Making a case for activism by participation.
Some of us are struggling with the Future.
The thing with the Future is that sometimes (a lot of the time), the word future is associated with growth. And growth, while inevitable, isn’t something we should be contributing to, in its undisciplined form. What we mean with this is that if growth means more unneeded things produced, more money to very few, more unsustainable resources spent, more avoidable construction built, and more nature destroyed, we probably should stay away from it and even - if possible - stop it.
That's our job! Actually, it’s everybody’s job. But as designers, the expectation should be that we contribute to making the world better, not worse. So our job is to say NO! And that NO means stopping things, making them smaller, making them less, making them live longer, making them more usable/useful, making them more accessible to more people, making them be more than one thing, and more importantly, making them happen ONLY if that’s the right thing to do. And to do that, we have to say YES!
We have to say YES so we get to also be in the place to say NO. To be part of the conversations, to be able to make proposals, and to help shape decisions.
So what are the forms of growth that are ok then? Can there be growth without the inherent negative impact? Can we balance it with other things that have a positive impact?
We at Komuhn were invited to work with Smart Ocean, a local project creating the conditions for a more sustainable future with the Ocean. This is an initiative from the local government in collaboration with the port authority, a polytechnic institute and scientific research organizations. The initiative involves the construction of buildings, spending millions of euros, the occupation of land, and alterations to the city that will affect thousands of people. And we’re concerned about how all of this is going to be done. So we said yes to get to be involved and have a say.
Our concerns with the project wrap around things like:
- How sustainable are the intended solutions? Having seen how construction and land development are often done with little consideration or ill-informed about the urbanistic and ecologic impacts.
- How open and accessible is it going to be using, participating, and contributing to it? Aware that decision-making in this kind of projects are frequently rushed due to lack of organization, not understanding the value of or not being able to use more diverse contributions, made in a small closed group to go faster, and noniterative/indisputable by nature.
- How modern and applicable are the proposals? Lacking at times capacity, and being rushed by uncoordinated funding procedures, pushes organizations for compromises and replicating templates unfit to the local needs and specificities.
- How will the local community understand and adhere to it? Speed, specialization, marketing mistaken as communication, are all obstacles to empathy. The expectation is that ‘once built, they will come’ but the reality is that there's no lack of examples where citizens, neighbours, users are disenfranchised from the very first that should serve them.
We could go on. The point is, if you also share some of these concerns - or have other ones - the best way to make sure they are considered and you get to contribute to helping shape the decisions, is by participating. Saying no thanks, staying out of it, and not showing up will only go so far, and chances are your position will either be dismissed, not understood, or plainly ignored.
By saying yes to participating in it we got to guide the direction of this project. More people know about it, more people were able to have a say, we brought up questions that wouldn’t otherwise be raised, we feedbacked the indisputable, we made it go slower, and hopefully, created a precedent in this organization on the value of more diverse participation.
What do you think? Could this be another way of activism?
Can we influence the future we want for us through participation instead of resistance?