David Engwicht is in NZ in March

David Engwicht is giving a series of workshops in New Zealand in March 2011.

The workshops are a little pricey so I fully recommend reading his books if you can’t get along to his talks. I was lucky enough to attend one in Wellington through my work at Living Streets Aotearoa. I first encountered David’s work through his books Street Reclaiming: Creating livable streets and vibrant communities, and Mental speed bumps: the smarter way to tame traffic.

David talks about the street as a historical site of human interaction, and not just a place for vehicle traffic which has taken over in recent times. He talks about communities reclaiming their streets as part of the public realm, with strong emphasis on freedom to express a sense of home, a sense that ‘people live here’ in all the creative, humorous, low cost yet generous ways humans can think of. He illustrates with wonderful examples of community art/ interventions that not only provide opportunities for local residents to engage and communicate with neighbours, but also has the magical effect of slowing down traffic on residential streets, making them more pleasant to live on.

All kinds of activities can improve safety and atmosphere of local streets, from simply sitting out the front of your house to staging a street party. The key is engagement – in any form – with the place you live in.

photos from the Urban Jewels collection

Community art, Neighbourhood art

David often talks about the interaction between art and traffic, something I hope to expand on with my upcoming Masters study. After decades of shying away from any ‘dangerous distractions’ on boring roads you want to speed through, we are now seeing more art and design detail on streets and motorways in New Zealand. Is this a conscious effort to improve safety, value and sense of place? Are traffic engineers the curators of this new art venue? Do people walk more in creative street environments? I plan to find out…

Notes and further links:
David Engwicht is the founder of the Creative Communities organisation, and based in Australia.

book review of Reclaiming our Cities and Towns: Better living with less traffic.

More detail about David Engwicht and his work can be found here at the Project for Public Spaces website.

D. E. quote: “The city is an invention to maximize exchange and minimize travel”

a quick note on Ghost Bikes:
As discussed in NZ media lately – a more sombre example of community intervention in the street scape is the idea of “ghost bikes“, to make places where cyclists have died in collisions in unsafe conditions. This is a way for family and friends to communicate their loss to the community, and remind drivers to be mindful of bikes. Councils are wary of supporting these bikes in case people start installing ghost cars, or ghost pedestrians, eventually filling up the roadsides with spectres. I think they are missing the point of the instantaneous response to something that is growing more and more important to New Zealanders right now – that is safety for all road users. A few ghost bikes is enough to bring this to the attention of the media and hopefully the majority of road users.

Council vs Public Debate.

Memorial Ghost Bike in Whangarei for Fred Ogle

Memorial Ghost Bike in Whangarei

Discussion (2) ¬

  1. Ghost bikes are a beautifully simple poignant comment. We already have a history of statements of this kind with the tradition of white crosses on the side of the road marking where someone has died in a car accident.

    On a slightly related note, what do you think of Slutwalk as a way to reclaim the street space?

  2. Hi Rose thanks for your comment.

    City streets and squares have been used to draw attention to shared concerns and political debate for millennia. From what I can gather, Slutwalk is a protest against blaming rape victims for rape, while also promoting freedom to express sexuality in public. The first issue is more of a political/social issue than one of engaging with physical space, and the second issue requires public space to demonstrate.

    The urban public realm has been critiqued as an ideal catering to ‘masculine’ needs, or desires, for excitement and interaction with strangers, where women have a ‘more ambiguous’ relationship with public space. [see M. Miles, ‘Art, Space and the City’, chapter on gender, 1997).
    Such binary analysis, might be expanded by shifting extroverted or introverted use of space by various people at different times. Imbalances of power in general – age, race, class, sexuality, gender – can all lead to insecurity in public places. Slutwalk suggest social support for extroverted sexuality is the key to confidence and security (from rape) for this group, this wont be true for everyone. Having said that safety in public (for all) is certainly an issue worth promoting, as Slutwalk is trying to do.

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