Spontaneous Intervention

/ Sunday, February 12, 2012 /
A group of urban activists paint an unauthorized "wikilane" cycle path in the middle of Mexico City. From CNN.

"Spontanious interventions: design for the common good" is the theme of the International Venice Architecture Biennale this fall. Their website describes it perfectly:

"In recent years, there has been a nascent movement of designers acting on their own initiative to solve problematic urban situations, creating new opportunities and amenities for the public. Provisional, improvisational, guerrilla, unsolicited, tactical, temporary, informal, DIY, unplanned, participatory, open-source—these are just a few of the words that have been used to describe this growing body of work."

It's direct action flying under the radar of proper channels. From urban farms and crowd-sourced maps to more extreme projects like guerilla bike lanes and grafting fruit tree branches to non-fruiting trees, the exhibition promises to be intriguing and surprising at the very least. But what I like most about the theme of "spontaneous intervention" is that it is focused on urbanism and making cities more sustainable and better places to live, as opposed to the gaudy, unrealistic and abstract architecture that has been the paradigm in years past. There is a real communal element to these projects that proliferate the idea that a city is more than just a large population of people living in a close proximity to one another; that residents want to love, change and take ownership of their neighborhoods, instead of filing their grievances with the local government and hoping solutions arise.

Does Manchester need spontaneous intervention? I could think of a few places to drop an unsolicited bike rack or go for a geocentric, augmented reality game (City of ManchQuest?) that forces people to explore the Queen City in tandem with online gaming. While I can't say painting an unsanctioned bike lane down the side Elm Street is a wise idea, the answer to the question should always be an emphatic "Yes".

Reading through some of these spontaneous interventions, I was reminded of a quote by a local author and high school teacher, Rob Greene. In response to the question on My Good Good Manchester, "What would make Manchester even better?" he said:

A common vision: Is it more important to have a thriving downtown or create a haven for box stores? Data-driven decision making. A focus on education at all levels. An Ethiopian restaurant. Manchester is one of those places that you never need to leave. If you want it or need it, you can generally find it here. With some effort we could be a place that creates generation after generation of smart, self-actualized people who stay here to do smart, self-actualized things.

A constant point of discussion in Manchester's improvement is drawing more businesses and consumers into the area, and the stereotypical solution is "we need to revitalize downtown." That is a very broad, vague and uninspiring solution; luring more people to the city with the promise of better consumerism. While it is important, I don't see many people moving just for the shopping and restaurants. It's the unspoken, intertwining undercurrents of creativity, intelligence and bustle that give a city its liveliness. That feeling when one stops in the middle of sidewalk on a busy morning and can sense important and interesting things going on around them. Smart people doing smart things.

Posters from the Inside Out campaign hanging in a store front. Via My Good Good Manchester.

I've often held the ideal that cities are not unlike people; they need to be smart and attractive. Have an air of confidence that says they don't need anybody but themselves to feel good about life. Nothing is more repellant than desperation, and building a stadium or latching onto the gravitas of a larger, more attractive nearby town has that stink to it. Manchester shouldn't want to be Boston's fat, best friend. The city and its people should want to do innovative, creative, necessary, unnecessary, whimsical and down-right thoughtful projects for itself. Spontaneous intervention can be the first small steps to a better Manchester.

Needless to say, I'll be keeping a close eye on the International Venice Architecture Biennale this year.


{ Brenda Noiseux } on: February 12, 2012 at 7:12 PM said...

Here here. Manchester already has bunches of enthusiastic projects flying under the mainstream radar. Sites like Manchester Oblique, Good Good Manchester, and Liveable MHT help promote them. Cause once you attend one, it becomes a gateway to more. It's so inspiring, but more work still needs to be done.

{ Dan Brian } on: February 12, 2012 at 7:19 PM said...

Don't forget about the outdoor Shakespeare event over the summer or that fancy food co-op: http://manchesterfoodcoop.blogspot.com/

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