Before starting the prototyping and testing stages (the residencies), we carried out a series of collaborative workshops in each case study city, to define specific needs and local conditions that will inform the tools. The first workshop was held in Bucharest at the end of April, followed workshops in London and Paris, in June.
At the workshops we invited the initial partner practices and other formal or informal groups that they thought would be interested in the platform. The aim of this initial stage was to introduce the project, make potential platform users more familiar with the project and enabling them to inform the overall vision and directions for the platform. The general format of the workshops included short individual presentations of the participants’ activities through the perspective of their engagement with the concept of ‘resilience’ in their local contexts, followed by brainstorming sessions and collective discussion.
In Bucharest (bucharest workshop_april 2016) the participants included the initial partner (the architectural practice studioBasar), NGOs (the Resource Centre for Public Participation / CeRe; Komunitas, an interdisciplinary laboratory of non-formal education, socio-anthropological research, urban and community activation; and Greenitiative, an environmental NGO promoting eco-education, green building and living, and sustainable development), a contemporary arts centre engaging with social and environmental issues through alternative art exhibitions (Tranzit) and representatives from the School of Architecture (UAUIM). The workshop was held at Tranzit, where the centre also includes an urban garden and permaculture experiments.
In London (london workshop_june 2016) the workshop included the initial partner (the architectural / arts practice, Public Works), local groups and individuals part of the R-Urban Wick network, and also representatives from other projects interested in the topic (you can read more here: http://spc.org/gardenzilla/). The workshop was held at the Mobile Garden City site, the current temporary site where R-Urban Wick network have started a number of experimental projects. The site contains mobile timber units used for growing and re-purposed containers, each dedicated to different projects: a small scale archive and cultural space dedicated to the specific locality of Hackney Wick and Fish Island, a micro anaerobic digester, a bicycle repair workshop and tool-sharing unit, an experimental cafe using produce from the garden and surplus produce from the nearby New Spitalfields Market, and a classroom unit for experimental teaching and learning.
While the R-Urban Wick network in London is relatively recent and largely depends on temporary availability of space, the R-Urban network is Paris benefits from a more establish network of hubs and actors in the northern suburb of Colombes. The Paris workshop (paris workshops_june 2016) focused on one of these hubs, Agrocité, which is essentially an agricultural unit comprising an experimental micro-farm, community gardens, educational and cultural spaces. The workshop participants included the core group of residents managing the hub and representatives from aaa (the key local partner, who also initiated the R-Urban project). Given that the various activities have already been operating for a few years at this site, the workshop focused on a specific resilience challenge, which is the self-management of the hub.
Some initial results…
Involving potential users in the process of defining the vision and goals for a platform allowed us to better understand the various kinds of users and levels of technology that the platform would need to address – something that could not have been possible without direct engagement with potential users, their projects and physical sites of experimentation.
In Bucharest, one of the key aspects associated with the notion of resilience were the challenges faced by the groups in terms of accessing and securing funding for their projects, and finding time and human resources to ensure continuity to their work. Collaboration, in this context, becomes a rather challenging (even if desired) task. Related to this, some of the main needs for the platform included: archiving and transfer of knowledge; database of shared resources; dialogue and partnerships (with similar groups and institutions in Romania and abroad); but also a strong offline presence for the platform (e.g., physical spaces or knowledge exchange trips where people can get in direct contact with the network and projects).
In London, the notion of resilience in the context of R-Urban Wick and the Mobile Garden City site was mainly associated with notions of independence, stewardship, flexibility and adaptability, spaces of opportunity and connection with surrounding communities and similar projects, knowledge and skill sharing, shared goals and resources. These notions are reflected in the multiple dimensions that a platform could have in this context: local / situated (e.g., a local wifi network and ‘intranet’ for organising the collective management of the MGC site); mobile / permeable (e.g., a public ‘face’ to the local wifi network to allow an interface between the physical site, the surrounding community and people passing by; and also to ensure the ‘permeability’ of the knowledge produced); trans-local (e.g., a website to enable connections across locations and provide a virtual ‘space’ for sharing, learning and communicating, as a distributive way of producing a shared body of knowledge).
In Paris, the main aspect of resilience discussed involved the possibilities for citizen-led initiatives to self-manage – a way of addressing the need for independence and as a pre-condition to scaling commons. The platform would therefore need firstly to offer tools for self-management – a type of guide and self-management tools for local hubs. In the case of Agrocité, some of the key functions could include: timetables and calendars (e.g., internal scheduling of activities, external events, plating and harvest); database (recipes, information sheets, forms and templates); classes / training (e.g., links to existing webpages and YouTube videos, step-by-step guides); data visualisation (e.g., usage of produce from the garden in the cafe, expenditure and income, water and energy usage); and communication (storytelling, volunteers and skill exchange database, interaction with local organisations and public institutions). We have already started to test some of these ideas during the first part of the Paris residence, by developing a first toolkit prototype for the management of the Agrocité hub.