MKW – The Role of Place in Civic Innovation

Apologies for the potato quality images, my phone battery was dying and the lighting in the place wasn’t great.

Melbourne is currently running Melbourne Knowledge Week (1st May – 7th May) and one of the talks I signed up to was The Role of Place in Civic Innovation. It was really tough to choose between this one and Melbourne Underground: Building the Metro Tunnel, but ultimately, I decided the tunnel one would go over my head.

I get a lot of crap for having an arts degree, so I thought maybe I should go along to this talk so I can have something to say in defense. The talk was about the role of arts in civic planning. The speaker, Jason Schupbach from the National Endowment for the Arts in the US, spoke about the benefits of involving the arts sector during city planning.

He said when he often gives this talk, he asks people what they think makes a location a good place to live, and these are the answers he often gets.

Jobs, transit, safety, enviro, schools, businesses.

But in a study, which I think he said was from 1912, these were the things that were found to have the biggest benefits in a town:

Social offerings, openness, aesthetics.

One of the things he’s working towards with his program is to try and get the arts sector more involved in the town planning process to try and improve on the last three things.

He listed some of benefits arts can bring to an area:

Which I’ll transcribe:

Strengthening economic development: Drive economic development (e.g. theatre opens, people spend money there, creates jobs), drive new investments, create new access points to participation

Seeding Civic Engagement: Connect community, create stewards of place, shared sense of the future of a place

Building Resiliency: Help re-establish normalcy, generate new community assets, provide psycho-social relief

Contributing to quality of life: Create new amenities, increase access, increase attachment to place

One of the things he mentioned was that after Hurricane Sandy, they looked at two locales that were close to each other, both who had been impacted pretty heavily. One had spent a lot of time building up a community through arts programs, the other hadn’t. The former was quite quick to recover in the sense that the community came together, they were helping each other out, making sure everyone was OK. The other took a lot longer to recover, because they didn’t have that same sense of community.

Next he spoke about ways in which you can achieve it. You can download a guide from their website here: https://www.arts.gov/publications/how-do-creative-placemaking

Anchoring: Acting as the key institution in a neighbourhood, provide community identity, generate area foot traffic and business

Activating: bring the arts (visual and performing) to public spaces, make public spaces more attractive, exciting and safe

“Fixing”: Re-imagine use of spaces, beautify vacant and blighted spaces, connect people to opportunities and one another

Planning: Engage community stakeholders, solicit community input and suggestions, rapid prototyping and iterative design

He showed us a video of a town (Willow-something), which was one of the “bad” neighbourhoods. They had an artist come in and survey town members, hold modern dance workshops, and other things to try and get an idea of what the community wanted. I don’t actually remember what it was they built, but so many people showed up and were engaged in the process. Jason said that is one of the problems you can have during the planning process: the people doing the planning are so far removed from the people actually using the space.

I was actually quite torn during the entire talk. The engineer side of me was questioning some of the “studies” that he was citing as proof that the arts provide a valuable service. The Hurricane Sandy thing was only one location, and as even the speaker himself pointed out, things like that are really hard to measure, as there are so many factors that could have led to one area recovering faster than another.

To be honest, some of redbeanpork’s designs didn’t make much sense to me, because it seemed like he wasn’t making the most of the available space by using inefficient shapes that looked good, but resulted in less usable space per meter than having a plain rectangle / square would. If I had my way, the world would just be huge blocky structures which maximise the available space.

But for once, the arts side of me was winning the argument. Blocky structures are ugly and boring. As much as I love Japan, the endless blocks of apartments and shops feels a bit depressing in a way. I know that for them it’s a necessity, as their population density requires it, but I feel like the amazing varieties of shapes we saw in some of the European cities we visited just made the place seem a lot more welcoming. That being said, Japan does have some amazingly beautiful parks. I just think that it can be a bit claustrophobic at times, even though a park will be 100m away.

I actually do enjoy some of the community building stuff we have at work, and I think despite the demanding project work and endless issues, I really felt a connection to my old team because of the community it had. I was willing to work until 10pm every night for a week unasked just because of that connection. And I wasn’t the only one. I think the only reason people were willing to follow me down that path is because of all the artsy stuff I do in the office, like making movies, baking, my interviews.

I never really thought of myself as an artist. I’ve always fallen firmly on the side of science in the arts vs science debate. When Special K said to me, “I wish I could be creative like you,” it was a bit of a shock, to be honest. I don’t think I’ve ever been described as creative before. I enjoyed creative writing at school, but if I was really honest with myself, the only thing I really did was take someone else’s work and parody it. I’m a brilliant mimic, but terrible at coming up with something original on my own.

But I feel like this year in particular, with this 365 day photo challenge, I’ve forced myself to see some of the other things the world has to offer, and I am trying to come up with original things. The Foddyssey was a parody, obviously, but I’m trying to write original things. It’s difficult, and I know it’s going to be bad, but like a muscle, you have to train it to get stronger, and so I think over time, I will improve.
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Edit: I forgot to post my stats again:

Today is the end of week 4:

Weight: 58.4 / 59.1 / 58.9 / 58.6 / 58.3

Waist: 74.5 / 75.5 / 75.5 / 74.5 / 73

Hips: 88 / 89 / 90.5 / 88.5 / 88.5

Bust: 89.5 / 91 / 89.5 / 90 / 89.5

Left thigh: 52.5 / 51.5 / 53 / 52.5 / 52

Left calf: 35.5 / 35.5 / 37 / 35.5 / 35

Right thigh: 53.5 / 53.5 / 54 / 53 / 54

Right calf: 36.5 / 36 / 36.5 / 35 / 36

Left bicep: 31 / 29 / 29  / 29 / 30

Right bicep: 30 / 29 / 30.5 / 30.5 / 32

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