I guess I am still reflecting on the Liardet Street and Bay Street intersection because people are still negotiating it

The Liardet Street and Bay Street intersection never seems to leave the Port Melbourne policy agenda. The commentary in Port Melbourne on this intersection seems to express fatigue and/or surprise that what to do about this intersection is still being negotiated. It was even noteworthy that there was not a clear record of the number of times this issue has been reported to council, as this message from the current local councillor for the area expresses.  Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 12.48.49 PM

One night in December 2014, I found myself reflecting on the sheer volume of conversations (and blog posts) that have been turned towards this intersection when I happened to be riding my bicycle along Bay Street. Suddenly my reflection and cadence were brought to an abrupt stop as I slammed on my breaks to avoid being run over by a car that had shot through the intersection in violation of the road rules.

I myself have reflected on this intersection before on this blog. In way of summary, during my field work, the council installed pedestrian crossing on Liardet Street. While pedestrians already had right of way when it came to the cars turning into Liardet Street from Bay Street, the pedestrian crossing made more visible this right, and also extended it so that cars travelling along Liardet Street would also be required to give way. Negotiation amongst individuals and was set aside in favour of making visible clearer rules for travelling through the area. However, just like human rights only need to be evoked when people do not have the rights they are supposed to already have (see Rancière 2004), this shows that the fact that pedestrians already had right of way was not adequate. In other words, the written rules were not necessarily the taken for granted order through which people negotiated the intersection.

As I said in my other post, as somebody who crossed Liardet Street frequently, I was impressed with the amount of time I saved as a result of the pedestrian crossing. However, not everybody found the white lines painted on the road as helpful. After the pedestrian crossing was installed I started to hear people complain about trying to walk across the intersection. Perhaps the intersection became visible as an object of reflection when it had been altered and signs were erected? There were difficulties with negotiating movement through the space. I observed the occasional car still failing to give way to pedestrians, but I also saw many pedestrians waiting for a gap in the traffic to cross. This did not demonstrate ignorance of the rules. Many people, including people who do not own cars, spoke about how they tried to minimise the inconvenience the pedestrian crossing caused for cars as they made their way across Liardet Street. In other words, the intersection was still being negotiated.

There seemed to be frustration that the space still needs to be negotiated, both in planning and in passing through the space.

Reference
Rancière, J., 2004. Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man? South Atlantic Quarterly, 103(2/3), pp.297–310.

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An instance of temporal qualifications for intervening in policy implementation

A little side story that ended up in my Port Melbourne field notes was about Nancy having returned from holidays to find a notification letter that the process had been initiated for the sell off of part of a lane way. The sell of would have blocked the connection to the street of the laneway Nancy’s back gate opened out onto. Nancy used her back gate for taking her rubbish bins out to the street. As she lived in a row house, if Nancy was to continue storing her rubbish bins in her backyard, the only way to take them out to the street would be through her house. Nancy did not find such a prospect appealing and, as the letter stated, she could object to the sell off.

Nancy was annoyed to find the notice, but relieved that she had arrived with a working day to spare before the temporal window for registering an objection closed. Following the instructions included in her letter, Nancy called Council to speak to a relevant council officer. Nancy reported being referred to as a silly old person who did not understand. The person Nancy spoke with treated Nancy as if she did not have a right to speak on this matter. However, as the owner of her particular house, Nancy did have a right. This was an inaccurate and inappropriate comment made by the council staff member.

A councillor who heard this story said, “It should never have happened.” Dismissing Nancy as ‘a silly old person who did not understand’ was not sensible. Anyway, the laneway in question never should have been considered for sale because, being of use to other residents, this particular lane did not meet the criteria to be sold. Nancy’s situation would not have arisen if the policy had been adequately implemented.

Yet, with the way the policy was implemented in this case, if Nancy’s return from holiday or her attention to her mail had been detained for an extra day, the sale might have gone ahead whatever the person on the other end of the phone thought of Nancy. Objections to the sale were to be taken seriously, according to the policy, if they are made by particular people and within a particular time. Policies operate with qualifications.

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#OneLessStranger: Some thoughts on obligation without consent

Airbnb has a promotional campaign running, #OneLessStranger

On Airbnb, you can post and find rooms/properties to lease short term. Initial contact is done through the website, without identifying details being exchanged, but you can see that the identity of the person has been ‘verified’ (e.g. through ‘linking’ their Facebook account, proving they have provided a working mobile phone number and/or by electronic assessment of identity documents). Both ‘hosts’ and ‘guests’ review each other. Airbnb handles the money and provides some insurance cover (with most of the fees being added to the price paid by the person who books).

The images, text and set-up of the website encourages hosts and guests to develop social relationships. Not only are hosts encouraged to tell guests how much they are likely to socialise with them, hosts can send ‘special offers’ (i.e. the set price is not so set). My reactions (as an Australian) to this type of exchange is in keeping with work by John Burgess on the the relationally of American exchange compared with the formality of Australian exchange (with a focus on tipping in bars).

For #OneLessStranger, Airbnb is transferring a credit to [at least some] bank accounts [they already have the details for]. For Australian accounts the amount appears to be AUD$10 (and this figure of 10 seems to also be used in other currencies).

An email advises the Airbnb user of having been been ‘handpicked’ ‘to be part of a global social experiment’.

“At Airbnb we want to reduce the number of strangers in the world. We invite you to take part by doing one kind, inventive, awesome act of hospitality to someone you haven’t met yet. Here’s how it works:

1. In the coming days, you’ll see a payout in your Transaction History to cover the cost.

2. Use it to create something special for a stranger and capture the moment with a picture, video or post.

3. Share your story with #OneLessStranger and show the world what it looks like to pay-it-forward with Airbnb. You can do this within the video or text, or by using an #ad hashtag when sharing.”

The $10 arrives without the Airbnb user agreeing to participate. With the $10 being transferred, there is a demand (not just a request) to participate – participation has already been paid for. (I have written a little about obligations and the gift on this blog before.) Receiving $10 for #OneLessStranger seems to be different from receiving an advertising covered ‘free sample’ at the train station.

In #OneLessStranger, ‘strangers’ may receive contact that they did not request. Should this be celebrated? The very concept of community seems to be imbued with demands that are made without consent.

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Considering the cash register: How one group got the job done

One of the groups that formed part of my fieldwork had a shop front. A digital cash register had been introduced by head office before I started my fieldwork. In theory, the digital cash register allowed head office to monitor transactions in the op shop. The system sent off records of each day’s transactions to head office but what it actually allowed head office to monitor was what was entered into the cash register.money

There was a range of strategies devised so people in the group could continue to staff the shop front despite the new cash register. They did not know how to open the cash register drawer any way other than putting through a transaction. It was common for a 50 cent transaction to be put through the cash register to open the drawer in situations such as if the wrong change had been given, if something needed to be checked or if cash was needed to collect change from the bank. The trick was to remember to deduct the 50 cents off a later transaction where the customer did not want a receipt to help ensure an accurate reconciliation at the end of the day. 

Although many in the group said they had surprised themselves by learning to operate the new cash register, one person with low literacy did not. Instead of having to resign her role, when she worked on the front counter, the cash register drawer was left ajar and she neatly wrote down the price of each item sold. When there was free time later in the day, somebody else would enter these prices into the cash register in made up transactions mimicking normal patterns. Such arrangements were treated by the team of volunteers as violating head office’s instructions but this was not treated as a problem within the group.

I did not think these strategies were a particular problem (but, after spending many months with the group, I did check the cash register instructions one week and then showed some of the others how to put through a ‘no sale’ to open to cash register drawer).

Systems were found to work around the cash register but the cash register seemed to also shape the group’s experience. The lack of flexibility in the operation of the cash register seemed to contribute not so much to frustrations at the cash register or the demands from customers being ruled too challenging, but rather those customers who changed their mind when it came to part of the transaction were described and treated as frustrating people to be avoided. In this way, the digital cash register had managed to prioritise transactions. However, this was not through the process of the record of transactions being received by head office each day but rather because of the frustration that would be experienced by group members if the demands of customers did not fit with the way the cash register organised the work flow. 

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On the topic of smells

This week the Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society blog considered smells.

Although many Port Melbourne residents who had lived there long enough to remember the Swallow and Ariel biscuit factory still in operation (the site is now housing, it was mentioned above in my discussion of ‘photographs’) would recall the wonderful smell of baking biscuits across their suburb. Those who had been there just a few years earlier knew the contrast between that wonderful smell of the biscuits when the wind blew one way and the awful smell of the soap factory when it blew the other.

The smells of sharing your suburb with industry were not necessarily made more pleasant by familiarity.

During my fieldwork, when a factory still in operation not far from North Port oval breached EPA guidelines, nearby residents were quick to bring this to the attention of the local newspaper.

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The Play Spaces Strategy as ‘the police’: Can policy be democratic?

In rewriting a chapter, I am jettisoning its examples. This is one of the examples spliced together with a more recent conceptual musing. 

In the chapter ‘Politics, identification, and subjectivization’, Rancière (1995: 63-64) draws a distinction between emancipation, as equality, and policy, as the process ‘of governing… [as] it entails creating community consent, which relies on the distribution of shares and the hierarchy of places and functions.’ Policy here is used the way that we find ‘the police’ used in many other works in or translated into English. Although this is a marginal text in the overall scheme of Rancière’s work, what is clear is that policy (or ‘the police’) does not emancipate. Policies impose an order.

The City of Port Phillip’s Play Space Strategy 2011 can be understood as an example of ‘the police’. As with council plans more generally, this strategy is an example of striving for a comprehensive approach. For example,

The Play Space Strategy contains a set of Infrastructure and Design Guidelines that describe Council’s position regarding all aspects of play space development, including such things as provision of shade, seating, water fountains, play infrastructure and fencing.’ (CoPP Ordinary Meeting 10/10/11, report 4, 1.6- emphasis added)

Of course, much is not visible in the Play Space strategy. A strategy is an imposed order and order is only ever imposed in contexts of contingency. However, alternatives are presented as accounted for. The choice of the title‘Play Space Strategy’, in contrast with the preceding playground strategy, provides a particularly clear illustration of this.

The Strategy reflects an evolution and increasing sophistication in Council’s approach to play spaces with a focus on provision of ‘play spaces’ rather than playgrounds and of spaces that act as social gathering spaces that offer respite from surrounding urbanisation.’ (CoPP Play Space Strategy 2011: 4)

By outlining Council’s approach as one that has improved by considering ‘spaces’ rather than ‘grounds’, the choice of title is justified as sensible. Although the very act of justification makes visible that other names may have been possible, the alternatives of playgrounds or ‘social gathering spaces’ are named, counted and included within the chosen title. The naming only leaves space for alternative accounts it already dismisses as inferior. The Strategy includes an audit of what is claimed to be all existing and potential play spaces, suggesting that every space that can be sensibly considered in this context is rendered visible. Along with the use of maps in the document, physical space is also represented in a way that suggests nothing [that matters] is left out. Of course, only certain spaces were audited and marked on the map.

The potential for what is provided in the space to bring out particular activity is demonstrated by the presumption that ‘creative’ play works better with custom equipment – equipment that looks a particular way. Creative play could be understood as play which challenges definitions of ‘play’ or boundaries between those actions which are play and those which are not. Yet it only makes sense to challenge such a division if it is presumed to already exist. Furthermore, (more valuable) creative play is distinguished from other activity/ play. Most significantly, there is a distinction between that equipment which encourages ‘creative play’ and that which does not. It is ‘creative’ equipment which brings about creative play, rather than the creative capacity of people to appropriate common structures for ‘creative’ ends. Instead of a capacity people have and enact for themselves, creativity is represented as something that is to be brought out of people.

The totalising approach is easy to ridicule in such strategies. However, the imposition of an order in which children need to be instructed how to play by the correct ‘space’ seems to be a stultifying, and so non-emancipatory, approach (Chambers 2014; Rancière 1991). Yet is it anti-democratic as a policy?

To represent politics and the police as opposed to each other is an over simplification. Chambers (2013) argues against understanding politics and the police as opposites and describes the police order as always being the context for politics. Citton (2009: 139) describes it as a register which can be ‘worked in’ (and broken out of by politics). Therefore policy should potentially be the context for democracy. If this is the case, is my analysis of The Play Spaces Strategy too critical?

 

References

Chambers, S., 2013. The lessons of Rancière, New York: Oxford University Press.

Rancière, J., 1991. The ignorant schoolmaster: Five lessons in intellectual emancipation, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Rancière, J., 1995. Politics, identification, and subjectivization. In J. Rajchman, ed. The identity in question. New York ; London: Routledge, pp. 63–70.

 

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Spare change requested in shared space [outside supermarkets]

Back in my field work days, there was a well known identity who could often be found outside the Bay Street entrance to Coles. The bench he would often occupy was referred to by some as his ‘office’, but some other people referred to him as the ‘dirty man’ rather than by his name. He might not have been universally embraced and some may have avoided conversations with him, but I was never aware of any serious interest from anyone in having him ‘move on’.

Not so much a well known identity, but a somewhat familiar face, was the much lankier man who would sometimes ask for money in that area, often closer to the Liardet Street entrance. I never really heard people complain about being asked for money, but nor did he seem to have a recognised identity that contributed to him being ‘part of Port Melbourne’. My guess at the time was that the wide footpath and multiple entrances meant that if somebody did not want to be engaged, they did not have to be.

Outside the IGA on King Street in Newtown (an inner suburb of Sydney) , there are those who set themselves up asking for money. Crowds can be thick and the space is very limited. Often it seems lucky that the person is (or people are) crouched on a low window sill or a milk crate as there is space above their head for people to navigate their way through with a couple of bags of groceries. It feels like everyone is pushed into close quarters regardless of their reason for occupying the space. However, the power differential between the person who can choose to give and the person asking is played out with this height imbalance. At the same time, the self proclaimed ‘grittiness‘ of Newtown can be staged for residents and visitors alike.

King St, Newtown. Both the alcove and the milk crate near the bin are common spots for people to sit and solicit 'change'.

King St, Newtown. Both the alcove and the milk crate near the bin are common spots for people to sit and solicit ‘change’.

Returning to the inner suburbs of Melbourne, this is a slightly different set up to the Coles on Johnston Street in Fitzroy, near the corner of Brunswick Street. Here, as outside the IGA in Newtown, there are often people asking for money but they can use the bus shelter which faces the door, either sitting on the bench or on the floor. The footpath is wider and there is less through traffic, so perhaps it is not such an issue.

I wonder how other people experience being asked for money in these different spaces.

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