I am yours

The “Hackney Rabbit” was recently saved from the threat of eviction/obliteration from the side of Premises Studios where it had been a recognisable local character for over two years. The extent of public support and activism around saving the rabbit was overwhelming and strongly suggested that the Council’s policy towards street-art needs to change to reflect local attitudes and opinions.

However, more widely we think a new policy should also cover the bundle of informal “things” in our public spaces and neighbourhoods that often go unrecognised and unvalued by formal definitions/listings but contribute massively to local identity, uniqueness and cultural landscapes. These are things like old signs and clocks, original shop fronts and architectural features, patches of grass or “spaces in between”, local characters and fonts, mosaics and stonework etc etc.

By recording, identifying and valuing these things we can help to keep them as key features in our neighbourhood that contribute to what we mean when we say “I love Hackney” in the face of rapid change and regeneration – they are pieces of Hackney and we should value them!
Mend is working with Premises Studios and taking up this campaign; using the positive local support and momentum developed from saving the Hackney Rabbit as a resource to develop a more relevant and responsive policy for our public realm. We will convene a public meeting (with reps invited from the council) to identity the things we value, define why they are important and develop key aspects of a new policy to take back to the Council.

This means taking a fresh look and reappraising what we consider to be assets and the cultural and creative value inherent in them. Some of the things people choose to value will surprise us and challenge our preconceived notions of what should and should not be in public space. Is this because we have grown accustomed to public space being full of instructions, information and guidance instead of a rich mix of experience, emotion and questions – things that prompt us to experience urban space and not just move through it like sheep?
In the 90’s Light & Smith likened post-modern urban space as sterilised sanctioned spaces that were comforting and predictable but altogether bland and unexciting – a comfy designer sofa; as opposed to modern urban space that was unpredictable and full of the messy richness and drama of everyday life – an awkward metal folding chair. But everyday life is messy and unpredictable and isn’t that what makes it so good?!

The informal stuff gets hidden and obscured by the layer of formality, sanctioned safety net of over-planned public space – a wonderland of the bits you live your everyday life in but aren’t supposed to see. The opposite of the emperor’s fictional new clothes; instead the emperor is wearing some pretty out there garb but we all pretend to just see the disappointingly coy underwear?!

Countless councils across the UK, Europe and the US are re-examining their attitudes to formal and informal uses of space; embracing uses and activities that open our eyes to new ways of experiencing and appreciating urban space. In the US there is a wave of urban exploration or “recreational trespassing” http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2010/nov/14/exploring-with-recreational-trespassers that sees people climbing huge bridges to get a glimpse of a new view of the city, exploring the hidden rivers under London through Victorian sewers, and seeing the beauty in urban decay; parkour/freerunning and its opportunities for people to touch, feel and bounce of different planes and surfaces, street-art and its movement away from the indecipherable tags and slogans of the 80’s and 90’s that told the public “this is for us, not you”……..

To the Hackney Rabbit that says “I am yours, and for all of you”.

The first step in the campaign is a campaign slogan so please send through some suggestions and don’t hold back – be catchy and cheeky! Post them on here or if you would rather you can email me at: liane.hartley@mendlondon.org.uk

We will be in touch again about the campaign and details of the meeting, all are welcome!

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