Recap: Get Up! Urban activism and the politics of persuasion

  • Date published : 14 May 2019

Novel practice models, community campaigning and mapping fear in the city were all themes of a recent talk hosted by TCL and Kerb Journal at TCL Melbourne.

Titled ‘Get Up! Urban activism and the politics of persuasion’, the sold-out event included presentations from four speakers, Simon Robinson and Steve Mintern from OFFICE, Tania Davidge from Oopla and Citizens for Melbourne, and Associate Professor Nicole Kalms, founder of the XYX Lab at Monash University.

Robinson and Mintern’s presentation introduced their not-for-profit design practice Office, which was set up to pursue projects of high social and cultural value. The model is something of an experiment, with few precedents in the built environment sector in Australia. Interestingly, the practice, which takes an intentionally generic name, has been set up to allow anyone with an idea to come in and work on their own projects, if the projects align to the values of the directors and board. The individuals would then be granted the resources and business infrastructure (such as insurances and registrations etc) required to be awarded contracts.

Davidge spoke of her practice OoPLA (formerly OpenHAUS), and the projects they have undertaken over the past decade, most of which sought to engage the wider public in conversations about design, public space and architecture. One project, held at the M Pavilion, challenged young children to design and build their own pavilions using colourful pipe cleaners, which were then photographed and superimposed into the Queen Victoria Gardens landscape, often appearing as legitimate architectural propositions. Davidge ended on her very successful campaign to oppose the demolition of Fed Square’s Yarra building and its replacement with an Apple store. By founding Citizens for Melbourne, a public space advocacy group, she and her colleagues ran the ‘Our City, Our Square’ campaign, which attracted thousands of letters from concerned Victorians that ultimately contributed to Heritage Victoria’s block on the project.

Finally, Kalms, who founded Monash University’s XYX Lab, exposed how simplistic contemporary thinking around designing for safety in public space is. A series of mappings were presented that visualised the female experience of the city, identifying the kinds of places females felt most unsafe and vulnerable. ‘On the street’ was by far the most common answer, with parks second and public transport also ranking high. Kalms called for males in positions of power to stop citing the experiences of females they knew, such as family members, and to simply respond to what the data is telling us.

Also on display was an exhibition curated by Kerb Journal’s Gary Ward, titled ‘A Selection of Perspectives’, which included photography, illustration and video works from a number of emerging artists and designers responding to the theme of the evening.

TCL and Kerb Journal would like to thank our incredible speakers, the designers and artists who submitted their work, as well as Two Birds Brewery, Fixation Brewing and Foreigner Brewing who all donated drinks in support of Kerb Journal.

Photography: Jack Dixon-Gunn. View more photos here via Facebook.

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