Auckland Creative Space is live

We have a venue – the ground floor of a building at:

27 Edinburgh Street,
Newton,
Auckland

and we have a new name: Tangle Ball

After several months of planning, promoting, discussing, and visiting buildings, we are ready to go.  The place needs some work; Neftaly and others are building a partition wall and benches this week, and there are other changes planned after then.

Members have committed money for membership fees, time and items to use in the space.

We have started planning events also, and plan to have a launch party around December 4th.  for now, the group is live, and there will be people in the venue most evenings – check the website to find out more:

http://creativespace.org.nz

Come visit us, bring your friends, bring your projects.

Collectives and cooperatives – an alternative to the current system?

This post is situated in the context of a country and a world recovering from an economic crash.  It was written to suggest an alternative to our current economic system, which is less than ideal.

To start the analysis, we must first look at what ‘the economy’ means.  Then we must understand the meaning of an ‘economic crash’.  Briefly, we (advanced Western countries, such as New Zealand, UK, France and USA) live in a society where the dominant method of exchange is capitalism.  What is capitalism?  It is a means of producing goods and services which requires  an investor who has significant ‘spare’ money, to invest in a business, with the expectation of getting a return.  By spare, I mean he or she does not need the money to live on, i.e. to eat, pay for accommodation, travel, clothes, entertainment, holidays, etc.  The business can be any type of business, either wholly-owned by the investor (such as a family business) or not (such as business which trades on a stock market); the only concern is that it attempts to operate at a profit.  At this point, we must define profit also – in general language, the word ‘profit’ relates to any activity a person or persons may undertake which results in a gain of money to that individual.  The profit I speak of here is more strictly defined that that – when an investor invests money into a business, they expect a return without carrying out any work themselves (this can be somewhat confused by the possibility of an investor also being the managing director, chief executive operating officer, or some other generally high-level position within the company – but the two sources of income to him/her are considered separate for the purposes of this analysis).  This profit is known as ‘surplus’, and is generated by relying on employees who receive a wage for producing some good or service, which is then sold at a higher value than it costs to make it.  There are those who object to this state of affairs, regardless of anything else, and this is a valid objection – the investor makes an income out of the work of others, whilst putting in no work themselves – but it is not directly of concern here.

We now turn to the nature of a country’s ‘economic growth’.  The Prime Minister and Finance Minister of any country will often talk of economic growth, and how it is good or not good enough.  What does this mean?  It is the net return on all invested money across the entire country – if the economic growth for a given year is 3%, then for an economy worth $100 billion at the start of the year, the value of the economy at the end will be $103 billion.  The $3 billion created has gone to the investors who invested their money in various companies, who may or may not have been successful – generally, most will gain, but some will lose.  Some companies will make money at a higher rate than others, but the net growth across all, in this case, is 3%.

The next question to look at, is how the money is made.  The answer is selling those goods and services to people.  A small amount is made by investors selling things to each other (high-value goods such as luxury cars, yachts and clothes).  However, this ceased to account for the majority of money flow in the early 20th century, when Henry Ford introduced high wages and short hours for his all workers, in the hope they would use these wages to buy cars and other items.  They did – resulting in the mass consumerism we have today.  Thus, the majority of the profit is made from selling things to the same workers that are being paid to produce those items.

Regardless of any perceived unfairness here, there is a further problem with this situation.  Over time, this must result in a net movement of money from those doing the work, to those doing the investing – the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.  This is somewhat muddled by the presence in developed countries of a large middle-class, who generally, through pension schemes, small-time share-trading and investment funds, own a fraction of profit-generating companies – but not usually enough to live on until they retire.  The majority of profit-making enterprises are still owned by 1-3% of the population in a developed economy.  If the flow of money is mostly one-way, then we end up with an unsustainable situation.  How does this lack of sustainability manifest?  In an economic crash – this destroys equity for a certain segment of the population (the bottom, sometimes part of the middle), and allows the cycle to start over.  Hence, an economy predicated on never-ending growth is fundamentally flawed.

How do we right this situation?  The key part appears to be an economy which must grow to sustain itself (if the economy stops growing, i.e. profit returns are zero, investors stop investing, and there is no work for everyone else).  Is it possible to have a zero-growth economy?  Communism gave one possible solution, although that failed – not due to any lack in the concept itself, but in the method of attaining it: huge, disruptive changes to society, which resulted in one oppressive system being replaced by an ‘interim’ situation of oppression from a different source – the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which merely transferred the power from one small group of individuals to another, who are unwilling to give it up – see Animal Farm for more on this.  It necessarily relies upon a violent, coercive effort to convince people to change – that’s no better than the system we have now.

I propose a different route: collectives/cooperatives.  There is nothing new in this concept, the Co-op in UK is one of the biggest supermarkets in the country, and also provides insurance, banking, car sales, funeral parlours and travel agencies, amongst other services.

why are cooperatives zero-growth?  The key feature of a cooperative, is the owners and the customers are the same people.  As customers, the tendency is for the price to be as low as possible.  This low price in a business is usually achieved by a variety of methods: mass-production, rationalisation of work (such as the division of labour, implementation of efficient, consistent procedures, etc.).  It can also be achieved by cutting margin.  In the case of a capitalist enterprise, this is undesirable, as it results in lower profits, to the point where there is no reason for the investor to invest, hence the business ceases trading, or goes bankrupt.  However, in the case of a cooperative, the profit is not important – the service or goods are the only aim, thus there is benefit in running the enterprise, even with zero profit.  Also, as the owners make profit from customers, there is nothing to be gained from a profit – the money goes back to the same people who paid it.

This also brings up another point – there is a long history, starting with Taylorism, and progressing through Fordism, lean manufacturing, McDonaldisation and many others, of rationalising the work force in not entirely positive ways.  These methods are used to improve productivity, but usually at the cost of turning the workers into drones – Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times‘ shows this to good effect.  If there is no profit to be generated, there is less of an impetus to rationalise in ways which mould workers in this way, showing a further benefit to this type of enterprise.

How to start this in New Zealand?  The same as anything else: from small beginnings (grow mighty oaks), to paraphrase someone or other.

Privatisation at the micro- level

We’re all familiar with privatisation – government or councils sell off commonly-held assets to private individuals.  This has happened for as long as capitalism has been a force, starting with the Enclosure of common land in UK, and continuing through various major infrastructure assets such as telecommunications, mass transport and water from the 1980s onwards.  The justifications, problems and benefits have been covered many times, so I won’t go into that here, beyond stating that I think the loss to society far outweighs the temporary gain to the balance of payments, and the freedom of choice it allegedly promotes.

My concern here is to look at privatisation at a far smaller level.  I was recently baking a cake for the first time, and thought about how not so long ago – maybe only 30 years – every girl in the land would have learned to bake a cake by the time she was 15 (no, I don’t think that women should per se be baking, while men mow the lawn – this is merely a reflection of Western society in the 1960s and prior, not a wish to return to ‘traditional’ values).  I wondered how many 15 year-olds – male or female – can and do bake a cake now?  In previous generations, it would have been passed down from mother to daughter; not only the knowledge of how to bake the cake, but the willingness to do so.  Further than that, I think about how many other skills previously passed on through family relationships are not so any more.  Home maintenance?  Mowing the lawn?  Growing vegetables?  Even cleaning the house?

And who’s doing those things instead?  Well, we buy the services – who buys a cake, when you can get one from the supermarket for $10?  How many people employ someone to mow the lawn?  I imagine the number who grow their own vegetables is minimal, despite the recent trend in Auckland to DIY.

Anecdotal evidence suggests this is often further rationalised with comments like “I don’t have time”, or “I can’t be bothered”.  This reveals an interesting trend – despite being told we have more free time than ever before, people feel less inclined to attempt these sort of activities.

I’d argue this is no less a privatisation of services than was the enclosure of land in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the sell-off of telcos and buses in the 1980s and 1990s.  Unlike the telcos and the buses though, which are in some places being re-nationalised or at least regulated, how hard is it to bring home skills back out of the private domain and into the commons?  When the knowledge and impetus come from a family member, that impetus can’t be passed on when the parent doesn’t have the skills themselves.  Can (should) this be done in schools?

Kudos to Jamie Oliver for trying to fix this with his community kitchen efforts, which incidentally recently closed down, but I think this is the sort of problem that we can’t rely on celebrities to fix.

This is part of the inspiration for the Community Cooking.

Auckland Creative Space – four months in

Back in June, I wrote about the Creative Space project we had started.

Well, we’ve been working on it for four months now, and this is where we are:

There is a core group of around 15 who are putting in serious effort, plus another 20 – 30 who are involved, though not as actively.  Beyond this, we estimate there are another 100 or so (based upon interest at the presentations we did in March and April), although this figure is somewhat speculative.  We have a website, with a mailing list, forum and wiki.  We have meetings generally every week.  We are a very broad range of people; this list gives an idea of the interests being brought to the group:

  • Music performance and recording
  • Engineering
  • Painting
  • Running a radio station
  • Robotics
  • Computer programming
  • Bee-keeping
  • Bronze-casting
  • Sustainable energy
  • Electric cars
  • T-shirt printing
  • Electronics
  • Community gardens
  • Model railways
  • Cycle maintenance
  • Clothesmaking/repair
  • Car maintenance
  • Collaborative writing
  • Metal sculpting
  • Community cooking
  • Beer brewing

We are still promoting at every opportunity – there was interest from various people at Software Freedom Day on September 18th, plus people hear about us through the hackerspaces wiki, search engines and the Facebook group.

The group has decided the type of organisation we will become, an incorporated society, and we are in the process of applying for this.  Once we have that approved, we can get a bank account (at Kiwibank, of course), and rent a building – building owners are rather twitchy about renting their space to loosely-organised collectives, so we need to be some sort of legal entity.

In the meantime, we are checking out buildings and visiting other similar organisations, to see what we can learn.

The project is progressing well – people are enthusiastic, motivated and keen to work together.  More later

Community Cooking

This idea has grown out of the Creative Space and community gardens projects which a group of us are, respectively, working on and planning.

Food in New Zealand is very expensive – the vast majority is sold through a nice duopoly made up of Progressive Enterprises and Foodstuffs.  This reduces choice, pushes up costs, and hurts suppliers similarly to how Tesco is causing problems in the UK for local farmers.  My particular problem is specifically with bread prices – $4 for a generic loaf of wholemeal that goes off in 3 days?  I don’t think so.

Additionally, the supermarkets tend to deal in food with dubious amount of artificial additives in them.  Thanks, guys but I prefer my food to come from a farm rather than an industrial plant – the day I see a ’471′ tree will be the day I appreciate having additive ’471′ in my food.  Not that farms are entirely free of blame here – growth hormones, pesticides, etc.  are all potential problem areas, but that’s one for the community gardens to solve.

This has prompted a small group of us to start producing our own food.  We’re starting simple  – there are currently two of us, with another one interested.  The plan is for us to cooperate on making bread and ginger beer.  We take turns about each week, and each make a double-batch.  Transaction costs explains why this will save us effort over making batches solely for ourselves, plus there are somewhat intangible social benefits from sharing in this way.

After the initial experiment over the next few weeks, we’ll review how well it’s worked, change anything which needs changing, and continue.  If it’s successful, we’ll expand to include another person, and repeat.  There are a few models we can follow:

  • People pair up, and arrange between themselves to make some product, turns about each period (day, week, month, etc.) – this method has the benefit of  requiring little management from a third party, resting on one-on-one relationships to make sure people behave well
  • We form a larger group, decide between us what foods we will produce, assign each a “cooking time”, and then barter the products between us – this requires more management, and is less personal, but has the benefit of potentially allowing very large batches to be produced at once.

Interested? Let us know, and maybe we can work together. Or go start your own.

The Great – a collaborative story by Abhishek, Calvin, Nevyn and Robin

So I saw through the rabbit hole and saw absolutely nothing. Then I manufactured an alternate reality and called into existence a very very inferior type of purple. It was a dark and stormy afternoon in mid-July, with a purple of an inferior tinted cloud forming to the east of Eden when, I realised, the inferior type of purple wasn’t purple at all but…but wait! It was purple! Now this was a surprise because I had rarely, if ever, seen purple that resembled anything other then, well, purple, but in this case as a result of the six pints of Opal Nera I had ingested the day before, my vision had a purple haze descending over my purple umbrella which was currently located beneath me. An odd place, as I had always expected my purple umbrella to be above me. This was still comforting as the umbrella was all there was between me and the depths of the Pacific Ocean (which, to my relief, was not purple). Pondering my position further, I reconsidered the rabbit hole, which to my now Opal Nera- and philosophically-addled mind seemed an occurrence from weeks before: or days before, as to my addled mind days and weeks blended into mauve existence inside my rabbit hole, which, unsurprisingly was no longer filled with absolutely nothing, but rather, was lined with mud (oh my!). You may wonder whence came this mud in the midst of an ocean in which I was cast adrift. Alas, the explanation was rather banal: I was engaged, in ‘Great Escape’ style, in an attempt to gain my freedom from a German POW camp, and was transporting the means of forging the fork in my umbrella boat which is really another name for a coracle, for I am Irish by birth and was exiled from my fair emerald Isle for the heinous crime committed when I chose to drink six pints of Opal Nera instead of six pints of Guinness on my 21st birthday which was held at the home of an old woman who’s fame was the result of her insistence on purple forks. Purple forks, you may say with derision, but let us not fork-get the sacrifice of our fork-fathers. Waking the next morning, I vowed never again to mix LSD, absinthe and Guinness, and walked into the kitchen to empty the freshly-filled cat litter tray: it appeared my tortoiseshell Jacob had had a similarly bowel-loosening experience after he accidentally ate a bag of magic mushrooms and drank a saucer of milk into which had fallen my secret stash of LSD heavily-disguised as a packet of Zig Zag ciggy papers, you know, the purple ones. Anyway, not to digress, but Jacob imagined he was a purple dinosaur, and felt an uncontrollable urge to sing “I love you, you love me…” prompting me to call Eva and Heinrich to ask what I should do, they suggested I invade Poland so I sent in the Panzers and realised this had all happened before and it didn’t end well for that guy, so instead yearned for an umbrella (any colour) that might be used as a boat.  Now you know the etymology of the ‘U-boat’. Anyway, the whole invading-Poland-thing seemed to go,

puɐ pǝǝɹƃɐ ǝɥs ˙ʞɹoʍ ǝɥʇ ɥʇıʍ puɐɥ ɐ ǝɯ ǝʌıƃ oʇ ʇsıdɐɹǝɥʇ ɹnoıʌɐɥǝq ǝʌıʇıuƃoɔ lɐuosɹǝd ʎɯ ʞsɐ plnoʍ ı ʇɥƃnoɥʇ ı os ‘ǝɯosıɹɐǝʍ ɹǝɥʇɐɹ ǝq plnoɔ ʍoɹ ɐ uı sǝɯɐu uoıllıɯ 9 ǝʇıɹʍ oʇ ƃuıʎɹʇ ʇɐɥʇ pǝɹǝʌoɔsıp ı ‘sʇsıl ǝʞɐɯ oʇ ǝɯıʇ ǝɯɐɔ ʇı uǝɥʍ uǝɥʇ ʇnq ˙sn ɹoɟ llǝʍ ɹǝɥʇɐɹ

some time later, seeing Jacob had fallen asleep, and that Jane was amusing herself with the pencil sharpener, I slammed the door on the way out to purchase a typewriter. I had been trying for many years to write a novel about all those shenanigans to do with the revolt and the taking over of Europe. Boy, is it a ripping yarn! Absurd stories poured forth, Jacob conquered worlds, Eva was friends with a dictator, dinosaurs weren’t purple. With a slam I shut the door on both Jane and Jacob, I vowed never again to have anything to do with drugs, cats or Cyrillic alphabet soup. I left the house with my purple fork handed down to me by my forkfathers and went to Levi Arronstems porn shop where I exchanged my purple fork for a blue movie. I then exchanged my blue movie for a black market typewriter however they also threw in a free French car. The Renault 5 handled like a dream – the twin turbos and all-round disc brakes made driving it a real pleasure – thrilling but at the same time rock-steady. Rolling landscapes of mountains, lakes, clear waterfalls went by to a soundtrack that just softly suggested Opal Nera usage (excessive). The land collapsed beneath my rubber tyres, the fumes from my exhaust de-clarified lakes. For the second time that day, I regretted the hedonistic session of the night before – taking a corner a mite too fast, I blacked-out momentarily – the car sliding sideways before bouncing into the river.

ı ʇnq ‘ɥɔnɯ ʍouʞ ʇ,upıp ı ‘ʎlʇuǝpıʌǝ ˙ǝq ʎɐɯ ʇı ɹǝʌǝɹǝɥʍ ‘ǝɹǝɥ ɟo ʇno ʇǝƃ oʇ ǝɯıʇ ʎluo sɐʍ ʇı :ʇno ƃuıuunɹ sɐʍ ʇı ʍouʞ oʇ ǝɯıʇ ǝɥʇ ʍouʞ oʇ pǝǝu ʇ,uop noʎ ʇnq ˙sɐʍ ʇı ʎɐp ɟo ǝɯıʇ ʇɐɥʍ ǝɹnsun ‘pǝɥɔuǝɹp ʎlǝʇǝldɯoɔ ‘sɐʍ ı ǝɹǝɥʇ

struggled with the idea of just letting the water fill my lungs and ending my existence, purple flashes filled my sight as my oxygen-starved brain sent desperate signals to my muscles, I hesitated then in a fit of decision, quite the opposite to the indecision of a moment ago, I struggled free and burst to the surface, I sighted the shore and so there I was swimming up the Mekong River, delirious with fever, my body racked with visions of racks. The mosquitoes wouldn’t let me think of much else. Streaming beads of sweat burned into my eyes. The racks. The racks. Never forget the racks. How could I have been so foolish? The decision to push my driving skills was a huge mistake. I drifted. Several hours later, I fetched up on a beach in what looked like a town centre, and stumbled ashore, where I happened to bump into Jane, apparently the bus she had taken had brought her to Hanoi exactly at the same time as the river had transported me from my car crash. Would you care for a bite, I enquired, and we walked to a café. Then as the snow fell from a purple brooding sky I turned to Jane and said, with great conviction, “Bend over dear, there’s something stuck to your thigh”. Removing what I now realised to be an engorged leach, I realised the similarity it bore to Jacob’s product from that morning’s litter tray. Having finished the thought, I turned back to the maitre d’ and said “Table for two please, away from the plebs”. A gypsy violinist walked closer to us and played a hauntingly beautiful melody that brought tears to my eyes, as it evoked memories of my time as a small half-German, half-Irish child during the great potato and Knockwurst famine of ’82 so I flicked him a fake Euro made with the purple forked forging equipment, then I hungrily wolfed down my black market sausage kebabs and hurried around the corner and was surprised to see that what I was holding was the oddest sausage kebab I had ever seen. Firstly it had what can only be described as fur. Secondly it was a kebab, made from sausage. Looking around I saw that this had aroused the attention of a murder of crows but also a hungry, stray dog. The crows’ cries echoed down the empty adobe street, as the sun hurriedly set. I realised I was surrounded by a bunch of dangerous-looking dwarves armed with kebab skewers and baby lotion, they leered at me in a reprehensible manner, evoking disgust and fear, but despite that I decided to go ahead with the exchange of ideas I imagined would enhance our relationship and informal consumption of meals together. Ideas leaked like old sewer pipes with a constant ‘drip’, ‘drip’, and ‘drip’. My drips exchanged with her drips. The smell was quite extraordinary. The drips coalesced into stalagmites of enormous proportions and I realised in a moment of great clarity I was not Adolf O’Leary the orphan from Kilkenny, I was Kenny from South Park and I was a badly drawn boy. Re-invigorated at my knowledge of not being a half-Austrian mass murderer, I jumped back into the river for an invigorating swim: misjudging the changing mood, not to mention height of the five ‘little people’, I realised they were gaining on me. My only hope was to fight back. Pulling my emergency bottle of Old Spice aftershave out of my pantaloons, I sprayed it on the water behind, lit the resulting slick, and swam on as the dwarves burned. But, as the flames rose higher and I smelled the sour smell of burning flesh, I realised that genre is important in episodes of this type. Science fiction seemed safe – but then, what kind of sci-fi? Drama? Fantasy? Horror? “Oh, my left testicle for a genre!” he cried. “Done” shouted a voice in my ear “shit”, it was said in a Spanish accent. I looked up, took in the swarthy features, the broad-brimmed hat of the figure as it sat in the sampan, the sunlight glinting on the crucifix around its neck, black cassock ominous in the purpling afternoon light. “No-one expects the Spanish inquisition…” repeated the rather tiresome geek stood next to me. Killing him for the crime of aping Monty Python, I decided it was time, time to get ready to rumble. Setting forward to save the world from itself (or rather, from humanity) I set forward and began a quest to programme the world’s first sock emulator. “God-damn shitty compilers”, as I reviewed the errors yet again, shouting at the screen in front of me. Its lone glowing irritation in an otherwise dark desert night no longer seemed as warm as it did when I wandered into the vacant mobile home in the narrow strip of land along the Mexican-American border, quite some distance from the Mekong Delta and Poland. I turned from the all-seeing eye, the Cyclops of my existence. Where was the stick that could be hardened in the fire and sharpened, plunged into that Cyclops eye in order to win my freedom, would the figurative herd of sheep arrive? The herd of sheep not arriving, I decided to venture forth to the nearest brothel, procuring for myself a side of bacon, 6 highlighter pens and a bicycle pump along the way. A night of experimentation lay ahead. Warily approaching the desk of Madame Jar Jar’s, I caught the eye of the desk clerk and proferred the bacon. It did not take long for him to realise what my game was. Choo! Choo! The train of thought that had embarked on the trans-continental journey from ear-to-ear across this – if I may be blunt – enormous man’s head had just arrived at the station. Trouble was the platform was a long way from the the door of the carriage. The thought tried to jump the gap from synapse to synapse but it would never happen, his eyes opened wide. I felt a familiar rumbling in my bowels. I looked around frantically. I was in the middle of a jungle. Not a prostitute-filled public toilet to be seen! I dropped my pants, looked around for prying eyes, and did what Jacob had done before me. The leaves of Bushman’s Friend having done their job, we pulled up our trousers and stumbled off into the back alleys of Miami in search of fresh prey. It isn’t easy being a half-Irish, half-German, sometimes cartoon character, other times alligator of an anthropomorphic nature, stalking the forgotten watery causeways of Florida. Where’s a helicopter when you need one, I needed out of here pronto? But as I felt in the pocket of my crocodile-skin trousers I found a pair of ruby slippers, thinking there’s no place like home. I wistfully remembered Saturday afternoons watching sheepdog trials with Mother and Father in Yorkshire. Bringing myself back to my alligator-surrounded situation, armed with only some slippers and a bike pump, I hatched a plot for to rediscover the location of that damned purple rabbit hole. But I could not recognised in public if I had any hope; I had to change my look. The shaving razor was cold and caused goosebumps on my skin as I deftly cut myself and continued to apply bits of Bushman’s Friend (I meant to cut myself).I did stop at one point to wonder about that rabbit hole which seemed like pages ago “Fucking rabbit holes”, I muttered “Oi! My great-grandfather died in a rabbit hole”, shouted Dave, angrily. “Relax, some of my best friends are rabbit holes”, I assured him. “Never mind that bollocks, look at these funny-looking blokes in in singlets running towards us”. “Crikey, look at this little fella”, shouted one of them, attempting to kiss me, the purple lip-gloss smeared across my sweaty face and ran into my eyes, kicking and screaming. Having fought off the horde of trans-gender Steve Irwin impersonators, I stumbled into the nearest eatery and muttered an order for the special. “Would you like fries with that?”, the pimpled face with the braces slurred at me. “No!”, I shouted, “I want what I want and nothing less.” “So,” he said “you want a knockwurst and potato salad, is that correct?”. “Ja ja.” I agreed, he asked “Is that a Canadian accent?” “Nein”, I said, “there’s nobody there”. “But everybody’s got to be somewhere.” he lisped, inquisitively cocking an eyebrow. Well, all things run faster after a good hard service, just like Gladys my great rabbit-cooking aunty.

To be or not to be the end of the rabbit in the hole?

Dedicated to the big Other, who always laughs at my jokes.

Creative Commons License
The Great by Abhishek Reddy, Calvin Rainey, Nevyn Hira and Robin Paulson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at bumblepuppy.org.

Community Gardens in Auckland

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Supermarket food is expensive, and grown for looks (Western culture operates primarily in the visual domain) and profit rather than nutritional value. Also, the supermarkets have a stranglehold over food retailing, via a cosy duopoly between Foodstuffs and Progressive.

Having lived in Westmere near the Community Garden, seen the film Dirt and heard a radio show on Radio New Zealand National about Incredible Edible Todmorden I was motivated into action.

Auckland City Council has resources available, and when I called to ask for help, I was directed to a senior planning officer called John Nash, who had lots more information. He offered advice on the following:
* how to use council land for the gardens (apparently, local parks can be used);
* how to approach community boards, who have the final say;
* maintaining a connection between the garden and the nearby residents/community;
* enhancing the area with the garden;
* talking to the parks adviser, David Barker;
* the bigger view of any project utilising/improving council-owned land, e.g. flowers on verges/berms.

So, the community garden has a way forward. However, there is a far bigger opportunity here. Within New Zealand as a whole there are apparently 12 council-backed community gardens, plus uncounted privately-backed gardens. In my view, if the council is prepared to offer the advice and backing they are, there is the potential for many more gardens, at least in Auckland, if not elsewhere. From talking to John Nash, it appeared very few people know of these opportunities. So, rather than merely setting up another garden, a greater return on our effort may come from getting the message out to potentially interested parties. Who knows how many would be inspired to start their own project, if they had the backing.

I propose putting together a small, informal group who can promote the setup of community gardens in Auckland. Following on from our experiences with setting up the Creative Space, this will require active dissemination of the information: no-one is asking for help, so we have to tell them it’s there. The method we used to publicise the Creative Space was visiting groups who we thought may be interested, and giving a short talk, followed by a Q and A session. The groups we visited were tailored to the subject in hand, e.g.:
Computer software:
* Auckland Linux User Group
* Python User Group

Robotics:
* Arduino User Group

Artists/musicians:
* Cross Street Collective
* Manukau School of Visual Arts

To promote the Community Gardens concept, this list would need to be adjusted. Rotary clubs, Lions clubs, RSAs, The Greens, and other similar local groups.

The approach would be similar though:
* Explain the concept of community gardens;
* Describe how the council can help;
* Describe how we, the Community Gardens Collective, can help with advice.

Each interested party would be expected to do the work themselves of course – the garden must be theirs; our purpose would solely be to promote and advocate for the concept.

Update: apparently, there are 47 community gardens in NZ, of which 16 are in the Auckland region. See here for more

Auckland Creative Space

Auckland needs a Creative Space, also known as a Hacker Space or Maker Space. So, a few of us have got together, done some research and collected other like-minded souls. We’re currently working through what it will look like, where it will be, and how much it will cost, etc.

The people involved are musicians, radio presenters, artists, electronics and robotics geeks, programming nerds, artists and many more.

The drive behind the Creative Space is twofold:
Firstly there is a recognition that technology, despite it’s claims to be all-empowering and to make life better for its users, does the opposite. Marshall Mcluhan based his concept of ‘The Medium is the Message’ on the realisation that media is used in ever more-controlling and divisive ways. Despite its claims to be about connecting people and empowering relationships, the more sophisticated the technology becomes, the more it interjects between people, dividing them further from each other. There is much evidence that increased use of electronic media to communicate results in less and less real human-to-human interaction. This results in subtle but important parts of communication being stripped away, leaving a less rich and meaningful interaction behind. A conversation is so much more than the meaning of the words; facial expressions, body language, hand gestures, tone of voice, eye contact, and hundreds of other factors, all of them are picked up at a conscious or subconscious level, and become part of the communication.  All are lost when the communication is mediated by e-mail, IM or text. Phone conversations keep some of the content (such as tone of voice, speed of speaking, pauses), but a lot is still lost. Even video messaging is not perfect – the camera is often placed in a way which cuts out the hands and feet, depth perception is close to zero affecting interpretation of gestures, and people are often nervous or overly self-conscious compared to person-to-person. An associate of mine who has Asperger syndrome, on learning of the above opinions on e-mail and SMS argued that to him, e-mail was a fantastic form of communication – off-line he found it very difficult to have a conversation with people, but e-mail, due to it’s inherent removal of all the aspects of communication that he could not pick up on (voice tone, body language, etc.), resulted in everyone else communicating in the same way as he did. So, there we have it. E-mail, IM and SMS; it’s like giving the whole world Asperger Syndrome.

With this in mind, and realising the more concrete negative aspects of on-line communities – flamewars, misunderstandings due to sentences with multiple subjects, cultural differences and more, it seemed a natural step to provide a real, person-to-person environment which catered to anyone who was interested.

The second, more obvious reason for the Creative Space was to allow the sharing of tools and skills through the pooling of resources. There are lots of projects I would like to work on (more on this in later posts), for which I have neither the money, space, skills nor agreeable neighbours. A Creative Space would provide all of these.

So, get out from behind the computer, come along and meet us – all are welcome. To join in, or see what we’re doing, click here for details on our (physical) meetings.

This post is a work in progress, and will be expanded on.