Friday, August 12, 2011

Marketing Spatial Construction - Lappset finds fertile reception in Australia

Logan City Council has built a parkour park out of the Lappset line of modular playground equiptment. Grace Lutheran College already has one, but it is a private facility and this is the first public facility in Australia. Lappsett are currently the only equiptment provider who makes this stuff specifically marketed for 'parkour' applications. I could understand that the Lappset product provides a percieved ability to novate risk for councils if someone injures themselves. Aside from this, it is important to note that products and marketing effect culture (ie: Adidas and RUNDMC). So far the only brands to successfully market to traceurs has been a few shoe companies (feivue and 5-10's etc). Otherwise a defining feature of parkour culture is it's ability to exist sans-consumerism. In line with the previous post about possible new characteristics to define cultural revolution, it would appear that sans-consumer or post-consumer engagement with life, space, systems and people are imperitive to avoid the cultural and social conflicts we have seen recently.

I find the power in parkour is to asert yourself in the found environment. Not to have someone make something for you so that you can consume it. The parkour lessons and the parkour philosophy cannot be learnt when it's done on equiptment to be consumed. You have to assert your existence and your purpose upon the latent found environment which subjugates you daily. You have to identify the limits which space and form and oppression put on you, the spaces and forms and limits that wear you down daily, and then you defy it with creative and beautiful movement. You create/hack/iterate your own reality, and fly over the obstacles and limits which you can identify for youreself in your own struggle daily.

If you wait for someone to create a limit for you, which you ask for in the first place, so that you can do cool looking calisthenic and isometric exercises over, it's not parkour. It's just cool looking calisthenics. Parkour is something that you develop in your mind through the exercise, and then continues to play out in your mind changing the way you view the world in everything you do. This is why it is a 'discipline' and not a sport or fitness fad like 'body pump'. And you cannot understand the discipline unless you move.

As a friend told me recently after her first day: "I will never see the city the same way again". It is a common sentiment. And this is why. This can't occur on Lappsett gear that's marketed to you.

So don't wait for someone to build one in a park for you. Find a limit right now. That you can see in front of you, that effects you everday, and overcome it creatively and beautifully. And practice it until it becomes second nature, and you can't view the world without seeing creative and beautiful possibility upon every limitation that once oppressed you.

Like some may view an abundance of welfare as disposessing people from the capacity and means of self-determinancy and self-motivation (and from the wider lanscape in general), a shift in consumer marketing towards the parkour aspirations of the youth and the city may well disposess traceurs and traceur-aspirants of the power, spirit and motivation which the discipline gives so abundantly in it's current form.

In the same way that I don't think that welfare is bad, I don't think that Lappset is bad... but when and if people begin to rely upon it for their motivation to move, and wait for a product (which they may or may not be able to afford) arrive before they assert their own power, grace and belonging amongst the people, spaces and systems that comprise the city.

This can not be our revolution

For the first time in many years I find myself motivated to pursue cultural revolution. And ashamedly, I find my motivation in a selfish desire to avoid violent protests of a banal consumer nature to beat me to it. My distraction almost complete, I felt prompted to write about it.

Let me explain:

Every 20 or so years there is a cultural revolution. The beat and jazz revolution in the 40’s with the likes of Kerouac, rhythm and blues, and the emancipation of women’s clothing (The Bikini!) and employment and the dissolution of old empires. The 60’s had their revolution spurred on by rock’n’roll, the evolution of the beat movement into ‘counter-culture’ and the sexual revolution. The technological revolution of the 1980’s and the rise of hiphop and DIY rock in a variety of forms emerged (I won’t mention the fashion). All accompanied by new invention, new cultural expression and social forms.

…And then it would seem that we waited for 30 years… We shelved space travel and interplanetary colonization, we developed the genres incrementally and diversely but didn’t really create much that was new, there was nothing new under the sun, and we could have it all… and we had ‘the clash’ playing ‘know your rights’ on repeat. We didn’t really go anywhere from there, and we re-embraced 80’s fashion, and vinyl, and aviators. We were cyclical consumers, re-living the latest revolution through our on-demand discographies (don’t get me wrong.. I love listening through my collection of late 90’s grunge or early millennium pop-punk).

And then on a Monday morning in 2011 I find myself watching the youth looting the European cities that I love, destroying their own neighbourhoods, demanding ‘respect’ and ‘equality’ and change. I see the whole world irrecoverably indebted to each other and facing collapse. I see a season crying out for creative invention and re-definition. What do we live for now? What is our future in this new uncertain world? And how do we get the change we want for our youth and for our cities? And not just incite unproductive conflict.

These latest riots in England have been characterised by one thing. Consumer choice. Sold a culture of accessories that they can’t afford, and unable to dismiss the proseletising of the TV, the rioting in London was not directed at symbols of the state or symbols of questionable morality, but at shoe stores and electronics games retailers and a few jewellery stores. Ipods, Gucci, Sony and Nike. Lootings looked like a child’s Christmas wish list rather than the hard won artifacts of rebellion.

Now note where the looting is taking place... Looters are targeting places based on their innaccessible consumer choices because that is what they think a) they need, and b) will demonstrate their rise to power and garner respect from authority and people to make them pay attention to their issues.

They can’t possibly really believe that A) we give a rat's arse about foot locker, and B) This crap they are taking is worth anything politically or socially. Are our youth really that naïve???

This is not meant to read as a justification by any means, I find it increadibly pathetic and very very sad. Here we have the cyclical cultural revolution (I suspect there is one brewing on the back of a GFC2.0, as essentially we have been waiting for one since the 80's)… ...but these kids are wasting their youth, their energy, and their creativity on shit. And we may only get a few opportunities to define what it is this future culture will be about beforeit gets hijacked by the hyper polar nodes of extremism and ultra-conservatism. I do not want 'my-revolution' to be about gucci bling and xbox. I want my future to be about communities, fiscal responsibility, p2p economies, creatively hacking oppressive systems to iterate and establish new equitable ones which focus on social rehabilitation instead of exploitation, and the power and purpose of youthful play and creative resilience in the face of immovable conservatism. I want it to be about liberty to create better freestanding systems that can be folded into the mainstream as a result of their success in a meritocracy. There has to be more for the youth to inherit. There has to be connection and ownership and civic evolution and cultural filigree.

We need alternatives to consumer-citizen engagement with place and people, and we need it now! We need to identify our limits, and overcome them daily with new creative and beautiful actions that, based upon their merits and success, can change the way we see and interact with the world.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Leave No Trace

In my research one thing that exemplified why play in public space was a positive thing, was that it established a sense of belonging and ownership of space, and it similarly was an altruistic force which was of immeasurable benifit to the city. I observe this to be the case generally, in the affectionate manner in which traceurs and other urban players speak of their beloved city spaces, but I find it even better is when it finds explicit expression in the benevolent action of it's citizens.

On Sat morning members of the Brisbane section of the Australian Parkour Assosciation met at Jacobs Ladder to begin a day of general altruism as they cleaned foot marks off walls and cleared the parks and walkways of rubbish, needles, broken glass and generally unsightly and unsafe things. After Jacob's Ladder we hit white walls, and NAB alley. We cleared in excess of 3m^3 of this waste and made a noticeable difference to some of the walls which bore the marks of much previous parkour love.

The most frustrating thing architecturally whilst undergoing this work was the innapropriateness of finishes and detailing in public space. A popular spot for parkour, affectionately known as "white wall's" suffers from terrible water staining, damaged and degrading finishes, and a general lack of maintainence. A simple change in detailing, colour and material selection would result in a completely different and more aesthetically sustainable outcome to the benifit of both urban player's and urban manager's and owners. Materials that are impervious and patterned or grained appropriate to the close scale of engagement, materials that don't stain, details that manage the negative effecs of water. Basic, simple things that done well would make a world of difference to the utility of public space.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More media!

Well, I didn't know about it, but apparently I made it into a magazine :)
How nice of them.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

PLANKING: fresh play in Brisbane City

Planking has been described as 'actively lying down'. It is an absurd play activity, where one sinply lies down in a unfamiliar place. I suppose for me, the absurd fascination of planking and it's success in social media comes down to the juxtaposition of the body in space in a new and unprecedented manner. Andrew day, an influential parkour photographer in Europe, writes about this phenomena in his Master's Thesis. He specifically talks about the importance of the image, the position of the body in relation to space, and the creative positioning and re-interpretation of interaction with space, which although directed towards the filming and photography of parkour, similarly applies to planking. In fact; planking has been reffered to as "Parkour for lazy people".

The planking craze is not new, and has been known in other areas of the world as 'the lying down game' and has been practice for at least a few years as a locative photo-iterative prank. Even earlier it may have been known as playing 'superman' although the locative photo-iterative component may not have been popular until the advent of digital cameras. Mostly planking did not seem to raise the 'ire' of many and planking continued without any notable condemnation. In the last week, the play practice of 'planking' has grown in popularity in Brisbane, since a youth made headlines after he was arrested for alledgedly planking on a police car in Gladstone. The youth was charged with being "Found on Police Establishment Without Lawful Excuse"and will appear in court soon. Quickly social networking sites capitalised on the media activity and network groups developed and quickly gained followings. Some groups even used the oppurtunity to make charitable donations to local groups, such as the guide dogs and Young Care Australia. Not only was this play simply fun, but out of that fun some purely altruist activities began to emerge setting an exciting positivist trend for this play activity! Fun had legs and play was bringing not only psychological benifit to the ciy, but also a very percievable social and (albeit initially rather minor) economic benifit!

In a terrible twise of fate, several days after the popularity explosion of planking, a Gladstone man died in Brisbane, and it was quickly alledged that the man died whilst planking from an apartment balcony at Kangaroo Point. In response; Queensland Police issued a statement reminding 'plankers' to think about the nature of their planks before-hand, reminding practitioners that if pushing their 'planks' to the extreme, they faced being charged with 'un-regulated high risk activities' (under the summary offences act 2005) and 'tresspass' if their 'planks' were too extreme, and posed a risk to public safety. The Victorian police reacted in a similar fashion.

It is important to note, that despite the sensationalist media reporting, the police have not banned or condemned planking. They have condemned planking dangerously at risk to others. It comes down to the individual to consider what is appropriate and innapropriate. Undoubtedly though, deviancy labelling will occur, and some portion of the 'planking community' will react to this labelling with more extreme actions...

Unfortunately planking, unlike parkour, does not have an established discipline and tradition of gradual incremental skill growth and peer supported progression. Instead is seen by some to exist in a competitive fashion, outdooing peers. This may not necessarily be the case. Parkour is seen by non-traceurs as a competitive activity, when it could not be further from the truth, however this does not stop youth who are unfamiliar with the ethos of parkour to act in a certain way which may be unhelpful to the reputation of the play activity.

It will also be interesting to see how the courts interpret the summary offences act if more people are charged. The 'unregulated high risk activity' subsection was specifically drafted to address base jumping in urban areas, but has been attempted to be used against parkour traceurs a few years ago when someone vaulted what is essetnially a seat (although the judge at the time kicked the matter out of court), an amateur builderer climbing a lower wall of suncorp stadium (not the roof, just part of the facade), and more recently against bridge jumpers during the floods earlier this year (which was a pretty stupid move by the jumpers).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

PLAY: planting the social DNA for development

While researching for my master's thesis I reviewed this DVD by KSPR productions called MY PLAYGROUND.

It documents, in part, the design and development of the world's first "Parkour Park" in collaboration with Kragh & Berglund and features also collaborations between traceurs and Bjarke Ingels Group. Since then more have opened in London, Sao Paulo and LA. Regardless of the disciplinarian politics about weather parkour is a sport or discipline, to be conducted at purpose built facilities or not, is kind of irrelevant. This is a pretty cool development.

But of perhaps more profound interest, is why:
The CPH City and Port Development are undergoing a HUGE revamp of the Portside area in Nordhavnen, comprising of over 2,000,000m2 and intending to accomodate 40,000 residents and infastructure to support a further 40,000 jobs. It's huge and it involves a lot of money.

Yet one of the first things that CPH City and Port Development has built; is infastructure for play activities. A strange move from those of us here in Australia who are used to completely speculative development. *Surely this is just a northern european abberation bought about by their cultural and economic excesses*.


They just know what they want. They know what value they want to achieve in the city.
A major tool which the CPH City and Port Development are investigating, is the use of iterative temporary spaces, social and cultural incubators, if you will. It's a very thorough and thought out strategy.

In the words of Jens Kramer Mikkelsen (KSPR, 2010), Managing Director for the CPH City and Port Development Authority:
"What can we do while we are building the city? USe the spaces that aren't being used yet, - and create some life and traditions before the space will be construction sites. And test different possibilities of activity."
His views are echoed by the Mayor's of Copenhagen, including Klaus Bondham:
"I like to see that the spaces in the city are being used. Because that is what they are there for. THere is no doubt that if there is a lot of positive behaviour in our city's space, THen that behaviour will take the positive power within that city space, and to get as many people in that city space with positive behaviour, that is certainly something that parkour amongst other can tribute [sic] to, because it gives us something to look at." (KSPR, 2010)

The Plug'n'Play Park is situated on the edge of this new development and for the next two years will be used to test and develop strategies for social and cultural play activities within the built context. They will iterate activities and architectural spaces and forms which accomodate them, firstly to stimulate the area and the wider psycho-geographical assosciation of the space with cultural value, and secondly; will use it as a testing ground for these strategies before they are deployed throught the rest of the 2million m2 development.

From the website:
”Plug n Play” is a concept taken from the computer world, but in Ørestad it has been transferred to an urban setting. The underlying idea is to enable users to readily establish, develop and test new forms of culture and sport in the area. Moreover, users should be able to ”log in to” the various activities with ease and without any obligations. The area therefore provides access to water, power, lavatories and storage facilities, and its location near the metro makes it easy to get to and from. The new activity area is a temporary provision intended to breathe life into the emerging new quarter. The plan is that the project should exist until 2014. If desired, the most popular activities may then be moved to other locations and adapted to the general development of Ørestad South. Several of the activity spaces and facilities were developed in conjunction with representatives of various sports, for example the parkour team Team JiYo and Vesterbro Rulleskøjteklub (rollerblading club).

Better yet, they have taken into account some basic urban design princpiles. From Lynch's "Image of the city", play spaces are linked along paths, creating ludic tradjectories scaled by the intensities and forms of activity. "Low Road" (Brand: 1994) architectural spaces are provided for clubs and groups to occupy and modify for their own purposes. Skateboarding, trial riding, free gardening (AKA guerilla gardening) and parkour are all accomodated side-by-side in spaces that people can really call 'their own'.

It goes to show, with the right attitude from development, authorities, and designers; that the provision of free play space integrated with the urban fabric is not an uninformed flight of fancy, but rather an economically and socially innovative strategy towards the development of the city.

I can't wait to glean lessons from Nordhavnen and the CPH Port and City Development Authority. And I shouldn't have to wait that long. It would seem that we already are...

Thursday, May 5, 2011


This is so exciting!!!!!
In accordance with the UN Convention for the rights of the child, and quoting the desire for a 'child-friendly city' , the mayor of London has formulated a supplementary planning guideline (SPG) requiring the provision of informal and interstitial play spacesfor children. It includes guidelines for navigating the design and the legal terrain. I can't wait to see the effect this has on the city of London. Briefings are being prepared to housing and other industry bodies by third party advocacy groups. WOW! We only need now for Australian cities to take play seriously!

On my brief perusal, the report talks about play paths, local pedestrian access, natural and artificial surface selection, objects as frames and locators for activities, monuments and stimulii, appropriate detailing, connecting ludic infastructure to each other and BEING REASONABLE ABOUT LITIGATION. It's lovely to have a bit of british common sense written down for all the american'esque 'sue-their arse' dolts to read every now and then

NB: It looks like CABE was very influential in writing the legislation. Like many other things on the UK's list of expendatures, it is seeing severely reduced revenue lately. It's great to see this as part of it's legacy. Hopefully it will be around for a long time yet despte the budget cuts!