Guest post by Kasia Wojcicka, Making London participant and marketing assistant
On Saturday 18th July the weather in London was particularly beautiful. It seemed to be a sign that what we wanted to discuss on that day was good and important for the city. The ‘Making London’ event at Stockwell Street Building attracted a large group of creative individuals interested in identifying points of urban crisis and looking for solutions to them. This day of talks, workshops and creative thinking, designed to develop a community-friendly environment within the city, was an initiative of Creative Conversations and an interdisciplinary collective, the XDs.
The discussion panel was opened by Fran Boait from Positive Money who delivered a convincing speech about the mechanisms behind money creation. This not-for-profit organisation based in London aims to challenge the current status quo in our city – the highest personal debts in history, unaffordable housing system and high unemployment – which all have roots in the monetary system. It came as a big surprise to most of the ‘Making London’ participants that only 3% of money is physically released by The Bank of England, while the remaining 97% gets created digitally in a form of loans and disappears as soon as we repay them. Positive Money is campaigning to change the national financial system in order to create a fairer and more stable economy for the benefit of and not against the public. Many questions arose during this talk. We wondered how much sovereign money we actually needed. Society is obsessed with money. It is now socially deviant to be a citizen and not a consumer. But maybe money should only be an option? After all, it is merely a measure of value and not the value in itself. By supporting local Positive Money groups in London we could all attempt to have an impact on this issue.
Another example of excellent team work, which creates changes for the better, is The November Project. Their concept, a boat, created to become an arts hub, run by zero carbon tidal powered technology, will not only be community friendly, but also a green-energy solution. It will offer a money-saving alternative while eradicating the use of damaging fossil fuels from Thames River. So far, however, it has met with a lot of scrutiny and negativity from the local authorities. Everyone agreed that we should not let projects like this sink – they benefit us all. The title of Moira Dennison’s powerful speech –‘Thinking Globally, Acting Locally’ – could not be more true in our times.
Following the creative projects theme, Sydney Levinson from Barry’s Lounge gave us a lot of useful, metaphor-packed tips. He point out that every creative practice should be sustainable – run with not only Mary Poppins’ fun and Hannibal Lecter-like passion but also an underlying business model that is sound. It is important to be resilient in order to deal with plans going wrong. Nearly every project is based on collaboration with other people, whether on purpose or accidentally. To be successful, we need to trust each other to ‘catch the brick’ before it falls on us. However, not every piece of advice given by others is useful, so it should be carefully tested against our own business model. Creators of projects need to be like the Babel Fish (in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)– using a separate language when talking to their audience, compared to with funders and different again with collaborators. Sydney himself calls himself a ‘babel fish accountant’. He shared with us a number of great examples of playing by the rules of the environment in his creative practice. A very memorable one was House of St Barnabas at Greek Street in London – on the top floor it runs an academy teaching the homeless to work in the hospitality industry, on the ground floor they find employment in a busy Soho club.
During the speeches a graphic scribe visually summarised the speakers’ main points as well as the participants’ own ideas and concepts which emerged from the discussion. We realised that the way out of our powerlessness might, in fact, be acting local. We asked ourselves – is planning created to avoid mistakes, or maybe it comes out of them? The communities want value – but who is going to create it – the government, the council, or maybe businesses, networks or even just the individuals?
The talks were followed by the Mapping London exercise, during which participants shared their memories, values and issues about living and working in London on a gigantic map of the city. It created a picture marked by unique, personal experiences. Often the perceptions of one place were extremely different from each other – some people were happy to have managed to leave it, while others claimed it to be their haven.
Once we mapped our own experiences, J. Paul Neeley invited us to think a little less literally and see the world around us through metaphors. Yossarian, a creative search tool, provides an alternative to traditional internet tools, such as Google or Bing, which limit us greatly by coming up with stereotypical explanations, slogans and telling us what to think. Yossarian invites us to find new meanings and rethink what we already know. Doing a number of searches with results ranging from only slightly lateral to serendipitous and infinite in their possibilities, encouraged us to use metaphor and creative thinking more, while learning about the world around us. After all, knowledge is power but imagination is more important than knowledge.
We then, with the help of Giles Lane of Proboscis, looked at outliers in communications, social behaviour, health, work, leisure, housing and transport-related issues currently visible to us over the horizon. We highlighted them in a graphic form and started looking at what potential impact they could have on us and the city in the future, in which new directions we may go, as everyday commuters, rental tenants, NHS patients or social media users, and discussed the emergent themes, many of which oscillated around isolation, tension, privatisation and searching for alternatives for practically everything, in the context of over-massification, the need for sharing and global, rather than national, thinking. Based on our findings, we created story cubes with six key words describing the themes in connection with critical concepts, such as standards, efficiency, labour, infrastructure, logistics, energy or waste. We then placed the cubes on our map of London in areas most affected by these factors.
In an experience design workshop led by Nicholas O’donnell-Hoare we worked in three teams with the task of designing a piece of disruptive technology that did either good or bad. We often make bad decisions in terms of finance, climate change, healthcare or policies without realising the hidden reasons for this. In order to think beyond our usual mindset, Nicholas presented us with method cards which had three categories: motivation, accessibility and habits. We shortly discovered that planning is much easier if we consider what motivates us – the piece of technology could be instantaneous – something that happens straight away, when we get an instant reward for using it, it could also be imminent, if the result is easier to notice, more obvious, or it can tap into immorality. Another category was accessibility – the scarcer a device is, the more or less impactful it can become. If something takes too much of our time – we may give up on it, if it’s too expensive, it might become impossible to buy. On the other hand, it might in fact be seen as a desirable product. To connect these insights to current issues, we could ask – if solar panels were twice more expensive, would they be more popular in climate change tackling? Would people see them as a must-have object of luxury? The last category connects to our habits – routine is one of the key factors in our life – it is common that we want to know what is going to happen on a Sunday morning, but we might also change our actions based on various triggers – boredom or stress could turn us into smokers! We realised that it is much easier and fun to design a piece of technology which will be bad for us, than go through the complicated process of designing one with a good effect. Playing the bad designers helped us release our dark side in a creative way and see how much manipulation we are subject to in everyday life.
During the final mapping workshop we were asked to put the results of all sessions onto the map and draw connection points. Based on mapping these experiences, the participants discussed the points of crisis and potential actions that could be taken to challenge them. We came up with a unique urban tapestry, which represented the memories, needs and hopes of real London inhabitants. It is much easier to realise our problems when we see them right in front of us!
The ‘Making London’ event gathered a group of very creative and open-minded individuals from a variety of backgrounds. We managed to come up with many problems, which could be discussed further and solved in the future. Some of them were very simple and could be sorted within a few days. Future ‘Making London’ events will concentrate on finding points of action and implementing the solutions into the city life. Many participants were impressed by the openness and ability to listen to each other of a group of people who have never met before – a value which should not be taken for granted in a world, where often individuals with a different perspective are not listened or even heard.