Florian Riviere’s Urban Quest: Walkthrough

Hey, folks! Perhaps you already know from the Cooperative Urbanism blog that Florian Riviere held an almost week-long workshop in Moscow. If you are not reading the COOP blog yet, we strongly recommend it, it is the source for the latest news, events, etc.

Even though we kept a day-to-day blog during the workshop, time has come to look at the overall picture, to write about all the ups and downs - but mostly ups. Everything started at Strelka on Monday morning, as any ‘serious’ workshop - with an introductory lecture; though this was not so serious.

Florian explained his hacker’s ethics of three “Fs”: free, fun, and fuck - do everything from what you find lying about, have fun with your own city, and do not fear to be subversive. Of course, one of the first questions to Florian from workshop participants was: “Have you ever been arrested for your activity?”. “No, because I look good!”, explained Florian shyly. At that moment we were certain that even if we had trouble during the workshop, it would definitely be fun.

 

To continue the way of a “serious” workshop, later that day we went to see the actual site of our future interventions - the area near metro station Voykovskaya. There, we split into several teams, as all good superheroes do, and went exploring possibles places for improvement.

One of the teams was lucky and applied all the three “Fs” during their first walk! Taking pictures and memorizing the locations, so as to return to them later, they also talked to the locals and learned that the area lacked seating places and sports playgrounds. In fact, they passed one of the designated sportsgrounds, but it was empty and barren, except for a torn-out basketball ring.

Soon they stumbled upon a huge stack of friendly and useable trash - cardboard boxes and old shelves. The greatest treasure of the day was a broken toilet seat which was tossed out of the neighbourhood school. The schoolguard even agreed to help the newly minted hacktivists to unscrew the part of the seat which looked perfect as a substitute for a basketball ring.

It was the first and the most controversial intervention of our workshop. Good that we made it on the first day, because the whole share of criticism went to it. The intervention was indeed ambiguous, and we were interested to see what would become of it. Later in the week we found that the much criticized toilet seat was removed, but people left the DIY balls from duct tape and the box for them untouched; we even found the original, torn-out ring and placed it on the fence near the box & balls. It seems that the ideal path of an intervention is: you suggest an idea, and people improve it in their turn.

 

 

The interventions and adventures of the second day are covered in detail in the day-to-day blog posts, so I will not bore you with any repeat. We decided to tackle first the problem stressed upon by the locals we had talked to: the lack of sitting places for parents at the playgrounds and in the area.

Part of our reasoning was that if people have time to sit for a spell and recuperate, they will be more willing to play and have fun in their area. We still believe that our sitting hammock was a good idea. It was made from the green net given away for free to us at the construction site, with an easy to replicate rope carcass. Comfortable, easy to make - but it was totally misunderstood.

 

 

We now realize that the conflict with the local guard near the house over the hammock was perhaps caused mainly by his personality; still, it certainly drove home the idea that it is best to involve locals in such "hacktions".

Even though we thought we were addressing a problem described by locals, we are not certain to what extent they understood us, and maybe whether we really understood them. They were thinking about conventional sitting places, perhaps, because they yet had little idea of what other DIY improvements to think about.

We have hope in the yellow post boxes which were placed around the area by Partizaning, and that other summer interventions and workshops all over Moscow will broaden people’s horizons.

Our second hack on day 2 was a lucky improvisation that turned out useful in the near future. Sometimes it just clicks: you see workers painting a tramstop red & white, you see a number of square tiles in the plain sea of asphalt, and you know - checkerboard! It’s good that construction workers in Moscow are friendlier than guards, and agreed to share their paint and even help us.

Later, we used this field for playing city checkers: especially good on a hot day to take one of the opponent’s pieces, because you can drink it.

 

Day three was spent hacking Strelka. We were turning it into a giant playground as an illustration for Florian’s lecture. No big deal here: for most people, Strelka is already a big and cool playground, we just had to bring out several more games: militant pro-pedastrian hopscotch which was intervening on the cars’ territory; basketball trash cans; racing track on the huge steps meant for lounging.

They all were a big success. But, our favorite was the most magical of them all - the maze. Forgive us the pun, but it was truly amazing. Not only because it was showing a safe path on the staircase with the unfortunate and dangerous opening, or because it livened up the unfriendly place on the way to Strelka. But because a maze is wonderful for exploring people’s behavior: they play it to the end or give up, they ignore it, they are scared to enter it and make a loop around. It is proof that all people are different, even when they are united by something common such as being Strelka-goers, and it is impossible to make absolutely everyone happy with one thing.

At least we were very happy making and playing it, and it is not the least important thing in hacktions: the more pleasant it is, the more people will join in and make their own improvements.

Day four was the library day - well, not really. We didn’t go to sit into the library, we were making one. We had spotted an abandoned bus stop on the first day, but only now returned to make some use of it. It was changing every day before our eyes: first it was covered in advertising, then it was spray-painted grey and somebody placed a chair in it. There were already electricity sockets, and we only had to add the shelves, which we did.We put several books for book-crossing there too. We actually wanted it to bloom into a library, but next day people preferred to turn it into a somewhat trashy bar. Since we were making it as a suggestion for people, then we decided to accept the way they were ready to use for now. Maybe some of the children who got the book-crossed books will recall the place, and grow into hacktivists some day. We can dream.

That day we were dreaming a lot, that’s for sure, and returned to our own childhoods. We were seeing the city through Florian’s and 5-to-8 year-olds eyes: the bench is a thing to jump over, not to sit on boringly; the fence is a place for stretching; crosswalks are a type of hopscotch; and any underground passage turns into a sledging track with the help of two halves of a plastic bottle.

Day five was almost non-existent for the whole group: we were sun-burnt and needed to restock on materials such as duck tape for the ultimate ‘neighbourhood contest’ Saturday. But Florian and several members of the team kept up the work and “bought” some construction materials - ‘bought’ is a euphemism; as you can guess, they found them, of course.

Before the final day we were placing posters about the neighbourhood event with games and contests, but sadly most of them were torn down by serious competition: the local cheap clothing market. In a way it was good: we needed to talk to people in person to invite them rather than through our posters.

We came back to the yellow sports cage of our first day: with wooden planks to make three goal posts. Why three? Well, it’s unconventional, of course. The thing is, the place was not suited for basketball truly: despite the places for rings, the underfoot material was not good for bouncing the ball. So we decided to turn it into a place for soccer, as it is usually more popular as a street sport in Russia. However, the short sides of the ‘cage’, where the goal posts are supposed to be, were already occupied by entrance gates. But instead of despairing, we made a more unconventional soccer layout, using one side and two corners for goal posts: it allows to play with more people and in less predictable ways. We even made the DIY soccer balls while waiting for the ‘real’ one - and lower half of big plastic bottle wrapped into duck tape turned out to be quite playable.

We also crafted potentially less traumatic games: as we were almost a female-only workshop team, some of us were less used to football, though some were truly stars of it. One of the best was the swing at the bus stop: adds both fun and an extra seat.

 

And of course, everybody enjoyed greatly playing the city-scale dominoes by Make. The special joy is that the popular board game usually played outdoors becomes an urban sport and a pop-up street design when the scale of items is changed.

 

What about the locals? Did anyone join? Very few did, and not for long. It’s obviously one of the biggest ‘downs’ - or is it? Strelka invited several journalists, so perhaps the cameras were spooking people off (at least we were spooked a little). But that is, of course, a bit of blame-shifting: we could still invite, persuade, and engage people with our enthusiasm. But even with only few joining us, people still can see the results of our work in the area, to catch a glimpse on TV or read about it on the Internet. And even if they thought we were dumb and that we did everything wrong, and they could do better - this is success. Because then they might go out and actually do better.