way to go about it. If you want to make use of a certain space for example, you may protest to get use of the space to no avail. It may be because you have gone about solving the problem in the wrong way. Research, mentors, advisers and sponsors may all be necessary. Knowing what the first step is is often the most difficult thing. Relating to the previous step, you may feel that acquiring permission is theoretically possible, but knowing how to go about it relates to this step.

“Is it WORTH it?”

It may be worth your while to perform a certain task because the outcome alone is reward enough. In other cases, there may have to be additional benefit. Risk, liability and effort must be offset by benefit, tangible or otherwise. Reward may take the form of the solution of the problem, personal pride, sense of wellbeing, cash or other hard benefits. For an action to be worth performing, risk or effort must be minimised and reward enhanced.

Good Advice

Monday, February 21st, 2011

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”

-America’s most bad-assingest president, Theodore Roosevelt.

Using the 5 Questions

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

“Wednesday’s child is full of woe” – that may say it for children alright but not for Out Louders. When this crack team of creative commandoes descend on the building, it’s all action.

This Wednesday, the team were reminded that the area we were working in was the markets area; broadly contained within Ormond Quay > Capel Street > North King Street > Church Street. With this in mind, we hunkered down and continued to drill into the projects some more. The objective of this evening’s session was to try and get to the heart of each project – what was the project really about? What was central to its story?

The achieve this, we used the five questions mentioned in the previous blog post ‘Project Question’. Out Louders were encouraged to answer each of these questions with the help of the group and then asked to either define their project even further or re-phrase the project question.

Over the course of the evening, the project themes began to emerge and take shape. To give you an example: When picked apart in this way, Niall and Edele’s project on developing a Noticeboard became better understood as a project about increasing engagement in the area. Defining the project in this way frees Niall and Edel up to develop a variety of different solutions to an identified problem.

Site Study of the Markets Area

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

To try and grasp the inner workings of the Markets area each team member of Designing Dublin chose a different ‘layer’ within the area to study in more depth. My chosen layer was the people of the area. How did I study this layer in more depth? I went around the area and talked to anyone that would talk back, and thankfully nearly everyone I approached had a bit of time for me.

I talked to a diverse range of people from Anna and Joe who work in the Market building, Aileen, the principle of the primary school, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Sexton, two publicans of the area, Deco, the supervisor at the Christian Mission, Monica and Robert who live on Ormond Square, Joe the fruit and veg seller on Mary’s Abbey, Allen the fishing tackle guy, Siony the lady from the Philipines, Morgan and Shauna, two twelve year olds, Arran from the band the Pulse (who are very good by the way), Barry the cash and carry guy, Claire and Deirdre, the artists from Market Studios, the list goes on.

I talked to about 30 people altogether. I wanted to find out what they thought of the area, what their hopes were for the area, who they worked with, socialised with, what they didn’t like about the area, what they loved most about the area, who they didn’t like in the area, etcetera. I had a list of questions I had prepared to direct the conversation but if it went off on a tangent that I thought was interesting I let it go that way.

I learned so many things that I had no clue of prior to the site study. I learned that there is a really strong sense of community among the people that live in the area but that there is also a division between the people that live in social housing and the people that live in privately owned housing. I learned that there is a complete communication breakdown between Dublin City Council and the people living and working in the area. There is a lack of space for young people to hang out in. There is a demand for more cheap hot food outlets in the area and business owners of the area want to see more vibrancy and a change of offerings from just fruit and vegetables. Practically everyone I talked to said they were sad that the area has been so unloved for so long. Again…the list goes on. I’m hoping that the things we’ve learned from our site studies can be put to good use. It’s time the area felt that love that’s been lacking.

Should the fruit and veg market be a SUPERmarket?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Would something like this suit the Dublin Corporation Fruit and Vegetable Market building?

It was also covered on Channel 4…watch here.

Designing Dublin on the Radio

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Designing Dublin recently got a radio show on Near FM. In each show we discuss what the week had in store for the Designing Dublin team. We focus on various themes such as living, moving, enterprise in a city context. It’s a sharp learning curve for most of the team members as few of us have broadcasting experience but that’s nothing new at Designing Dublin. Tune in to our show if you get a chance on 90.3 fm, Saturdays at 6pm.

JC-Safety in the Markets Area.

Monday, February 14th, 2011

This title implies that there is a danger/safety issues in this area. Not so?

This project emenated from our street conversations, titled ‘Open day’.

As each of us spoke to people in differant locations, inside and outside buildings, we had constant referances to how dark and unsafe the area was. When asked, everyone could tell me of a friend of theirs or a friend of a friend, who had an unhappy encounter in the area. this was a common occurance during our street and scheduled conversations in the city at large before christmas.

I had a chat with Lindsay after our open day conversations and we came to the conclusion that darkness wasn’t the difficulty and the lack of safety was more a presumption than a reality, as it is in many areas of the city.Tthis doesent mean that there is no crime in the area, just that it’s not as bad as presumed.

So what leads to the presumption?.

This is where i am at the moment, reading ‘The death and life of great American cities’ by Jane Jacobs.

Of course one book doesent supply all the answers to the problems of a city and this one is no differant.

It looks at ‘The North End ‘ of Boston (USA) and why the streets in that area work and others don’t.

My big question at the moment is ‘Everthing Jane says in this book makes sense, very pragmatic and easy to implement. Why hasen’t this happened’. This book was first published in 1963, still we make the same mistakes in our cities, while in Ireland our cities are more and more heading the same way as all cities of the world. i accept there are some exceptions but exceptions are not necessarily the answer.

Again another question? ‘Is it the drivers of change that matter’. Janes ideas are driven by principles that put people before everthing else in the living city, while most cities are driven by economic principles that see people as ‘an economic resource’.

Out of these questions will come a project in the market area around the topic of ‘Safety’.

Dublin- A city defined by searching for answers.