The prototype process eventually grew into a plan. We knocked on doors in the area to invite everyone to a co-design workshop in the Macro Centre. People were to come and bring along their favourite plant. Then we’d help them to design a piece of public furniture or object based around the plant which would then be fabricated by the council’s joinery department and installed near the designer’s house for a week, to see if it worked in situ. Then, when it was removed, it might leave a kind of vacuum which people might want to fill with their own interventions.
But no-one showed up.
So what went wrong? Perhaps it was something to do with mixed feelings people had about the Macro. Maybe it was too big a step to expect people to go out of their way to go to a workshop. We may have overestimated how active people wanted to be. Maybe there just wasn’t enough notice, groundwork, buy-in and build-up.
So I tried to bring the mountain to Mohammed. I called round door to door again, armed with modeling materials and a sketchbook, to try and run the process in a quick, one-on-one way. While this was more successful (anything is more successful than running a workshop where no-one turns up), the furniture design aspect was beside the point. The revealing (and disheartening thing) is how little anyone wants to make any sort of addition to the area that can be in any way abused by any one else. Some people don’t want a bench, because homeless people might sleep on it. Others don’t want flower planters because people might throw cans into them and attract flies. They don’t want a sandbox because sand would be kicked around. They don’t want window boxes because kids will tear up the flowers. They don’t want bird boxes because the council told them to stop feeding the pigeons from their balconies and that prohibition is presumed to extend to other birds.
What people do want is to have railings installed around their front doors so that they can wall off their own little piece of turf and keep everyone else out.
Everyone wants to be listened to. Many want to be consulted. A few want to see how things work, but not very many at all want to be actively involved in their area and the few who do seem to be constantly blocked.
Back to the drawing board.