Experts in their own tomorrows: Placemaking for participatory climate futures

I get published, y’know? Here’s one that didn’t get a mention when it first dropped, because… well, because January, to be honest.

Sadly I can’t just send you to read the thing directly, either—because the thing in question is a chapter in the new Routledge Handbook of Placemaking (edited by Cara Courage, with Tom Borrup, Maria Rosario Jackson, Kylie Legge, Anita Mckeown, Louise Platt, and Jason Schupbach) and Routledge Handbooks do not (to my knowledge) ever go open access. And I’m sure Routledge will take it on the chin if I use my academic freedom of expression to point out that their Handbooks are not cheap, either… though they do make up very nice promotional flyers, like this one below, and if you click through on this link (or the one above, or on the image of the flyer) and use the code SMA02 at checkout, you can get it at 20% off the list price.

It’s one chonky volume! Here’s the official marketing blurb:

This Handbook is the first to explore the field of placemaking in terms of the recent research, teaching and learning, and practice agenda for the next few years. Offering valuable theoretical and practical insights from the leading scholars and practitioners in the field, it provides cutting edge interdisciplinary research on the placemaking sector.

Placemaking has seen a paradigmatic shift in urban design, planning and policy to engage the community voice, This Handbook examines the development of placemaking, its emerging theories, and its future directions.

So perhaps your institution or organisation would be interested in making the investment? My guess is that, if you’re at all familiar with the term “placemaking” already, you might actually find this wide-ranging, critical and timely collection of essays to be of considerable utility and interest!* Perhaps you’re an academic in a discipline adjacent to planning, urbanism, or the more social/human ends of geography or sociology? Perhaps you work in local government, or in the consulting sector, around issues of redevelopment, social inclusion or neighbourhood identity? Or perhaps you’re involved in social practice arts, whether as a practitioner or a commissioner or a funder?

If you are any of those things, then the question of what placemaking is and has been, but also the question of what placemaking might yet be, is potentially relevant to you. Put it this way: I’m a scholar of climate futures and theorist of sociotechnical change, and what I learned about (and from) placemaking theory and practice truly revolutionised the way I think about my work—and indeed influenced the design of my current project.

(Admittedly the placemaking aspects of my current project are completely on hold due to prevailing pandemic suppression measures, but the point remains: if you’ve ever wondered what a collision between critical ethnography, action research, design futures interventions and contemporary arts practice might look like, then placemaking—and this book about it—can provide some answers.)

My chapter is titled “Experts in their own tomorrows: Placemaking for participatory climate futures”; given that abstracts don’t end up in this sort of handbook, I guess I can just share the one I wrote with you here, can’t I?

This chapter is concerned with the potential of placemaking for catalysing community adaptation to a climate-changed future, and with how researchers might support placemaking practitioners in that work.

The first section discusses the unfolding climate crisis as an urgent mandate for the reconfiguration of sociotechnical practices, and describes one way in which we might conceptualise and model those everyday activities in terms of their tangible and intangible elements.

The second section argues that placemaking might be seen as a methodology for extending that model into futurity, thus allowing for the extrapolative exploration of reconfigurations. This positions placemaking as a living laboratory for the participatory production of new practices, as well as for the reconstitution of the places in which those practices are situated.

The final section asks what might be offered to placemaking by researchers concerned with the sociotechnical transformations mandated by the climate crisis, whether in terms of theory or practice. What knowledges might we provide to make the consequences of a changing climate situated and legible for communities and placemaking practitioners? How might we better analyse and describe the relationships between the abstract of complex infrastructural systems and the concrete of local ways of life? And what arguments might we make to encourage placemaking, and integrate it into the greater project of adapting to the anthropocene?

But there’s much more than just my five-dollar-words malarkey in there; click on through for a look at the TOC and the structure. Seven sections! Forty-five chapters! The biggest names in social practice arts and scholarship! It’s a landmark publication, and I’m privileged and humbled to have been a part of it.

If you really can’t afford a copy—and hell knows I would sympathise with that—but you nonetheless think you’d like to read my chapter, and have a good professional and/or academic reason for doing so, well, drop me a line. Maybe we can work something out! But otherwise, please hassle your institutional or organisational library to order a copy; it ain’t cheap, but if you know the field, I dare say you’ll get the money’s worth. Plus it’s probably tax-deductible!

[ * — See, I could have been a copywriter. Maybe if I hadn’t gotten mixed up in this academic stuff? But I think copywriting is probably better off for my absence, on balance. As to whether the academy is better off for my presence, well, that hypothesis is still undergoing experimental evaluation… watch this space, wot? ]

365 / ett år i Sverige

A year ago this evening, I rolled off an Øresund train at Malmö Triangeln station with a patient but frazzled Katie-Jane, and walked out into a light rain to get a lift from a friend to my new digs in Sweden.

I’ve always been prone to noting the strange dual fluidity of time’s passage, particularly as I’ve gotten older. This year it feels like everyone’s got far more of a taste of atemporality than they ever wanted, if indeed they ever wanted it at all, and so I don’t intend to dwell on it too much. Frankly I’ve been pretty lucky with my experience of the Plague Year, a luck which was somehow sealed some time before it started, the last piece of the puzzle being my having unknowingly booked my relocation on what was effectively the last week that it would have been possible to do it without hideous amounts of extra obstacles and challenges. That the timing was right; that the relocation itself—planned and re-planned in a fog of obsessive anxiety—went without a hitch across multiple borders and infrastructural systems; that I stumbled into a housing situation more stable than most newcomers to Sweden without even really trying; all these things are gifts which seem all the more unlikely and surprising in hindsight.

It hasn’t been a year-long picnic, mind you; while the Swedish pandemic restrictions have for the most part been lighter and looser than elsewhere, I’ve basically spent a year working in glorious isolation from my colleagues—all the more ironic given that part of the appeal of moving here was to finally have a working environment in which I would be surrounded by peers who knew and understood and appreciated my work, and vice versa. It’s not that I haven’t seen them at all, to be clear—but the refactoring of academic life around remote teaching has kept them busy, even during periods of light restrictions. So much of my work life has been mediated through those softwares and platforms with which so may of us have become more familiar than we’d ever wanted to… but again, it’s a gift to have a job that can be done in such a way, and that hasn’t been at risk from economic or sociopolitical crisis.

I’ve been lucky, too, to have a few local friends who’ve been there for me in person, as well as friends fro the old country who’ve kept me as a part of their own extended digital networks—you know who you are, but thank you, nonetheless. The year had its emotional tragedies, too, which I shall avoid raking over in public; suffice to say that while I’ve changed a lot over the last few years, there are fractures and faults in the geology of me which will presumably never be fixed, and which—as always—can only ever be worked around, lived with, factored in. It’s taken many many years to realise that accepting my shortcomings doesn’t mean having to like them, let alone revel in them as defining characteristics. But denying them is equally foolish, in a different way. Coming to terms with oneself is the only way to make yourself something better, I think. Or perhaps I just hope that to be the case… but hope is important, on a personal level as well as the societal one. One can’t unmake one’s mistakes or turn back time—but one can face the future informed by a better understanding of one’s past, and thus work at being better, and doing less harm to others.

Selah. I’m not much of one for anniversaries or birthdays or anything like that, but this—my anniversary of arrival, if you like—seems like something worth marking, as a point in the annual cycle, but also as the start of a life’s second act. Quite how that act might arc ahead remains to be seen… but the mere possibility of its arcing at all is, like so much else, a gift: not unearned, to be sure, but not deserved or fated either.

As Ursula Le Guin used to say, “how you play is what you win”—but I’m not sure the causality is strictly one-way in that statement. (As a Taoist, I doubt Le Guin thought so either.) It feels to me like I won better than I’d been playing; so now comes the work of playing in a way to retrospectively merit it.

Perhaps one step in that direction would be to write fewer of these navel-gazey self-analytical blog posts, eh? We’ll see how that goes, I guess…

How to map nothing: Shannon Mattern on geographies of suspension

Back on 27th January, the UCL faculty of the Built Environment (virtually) hosted a seminar talk by the mighty mighty Shannon Mattern; a little more than a week ago, they uploaded a recording of said talk to A Popular Video-sharing Platform. This is that video, and I commend it to you wholeheartedly; I will not sully you or demean Prof. Mattern by trying to summarise it, because while I certainly took notes, the sheer volume of ideas in this thing—which naturally speaks very much to the concerns of The Ongoing Situation, while also being relevant to the world which preceded it, and the one which will succeed it—is quite astonishing*. (All the more so, given it was apparently conjured up out of little more than a vague thematic idea in the fortnight preceding its delivery.) So, enjoy!

[ * — Also because, frankly, I’m so behind on things I’m meant to be writing, or in some cases meant to already have written, both for other people and for myself, that I can’t presently justify the couple of hours that it would take to rewatch this, return to my notes, and do it justice. So just watch it, y’know? ]

science fiction / social theory / infrastructural change / utopian narratology