Places transformed by people re-inventing everyday life
by Megan Deal and friends
PieLab was merely an experiment. It was just an idea.
It was the hopeful, and somewhat fanciful vision shared by fourteen young designers. Yet, in one year’s time, this notion that a pie shop and a design studio could share a single roof, that designerscould work together to launch a new enterprise in a small, southern, rural comm-unity, and that the people of that community would begin to embrace and take ownership over the venture is becoming a reality.
Who would have thought? Often times, deeply entrenched in the day to day operations, not even us.
Any good story is usually composed of a dynamic cast of characters, a thorough plot building up to apoint of climax, and a series of ‘falling’ events that ultimately lead to the tale’s resolution. The story of PieLab doesn’t quite follow these standards. The characters are always changing; the plot is continually reinterpreted; and the resolution is nowhere in sight.
We define as we go and adjust accordingly. But today, on this twelfth day of April 2010, we attempt to offer a story; a portion of many stories already told, and a sampling of many more stories to come.
Artists often work for free, expanding the public imagination while trafficking in a murky labor-value exchange. Rather than complain about limited funding and access to resources, OurGoods.org demonstrates how much artists have to offer one another.
What if we determine the value of our skills, spaces, and objects? Barter makes room for ethical, environmental, and social motivations for exchange. OurGoods is an online barter network for artists, designers, and anyone with a creative project. Members of OurGoods organize creative projects with "haves" and "needs" and OurGoods matches barter partners, tracks accountability, and facilitates interdependence. The site can be used to find collaborators, see emerging interests, or just execute projects without cash.
OurGoods is an online barter network for artists, designers, and anyone with a creative project. Members of OurGoods organize creative projects with "haves" and "needs" and OurGoods matches barter partners, tracks accountability, and facilitates inter-dependence. The site can be used to find collaborators, see emerging interests, or just execute projects without cash. OurGoods is a new model for valuing creative work, where every barter transaction determines equival-ency between goods, services, or spaces.
Barters are motivated by practical concerns as much as shared aesthetics, relationships, and common values. When money mediates transactions, the interaction is impersonal, and the value is finite. When we barter, we get the value of the thing we bartered for and, in addition, we engage with the creative landscape and form relationships with each other. The OurGoods community offers more than cash funding offers artists. It helps the creative community honor and value creative work. It draws us together into mutually supportive relationships.
One thing that makes life worth living is the Thirteen Tribe of community life – call them ‘The Militant Optimists’ - people who are committed to improving society, prepared to organize and give it a go.
Recession may invite pessimism. But if there’s a mission for prosperity, growth and confidence in hard times, it has to be to find ways and means by which these citizens can be mobilized and the multiplicity of their social struggles realized and grown.
And if they can’t mobilize within the current system, new opportunities need to be created to enable them to thrive and prosper - and convert ‘militant pessimists’ along the way. Two initiatives that I have supported have attempted, in a concerted way, to create opportunities for optimists to come together, make change and in turn, convert others by inspiration and word of mouth.
I think that a clue to the effectiveness of these initiatives rests in their emphasis upon re-using local facilities, their interactive, idiomatic design, dispersed entrepreneurship and commitment to becoming, in the words of economist Muhammad Yunus, "engines that never stop running and need no fuel from the outside."
Social creativity is the heart of a strong and happy society.
I’ve always enjoyed the process of making something – designing, creating, putting things together, to make something that previously didn’t exist. When I was 9, it was Lego spaceships. When I was 20, it was making and sharing zines: printed little magazines, fun to make, but tiresomely difficult to distribute. When I was 26, I realised that the World Wide Web had solved that distribution problem, so I’ve been making and sharing online ever since.
When I was 34, I found I could delight my inner 9-year old by bringing Lego back into my work life: using it as a tool to explore people’s aspirations, memories, and self-identity, through asking them to build metaphors in Lego bricks and pieces. This was not just to be novel, or to do something different to traditional interviews. Making things with the hands stimulates the brain in unusual ways – putting knowledge together, and creating something solid that you can explore, review and remake.
It's a village hall in Lozells in inner city Birmingham. Two volunteers from a neighbourhood forum are arguing with each. One reckons that setting up a blog is a stupid idea: “Haven’t we got enough to do?” The other is bitten by the bug.
I watch the enthusiast struggling to make the case, grasping for the right words. "Why can’t we just e-mail people?" says his friend. Then the realisation... “If we put it on the web,” he explains, "it’s like cc-ing the world.”
This revelation popped up at a social media surgery, an informal gathering of people from community and voluntary organisations and "surgeons" - folk with social media skills.
The idea is that knowledge about blogging and using the internet to allow people to campaign, collaborate and hold power to account is shared for free in a friendly and enjoyable way. The notion that putting some-thing on the web is like “cc-ing the world” is typical of the kind of insight that arises when people feel comfortable, talk and learn to-gether.
The first social media surgery for community and voluntary organisations was set up in October 2008 by a group called the Birmingham Bloggers. We had got in the habit of meeting once a month for a drink and a social.
Our work starts with a simple question. How might the place we live be best prepared for a world of volatile oil prices and potential interruptions to supply?
A slew of recent reports argue that we are at or very close to the peak in world oil production, and that the Age of Cheap Energy is drawing to a close, with profound implications for virtually everything we do, and everything we depend on. However Transition, rather than seeing this as a disaster, as a crisis, is about looking this challenge square in the face and responding with compassion, creativity and brilliance. It is about seeing the breaking of our addiction to fossil fuels as not only inevitable, but as a desired reality. In other words, our focus is on resilience, and how we make our communities more resilient in times of increasing uncertainty.
The Transition movement started in southern Ireland in 2005, and has grown rapidly ever since. There are now hundreds of formal Transition initiatives, and thousands at the earlier ‘mulling’ stage. It has become one of the fastest growing community movements in the world, with national hubs now in 8 countries. There are local authorities that have resolved to become ‘Transition authorities’. Communities are setting up their own energy companies, their own currencies, their own farms, building companies and buying land for local food production. They are not waiting for permission to get started.
The Menshed movement, a community health initiative to foster men's health and well being, has taken off recently, with about 400 Mensheds established across Australia in the past few years.
The movement aims to create a supportive, socially interactive environment where men feel they can discuss issues in the open.
Peter Sergeant, now 67, has been working in and around sheds all his life. Now, as director and chief executive officer of Mensheds Australia, he assists men across the country in starting their own sheds, providing the infrastructure necessary for them to get off the ground and guiding them towards sustainability and involvement with their communities.
When asked why he works so hard to promote the Australian Menshed movement, Peter Sergeant cites a recent letter from an Indigenous affairs worker.
"Many Aboriginal men feel no connection to society", the letter says. "The government contributes to their family, so if you take the bloke away nothing changes. His kids and wife can do without him. That's why Mensheds are so fantastic, because they give Aboriginal men a real sense of dignity and self-worth."
"In some ways it's no different to a small business, although it's more complicated because we're dealing with such a wide variety of people", Sergeant says. "We're dealing with older men, with youth, with unemployed, with mentally handicapped men. Put that into the equation of a business and you've got a very complex situation on your hands".
Learning Dreams seeks to create communities where everyone can accomplish their dreams.
Learning Dreams uses parents’ dreams as motivation to propel them and their families successfully into the culture of learning.
Parent involvement is the single most important factor leading to success in school for children. The traditional way to generate parent involvement is to seek parent support for their child's learning. Years of experience in Learning Dreams has shown that it is more effect-ive to appeal to the parents as deeply curious people with their own needs to dream, grow, and learn.
Learning Dreams seeks out parents in their homes and asks them in a straightforward way what their own learning dreams are. Parents, many of whom are described as “unreachable” by the schools are universally intrigued. After the dream has been identified Learning Dreams staff and volunteers provide troubleshootingsupport to help make connections and overcome obstacles that are often in the way. Parents become involved in learning what they are deeply motivated to learn. The only curriculum in Learning Dreams is the parents’ dreams. After parents are working on their dreams we sit down with them and ask how can they - with our backing – support the learning of their children.
In the shadows of his towering presence, Maurice Small's neighborhood gardens are abundant with the kind of thrivancy that emanates from the rich soil of community. He teaches communities that rich soil represents the triple bottom line of health, social equity, and the kind of 3rd place where improbably collaborations and strategic serendipities emerge.
Over the past two decades Maurice has shut down hundreds of food deserts across America in the wake of his genius and generosity.
Among his finest legacies are his pavement top gardens. While people view abandoned parking lots and walkways as emblematic signs of urban demise and decay, Maurice engages anyone with basic will and skill to transform them into thriving gardens, often make fresh food magically in neighborhoods where they had been long extinct.
The secret to his sauce is reuse. He'll use straw bales discarded from area farms and cinder block and wood discarded from urban demolitions. The rich humus is woven from the exotica of cardboard castoffs, compost, vegetable scraps, and old jeans. Build a few feet of incredibly rich soil and pile it on top of any abandoned surface, and the place transforms.
I have been involved in many, in different capacities, but what I can talk about is being human. And about people. Within these projects and initiatives it is the people I've encount-ered that have held my gaze, as they’ve given me hope that we hold within our very nature the potential to emerge in to these new ways of being, seeing and doing.
It is why I believe that in a time charged with the energy of possibility and uncertainty, people who offer solutions and relationships are all that there is. I’m often reminded that everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else.
"Our last source of truth and hope is people themselves."
I’ve watched people become wiser in their actions over time, not be attached to outcomes, they haven’t exchanged certainty for curiosity, fear for generosity, they’ve plunged in to the problem and treated their attempts as experiments, and learned on the move. These people have become engaged in figuring out what works, instead of need-ing to be right or worrying about how to avoid failure. And most importantly this hasn't only been based on goodwill or generosity. I believe it is more than that. It goes beyond volunteering or altruism, phil-anthropy or being a do-gooder. It is a whole approach to life, to living and to together-ness. We are, after all, a universal humanity.
BikeLab is a small group of dedicated volunteers working in Greensboro, Alabama to provide refurbished bicycles to Hale County residents who lacktransportation. Ourgoal is torecycle as much as possible, waste as little as possible, and reach as many people in need as possible.
BikeLab typifies how education community building, environmental consciousness, and physical well-being can all come together through a single means: bikes.
“Where did you get those cool bikes?” and “How can I get one of those bikes?” were two questions that both Ryan LeCluyse (Project M VISTA) and Dan Gavin (PieLab Designer/ Manager) were frequently asked during their year spent living and working in Greensboro, Alabama. After returning from a visit to Detroit, where bicycling is extremely common, Ryan decided to come up with an answer.
Like Detroit, Hale County is a poverty-stricken area, and though not urban, Hale County is also similarly sparse. Many people in the county do not own a vehicle and live far from any municipality. Despite the fact that the roads here are flat and have very little traffic, making them perfect routes for bicycles, riding is quite uncommon. This is most likely due to a lack of bicycle aware-ness, mechanical know-how, and funds with which to purchase bikes. And so, to address this, BikeLab was founded.
The Epicenter is a community housing and business resource center, instigating economic progress and creating decent shelter in the town of Green River in the desert of southeast Utah.
It is a part of a larger umbrella non-profit organization, which serves the town with a myriad of unduplicated social services, including affordable rental housing, a Boys & Girls Club, a soup kitchen, and a thrift store (the only place to buy shoes in town).
The Epicenter Crew is a studio-of-sorts currently made up of graduates of arch-itecture, graphic design, industrial design, theology, Spanish language, and high school. Expertise is valued in any allied design field, or in anyone simply wanting to sweat and build something with their hands. In this rural town, the Epicenter has an opportunity to engage, collaborate with, and learn from a community that the profession has chosen not to serve.
Imagine a summer’s day on which millions of us, throughout the UK, sit down to have lunch together – in the middle of our streets, around our tower blocks and on every patch of common ground. The food, entertainment and decorations we have grown, cooked, or created ourselves. A day to break bread with our neighbours, to put a smile on Britain’s face.
Once a year, in Eden’s true optimistic style, we ask the nation to suspend disbelief, to unstiffen that upper lip, and discover how many good, talented and interesting people there are in their neighbourhood. In 2009 we began an annual tradition, earmarking one Sunday each summer as the people’s ‘Big Lunch’, when we encourage them to open curtains, doors and minds.
Not just to put a smile on Britain’s face, but to help sow the seed of friendships that can be enjoyed for the rest of the year. Because we know at the Eden Project that when people get together they become more positive and start to sort out some serious stuff. We also know that talking about all that ‘serious stuff’ isn’t the best way to get millions inspired to join together. So we parked phrases like ‘social isolation’ and ‘climate change’ and instead simply invited the nation to sit down to lunch together with their neighbours in a simple act of community, and let the ‘human warming’ work its magic.
Fallen Fruit began quite simply with pretty much an Utopian idea.
The three of us, David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young, noticed the great amount of unpicked fruit going to waste in our neighborhood.
Fruit trees are part of the collective fantasy of California, part of the great public relations campaign to promote an undeveloped California to the rest of the United States in the early 20th Century. A typical postcard would be a cottage with orange trees with snow-covered hills in the background. In our neighborhood of Silver Lake in Los Angeles there is almost every kind of fruit you can imagine, a lot of it growing in or over public space. And lots of it was ripening to perfection only to fall to the ground to rot.
This was 2004, before the green wave really hit, and we had just received a call for artist's projects from The Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, asking for work that addressed a social, political or urban issue but did so in the form of a solution rather than a critique. We mapped what we began calling “public fruit” in our neighborhood and wrote a kind of manifesto on it, a call to the public to harvest these trees and put them to good use.
For a long time, we’ve trained our eyes to see things with edges and boundaries: organizations, countries, selves. Things with edges and boundaries feel manageable and solid. But the world is changing at an alarming rate, and the old ways of seeing are not quite up to the vertigo of a fast-paced universe. We need new ways of understanding our world that take into account new possibilities.
So, we start noticing networks – the relationships among people and the patterns those relationships create. Increasingly, we are realizing that it’s through networks that things get done. People go outside teams, and organizations, and even countries to connect with those who can help them succeed. And, using social media, we can now collaborate and engage as easily with people around the globe as we can with people in our hometown.
We soon start to notice that all networks aren’t the same. Certain patterns in net-works, such as a hub and spoke, are great when you want control. But when you need lots of innovation and aren’t at all sure what will work, bringing together people from different networks who have different perspectives and backgrounds can generate transformative experimentation.
But bringing together people effectively is not easy. It requires a whole set of new skills embodied in a new role we call a Network Weaver. A Network Weaver is someone who is aware of the networks around them and explicitly works to make them healthier (more inclusive, bridging divides). Network Weavers do this by connecting people strategically where there's potential for mutual benefit, helping people identify and join with others around their passions, and serving as a catalyst for self-organizing groups.
“What if we created a space where communities could share ideas and skills and support each other in their low carbon journeys”
The idea for the Low Carbon Communities Network came out of an event I organised at Chester University in 2007 for my local Parish Council. They had been given some money by Defra to organise a “conference for carbon neutral communities”, with the aim of inspiring action across the UK. It turned out, that hundreds of communities were already embarking on carbon reduction projects and were keen to share and learn from each other.
A few of us began to email each other, saying“Wouldn’t it be great if...” In my experience that’s how some of the best ideas develop and although all the communities were different (rural, urban, large, small) what they all had in common was an enthusiasm for the places where they lived and worked and a strong sense of the power of collective action.
People United is a charity that uses the arts and imaginative ideas to promote kindness. We develop practical projects and professional research, as well as offering specialist guidance on how to use creativity to grow community cohesion, volunteering and caring environments.
We think that being kind to one another is fundamental to making the world a better place. From a neighbourly smile and simple acts, to ongoing ethical conduct and active altruism, kindness is demonstrated in many different ways. And whereas a lack of kindness breeds intolerance, injustice and inhumanity; kindness grows trust, friendship, human connections and a real sense of community.
Our projects ask:
Can kindness be contagious?
Can a creative project celebrating and growing kindness make a difference to a town, a school, a hospital or shopping centre? And if so, can we prove it?
How do you bring back community spirit with felt tip pens, cups of tea and some designers? You call Getgo Glasgow.
In September 2009, a group of eager design innovators were thrown together by the Glasgow School of Art to tackle Audi's Sustain our Nation brief. We were hit with the usual topics, sort out crime, ageing population, the environment, and asked to focus on a community where you live. A get to know each other brainstorm quickly assessed the group's feelings.
At the heart of this project must lie co-creation, people must be involved in the process. On agreement, we followed Liz Sanders ideologies: We weren't designing for people, we would design with them and chiming with Illich, ensure people had the tools to do whatever we did themselves.
We were going to effectively design our-selves out of a job.
In early October, after brandishing ourselves with a windmill like logo and the name Getgo Glasgow, we accidentally stumbled across Wyndford, an area in the North West of Glasgow. Not wasting a minute we hit the streets, armed with big signs asking people what they would change and baskets full of lollipops with the Getgo mobile phone number attached so locals could text us their thoughts on the local area.
In 1903 the Scottish-born conservationist John Muir took President Theodore Roosevelt on a camping trip in the Yosemite Valley of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.
As a result of this experience, five national parks were created... along with 150 national forests, 51 bird refuges, four national game preserves, 18 national monuments, 24 reclamation projects, and the US National Forest Service. Roosevelt also extended this to a democratic concept to include future citizens, arguing that it was undemocratic to exploit the nation's resources for present profit. "The greatest good for the greatest number," he wrote, "applies to the number within the womb of time."
This camping trip was also the birth of the modern National Park movement, which has had a massive social and environmental impact world-wide. It’s hard to imagine a more positive social and environmental out-come, just from spending three days in the mountains!
The first formal outdoor education pro-gramme was designed by Kurt Hahn (1886 - 1974) to counter, amongst other things, what he described as ‘the decline of compassion’ that he had witnessed during WW1. Through outdoor adventure activities and public service projects, undertaken in a group context over 28 days, this early pro-gramme led to the establishment of Outward Bound (1941), which has become globally synonymous with outdoor education for personal and social development.
The near-collapse of financial systems, looming fears of climate change, and continuing ‘wars on terror’ have added to the recent sense of doom and gloom we seem to collectively experience. But where do our individual aspirations of a better life collide with what seem to be ‘dark futures’?
We sensed urgency in the air. While we all want to do our bit, where do we start? We decided to do an experiment to find out. Using a DIY approach to imagining alternate futures, we assembled an ad hoc team of eight people from different walks of life. The aim was to explore new pathways for creating democratic futures by building a public discourse around the aspirations of ordinary people.
The team of eight comprised a Designer/ Speculator, an Educator, an Interaction Designer, a Permaculturist, a Policy Res-earcher, an Urbanist, a retired Civil Servant, and a Biomedical Scientist.
Over three months in the summer of 2009, we became a guerrilla-style summer school, meeting in cafés, pubs, and drawing rooms, while continuing with our day jobs and other commitments. We developed methods that would give this multi-disciplinary collaboration space to breathe and grow.
The Tuttle Club is easy to experience, but difficult to describe. It exists to facilitate conversations about how the social web is affecting our work and social lives. However, it has become more than just a networking event.
A subtle but strongly-bonded community has grown up around it.
That group is held together by shared values as much as by shared interests. Tuttle people tend to be deeply aware of the importance of inclusivity and diversity, comfortable with uncertainty, and actively seeking freedom from traditional power distribution and direction structures. Woe betide anyone who tries to tell them what they should be doing! The people who stick around are also very open to making long-term rich connections and relationships based on the cultural and technological obsessions they share.
Tuttle’s promotional style reflects this relaxed openness. It is best described as “we do cool stuff and then talk about it on the internet”. Individual Tuttlers tend to have strong web presences, which are already reaching a wide variety of people. There is very little 'official' Tuttle material on the web although Twitter continues to play an important role in keeping the conversation about Tuttle going online.
Twenty empty shops in an indoor market in south London became the focus for a hub of new creative projects and community-driven businesses, creating a space in which people want to spend time.
1. Unhurried Conversations
Like just about everything worthwhile I've been involved in, Space Makers grew out of a particular kind of conversation: unhurried, drawn out over time, beginning with an open invitation to all kinds of people, not oriented to a preformed objective, but given focus by its subject.
In this case, the subject was how to make better use of underused space, build relationships between grassroots creative energy and top-down organisations, and create places in which people want to spend time. Over six months, we organised regular Space Makers meet-ups in London, bringing together activists, architects, artists, think-tankers, squatters and others interested in these questions. When we set up an online network to share information, it soon had hundreds of members around the UK. This conversation crystallised into the Brixton Village project.
2. Getting Hands-On
Brixton Village – aka Granville Arcade – is a 1930s indoor market, moments away from the noise of Brixton town centre: six avenues of open-fronted stalls and glassed-in shops.
The narrow entrance off Atlantic Road gives no warning of the high-ceilinged space which lies behind. On weekday afternoons, you can hardly get past the queue at Dagon's fish stall, but the crowds soon thin out as you wander further inside.
By mid-2009, the shops were thinning out, too. The market had been bought by a property company who arrived with plans for a major redevelopment. But they had under-estimated Brixton's immune system. Resistance from local residents led to the creation of the Friends of Brixton Market, whose campaigning turned the council against the owner's plans.
The principle behind Limina is creating communities through shared experiences or aspirations - and through these experiences encouraging responsible citizenship and the building of extended permanent communities of practice.
Limina’s aim is to create a network of events, spaces and people to link rural and urban communities. It is hoped that this extended user-led community can contribute to a culture of positivesocial and environmental change. Limina started as a group of people who met through the HubIslington in London and a shared vision to extend the possibilities of the Hub to countryside spaces. The availability of two rural venues and a boat on the Thames launched the network.
A need was identified for, on one hand people from urban areas to be able to access the countryside. On the other hand people in rural areas to benefit from the types of supportive networks, communities and cultures that are emerging in cities.
Mess Hall is an experimental cultural center in the Rogers Park neighborhood on Chicago's northeast side. It is a place where visual art, poetry, radical politics, creative urban planning, rebellious sewing, applied ecological design and other strange and pleasant events intersect and inform each other.
We host exhibitions, discussions, film screenings, potlucks, workshops, concerts, campaign meetings and more. An overriding commitment to freedom organizes the collaborations, conversations and collisions that occur at Mess Hall. Our sense of freedom has many inflections.
First, when we say free, we mean that no money is exchanged at Mess Hall. We do not buy or sell the art we display and no admission is charged for the lectures, readings, workshops, and other events we host. We are neither a commercial gallery nor a nonprofit; we don’t sell anything or write grants.
Secondly, our sense of freedom relates to a radically democratic sense of audience. All of our events are open to the general public, and we encourage all people to attend; our goal is to foster new publics with pro-gramming that crosses dominant partitions between rich and poor, highbrow and lowbrow, first world and third world, legal and illegal, art and craft.
Thirdly, our commitment to freedom means that we are always open to new possibilities. As in, feel free to use your imagination. We encourage experimentation and community participation.
School of the Future is a project about what a school can be. This unschool will facilitate a model of apprenticeship and collaborative learning that questions "what we know and how we learn".
The mission/hypothesis of the future is that the best learners/teachers are the best teachers/learners. School of the Future invites adventurous teachers and learners to propose classes, workshops, apprenticeships, installations, or moments that add to our active research about how to make a better education.
The project defeats the notion that school is as it should be, and to offer witnesses of the school the freedom to experiment with what their learning and teaching process can be. In the process of exploring the possib-ilities of school, we aim to become a body of unschooled and educated teaching students.
What do you want to learn? We want to help you fill your learning deficits.