Notes: The Problem with Place

CIP location image

The Creative Industries Precint, Brisbane, Australia - 1st site for SCOOT

SCOOT is at once both an examination and an intervention in the relationships between history, memory, experience and the urban environment. The ability to both analyse and interact in an environment depends a great deal on how the urban places are presented to us, intentionally or not.
Place is designed. Place is both a force to contend with and it is a place with forces acting upon it. Place imposes limits and opportunities for human interaction. Both the limits and opportunities of a place are understood through the human lens of culturally produced codes and conventions. SCOOT is an attempt to intervene with these codes and conventions to subvert ‘normal’ perceptions of place and to tempt alternative behaviours. This requires a study into existing the way place can limit and encourage creative encounters and interactions.
I have therefore dedicated a chapter to discuss the complex theoretical and practical implications of designing in and for the types of places that SCOOT is installed in. This chapter focuses on a few main limitations of Place and ends with an attempt to re-describe these limits as potential assets for the design of SCOOT.
At best SCOOT is a game, an interactive narrative that promotes an alternative view of the city as a creative muse and social stage. SCOOT demonstrates that Place is a narrative resource that is essentially open for interpretation and social participation.
City spaces are viewed through cultural lenses that determine our normal behaviour in them. Our relationships to many urban places are understood accepted and maintained through codes and conventions that have historic, social, political, and cultural legacies. SCOOT recognises that urban spaces are not opened to any and all interpretations and that not all public spaces are free to appropriate or subvert. But prompted, they can be imbued and viewed with imagination. Essentially SCOOT demonstrates how a player can simply superimpose a game world in any urban space with their very own mobile device. But to do so the game design needs to take into account the physical features, histories and rules of the space regardless of whether the game is a simple story path or a subversive quest. Either way confusing a game fiction with the sites history has the potential to unsettle the legitimacy of traditional perspectives that govern behaviour in place, maybe even transforming it into a site for more spontaneous creative practice and social interaction.

Homogenisation of Space

Modern cities have long been accused of being over gentrified and homogenised with little remaining evidence of the past or invitations for human interaction. Of course there are events such as festivals and markets when parks and town squares are transformed into dynamic displays and potential to interact. However, it seems humans are in need for an excuse to casually interact in the everyday sense. When the festival tents are gone, how and why would people interact? How can a city provide ongoing opportunities for people to at least perceive the space as full of potential for new experiences rather than devoid of human artefacts, shared stories and interactive interfaces. At times it seems that the city is only designed to lead us to purchase or consume.
‘Post modern forms… are part of a larger logic within the late-capitalistic system which works to deaden human critical faculties’ and replaces them with spaces that ‘produce a kind of frenetic consumerist zombie.’ [Woodward et all.] An attitude shared by many theorists such as Baudrillard, Debord, DeCerteau, Jameson, Sennett, etc. Quoting E. Soja [Postmodern Geographies. The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. London. Verso. 1989] ‘…everything imaginable seems to be in the micro-urb but real places are difficult to find, its spaces confuse as effective cognitive mapping, its pastiche of superficial reflections bewilder coordination and encourage submission instead… Once outside… it becomes daunting to get out again without bureaucratic assistance.’
As cities become increasingly similar… how do we identify the potential for genuine urban-distinction? If the urban experience is increasingly controlled by safety and access concerns, how do we interact in creative ways?
However, some may argue that the more homogenised a space is, the more open it is for interpretation and hence somehow more accessible with out all the conventions of the past that exclude some cultures from feeling at home. But there seems to be a huge ‘gulf between this potential, abstract space, devoid of landmarks and any privileged centre… and the practical space of journeys actually being made.” [Borurdieu, P Outline of a Theory of Practice. 1977 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.]

Institutionalised Spatial Practices

People who withdraw inward in public space are unsettling, their behaviour signalling that their bodies, but not personas, are passing through. (Wellman 2001 240)
There are many dynamics of a space, cultural, social, technical that determine the limits of certain human behaviour and interaction.
Difference places invite different human behaviour in so much as ‘space comprises of interactions and the material infrustructure that makes these interactions possible.” Felis Stalder 2001. Zukin (Sharon Zukin. The Culture of Cities) culture as a source of images and memories, it symbolises ‘who belongs’ in specific places. … symbolic economy – cultural consumption – industries that cater to it…. “depends on how they manipulate symbolic languages of exclusion and entitlement.” never ‘disassociated from the ‘considerations of power’ (Halbwachs 1992:40) or the bureaucracy of memory‘ (Gillis 1994) … ‘advancing systems of remembering and forgetting that are socially constructed and which favour elite memory over popular memory.’ (Brian S. Osborne ‘Landscapes, Memory, Monuments, and Commemoration: Putting Memory in its Place’. Draft Paper Commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage for the Ethnocultural, Racial, Religious, and Linguistic Diversity and identity Seminar. Halifax, Nova Scotia, nov 1-2 2001
Museums, Universities, Art Galleries are particular instances of institutionalised cultural practices.

Telematic Places

In modern settings, the When the developers of hybrid spaces become involved with the planning of cultural environments, it is obligatory that these environments become participants in the world of global information flows in the form of ‘intelligent buildings’ and ‘smart offices’. As a result, the places in which we humans find ourselves are becoming parallel infrastructures of both the telematic [Graham and Marvin 1996] and urban ‘spaces of flow’ [Castells, 1998]. The first giving rise to the improved processing and circulation of information, services, communication and exchange, and the second is the site of human experience of place and the social interaction and construction of identities by groups and individuals. [Zukin 1995]
Telematics environments are inevitable outcomes of developed and developing cities. These electronic infrastructures will effect urban development in a number of ways… economically, environmentally, socially and culturally (Marvin, Graham, Castells, Fishman et all). “The shadowy world of electronic spaces exists through the instantaneous flows of electrons and photons within cities and across planetary metropolitan networks, which, unseen, underpin virtually all that we experience in our daily lives.” (G and M, p575 the City Reader). Although ‘urban futurists’ accept the idea that the implementation of telematics in cities has increased the potential for people to interact across vast areas, it also contributes to the loss of social and cultural engagement of inhabitants in local place. They also point out that this sort of technology supports the elite and potentially alienates the poorer people living in areas that are unlikely to have access to telematic interfaces.

It is typical in Australian cities that the electronic hubs seem to be centred around traditional places such as Universities and Museums or corporate office complexes normally accessed by the more affluent members of society. It could therefore be assumed that these hubs (physically and telematically) are designed to support the known interactions of people in these places to increase communication and production efficiency as well as flows of information. Access to interfaces with these flows would be restricted to members only with possibly some limited access for public participation if it were beneficial to the stakeholders of these sites.

SCOOT 1: The University Environment and it’s Students

For example, the first site for which SCOOT was designed was The Cultural Industries Precinct (CIP). The CIP is part of the “Kelvin Grove Urban Village” (KGUV) project set in the suburb of Kelvin Grove, on the very edge of the Brisbane CBD “where a government and university have come together to plan and build a new integrated community” [KGUV] As well as being a place of urban renewal with various opportunities for community engagement, this is a site that boasts some of the most advanced digital facilities and is therefore a rich technological ‘node’ whose infrastructure is connected to multiple remote partner ‘nodes’ throughout the country and overseas. The village imagineers state that: “It (the CIP) provides a unique opportunity for designers, artists, researchers, educators and entrepreneurs to easily connect and collaborate with others to create new work, develop new ideas and grow the creative industries sector in Queensland.” [Kelvin Grove Urban Village. Available at] This site was designed and marketed as a typical example of the Telematic Space. Given the increasing potential for building global networks, what are the opportunities that now exist for the local stakeholders? Who are they, and what are their actual levels of access and agency within these nodes and flows? At first glance, the site offers numerous community opportunities with all the public displays and ICT facilities. However, it is not at all clear how anyone can access them, or what process is required to create meaningful uses for them. This way the actual ‘opportunities’ are only known to a few and the media is simply broadcasted by a distant unseeable authority. Also, actual physical access to the CIP is riddled with unseen restrictions. It is not until you try to enter an area that you realise you need to somehow obtain permission and a swipe card. … ‘swipe card’ access to physical spaces and login passwords to electronic spaces. All access was determined by either student enrolments or staff contracts to certain groups with varying levels of access according to faculties, courses, subjects etc. What is interesting is that although the CIP increases it’s members access to global nodes, it does not necessarily provide the motivation to do so. It can also be said, that by doing so it neglected to provide support for the sustaining of relationships of the locals within the global node. It only makes sense that a physical community must be sustained to create the motivation to be active in the global areana by…branding the CIP as an active and valued node… motivated and sustained by local activity The first iteration of SCOOT was set in a newly established ‘Creative Industries Precinct in Brisbane, Australia. Throughout the design process the limits of the site became more and more problematic for the delivery of SCOOT. This was due to a tension between the rhetoric of the Universities intentions for the space and the actual everyday experience of inhabiting the space. The university rhetoric was one of access and “It provides a unique opportunity for designers, artists, researchers, educators and entrepreneurs to easily connect and collaborate with others to create new work, develop new ideas and grow the creative industries sector in Queensland.” 5.5.09, 3.45pm

“The Creative Industries Faculty is located at the Kelvin Grove campus and Creative Industries Precinct. Individual artistic talent is given space to grow within some of the best performance spaces in the country. Augmenting these spaces is an impressive array of technical equipment that reflects industry standards.” 5.5.09, 3.50pm However, there were in fact very few ‘telematic’ spaces that students actually had access to. The university CIP is made up primarily of highly technical and attractive computer labs, teaching rooms, staff offices, exhibition rooms and open spaces. Access was the main problem: security concerns over-ride any real desire for ‘open access for creative interaction’…

1. computer labs – swipe access only determined by enrolment in specific ‘units’ (subjects) in particular disciplines (departments). 2. Staff offices – swipe access only – contact between staff and students was limited to pre-arranged meetings in rooms outside staff areas. 3. Teaching rooms – swipe access only. Only used for scheduled lectures and activities. 4. Exhibitions – (large spaces and billboards) were booked months in advance to outside artists. 5. Open spaces – outside there was little or no shade or seating. The single café only attracted staff. There are a number of networked electronic displays… Althought he university had promised an open system for creative engagement, there was no information to make it easy for students to understand the access to such facilities.

Works are collected by motivated staff members and showreeled for display. But does rely on these staff to also feel access. There are very few people roaming these spaces. Students rarely met unless they shared classes. Other social and learning spaces such as the library, cafeteria, were on another campus.

SCOOT as an opportunity for claiming space

1. computer labs were converted into gaming dungeons. Students worked out ways to let others in… they found and shared class schedules to take advantage of spare time… and hid out during classes pretending to be enrolled. They broke rules by eating, drinking, sleeping and being generally very noisy. Evidence of cooperation and competition was vast. 2. Staff became knowing and at times unwitting agents of play. 3. Teaching rooms were invaded by SCOOT installations 4. SCOOT creating interfaces for the plasma screens to be public noticeboards 5. Open spaces were also invaded by game machines and game ‘tags’. Students would recognise other students as game players, interacting with stories of progress and subversion. This revealed to both the designers and the playing students that the sites were in fact plastic… that the conventions of behavior in these spaces were often assumed and the potential to intervene and interact were possible through cooperation and design.