09.06.16: Last Day in Hackney

It was our last day at Stour Space in Hackney and the penultimate day of the Global Citizenship Programme. The first half of the day was spent in the studio working on our posters (surprisingly difficult with one laptop and a bunch of hungry students) but we ended up with something that we can all be proud of, that tries to address not only the physical issues of the Mobile Garden City but the issues surrounding the infrastructure too. IMG_20160609_120122

After lunch we chose between staying in Stour Space and participating in a workshop on public speaking or going to the garden again – to volunteer this time. After two months of revision and exams the outdoors option will always win for me, so off we headed in the blazing sun to harvest mint, paint storage containers and put up posters. It was the most lively I’d seen the garden in the few times I’d been there, and the massive group of UCL students pottering about managed to attract several curious people to come have a look around and find out about the space – maybe a glimpse into the idealised visions people had of the garden when they originally founded it.

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Back to Bloomsbury for now

Day 7: People’s Pop-up Garden

Today the day begun quite stuttered, due to unfortunate train delays, but once everyone got here we were off and achieved a substantial amount of work. Though we did not physically leave and remained in Stour Space the whole day to ensure we could meet the deadline of 12pm tomorrow for our final outputs.

The first task we carried out was in small groups where we came up with a total of three personas (Graham T, Auntie Flower and lastly Kanye W) who would be currently taking up residence in the local area. To do this we used the skills we had gained from the human centred design skills workshop to try and fit into the “shoes” of the character to figure out their needs and wants.

Following this, using divergent thinking (which we were experts on from the workshop) we came up with ideas on how our task and these personas could interrelate. I was surprised by the large number of ideas which we came up with collectively, though I had very few. From this, the postic notes with the ideas were arranged into categories to help narrow down to key themes for the solution and two of these were chosen in relation to two personas to expand upon.

Lots and lots of ideas!!
                    Lots and lots of ideas!!

Splitting into two groups we chose to narrow down all these ideas into two feasible solutions, with the aid of convergent thinking. This entitled us to produce a storyboard, similar to the one from the second session of the human centred workshop, which would show  a narrative of our persona. We found this challenging as we did not always feels we were meeting the task such as reasons to why Auntie Flower would leave her home garden to visit the R-urban site.

And thus is was a good time for lunch!

From our “inspirational” lunch period, and brief discussion, we realised there were two parts to solving the problem with R-urban. These were –

  • How to raise awareness and make people know about the r-urban
  • Facilities/activities which would make people come and maintain their commitment

To carry this out we split into two groups, with the end products of a poster (for the first part) and a model of our proposed park called “People’s Pop-up Garden”. Personally I think the model looks great!

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Day 4: tough for someone who killed a cactus

The first week rounded off on a green note with a panel on urban initiatives to enhance well-being through the use of green spaces… or dead, weedy, rubble-filled spaces – or even the side of a building.

The first speaker, Joyce Veheary, spoke about her ingenious garden sharing scheme ‘Lend and Tend’ where people who otherwise wouldn’t use their gardens/balconies/rooftops can offer the space to people willing to use and look after them. Almost like an allotment – minus the bureaucracy and the 40 year waiting lists.

Next were two speakers from the Mobile Garden City – a placement project in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park that aims to bring together, as well as create, a community within the developing space of Chobham Manor. It boasts a cafe, non-profit bike repair shop, growing fruits and vegetables, town hall and communal dining table – amongst many other things. And what’s more: it will be picked up and moved completely this December to a new site.

The future ladies and gents:

The last speaker, Gary Grant, moved on to how we can bring back and utilize nature to spaces where it would seem like little could grow. ‘Greening up’ already existing buildings by additions such as roof gardens or plant walls has shown to be beneficial in a number of aspects: from providing insulation in the winter to cooling in the summer, space for insects and reducing excess rainwater in gutter systems.

After lunch (a samosa. It was brilliant) we split into groups to embark on a crash course on interviewing skills. Role playing and interview planning ensued and then it was time to vote on our preferred challenges, narrowing it down to three.

Whilst writing this the results have come through, and although not our first choice (booo Group 2) our allocated challenge is one that I’m sure we’ll all be pretty pleased with and will put our utmost effort into, maybe especially as it’s occurring at the same time as the news coming out of UK lobbying to dilute pollution death proposals. We’ll need all the green space we can get.

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Watching poor policy decisions being made

(Un)Urban: Day 3 – Diversity in East London and Human Centred Design

Day 3 began with another panel discussion, this time on diversity in East London. The first speaker was Judy Ling Wong,who is the director of the Black Environmental Network. Judy spoke about how inspiring engagement and partnership; how we can encourage groups who feel that they are not welcome to use the green spaces nearby to use them by building trust and then gaining a better understanding of their needs. Another way of motivating people to use green spaces is through design which will encourage them to linger there, for example having picnic benches where people can sit and chat rather than benches where it is hard to talk. The second speaker was Dr Nikolay Mintchev from the Institute for Global Prosperity, he discussed ethnic diversity and we were surprised to find out that London is different to other global cities as in more diverse areas like Hackney, there was trust between neighbours and cohesion within the community. Whereas elsewhere with higher levels of diversity there was less trust between different communities. Dr Tim Waterman also spoke about landscape architecture and the idea of how public space is used and how design can affect this. He used the example of Oxford Circus and showed us how its design has been improved to make it more accessible over recent years.

Following the panel discussion and after hearing people’s questions and ideas we then discussed ways that the IROKO theatre group could help to improve the wellbeing of older people using open spaces. These ideas were then fed back to the group as a whole and some of the innovative suggestions included cooking classes, tree planting and open air theatre.

After lunch we continued with our human centred design projects we had begun yesterday. Today we used convergent thinking to help create our prototypes, we focused in on one of our mash-ups and went into much more depth. This enabled us to come up with a really detailed solution which would be very specific to the personas we had previously created. We created a storyboard of our solutions and this allowed us to work out how we could create our prototypes, either using models or role play which we then presented at the end of the day. Reflecting upon our human centred design process many people expressed how useful the process was for coming up with inventive solutions to real world problems and how creative each solution had been.

Storyboards based on each groups persona and their specific needs

Presenting our prototypes

Un(Urban) Day 2: Urban Well-being and Human-Centred Design

 

The second day started off with an enlightening panel session by Neil and Oliver. We learnt about some projects designed to better monitor the environment around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as well as projects that aim to leverage social value and improve social well-being of the people around that area. The panel session was followed by a challenge review whereby groups were asked to develop ways in which Creative Wick (an organization which aims to retain and grow the creative sector by building positive, mutually beneficial relationships with the residential and business communities at the area of Hackney Wick and Fish Island) can mobilize its networks to improve the well-being of the people around the area. Examples of idea proposed include art therapy and art exhibition which increases public awareness of social well-being.

After the lunch break, we had an interactive workshop about Human-Centred Design, conducted by Nissan. The workshop began with a “Spaghetti-Marshmallow Tower Challenge” where we were asked to build a tower using spaghetti sticks as well as limited tape and string, with a marshmallow put on top of the tower. Most of us found the task challenging but we learnt about two important things: 1) it is vital to first understand the problems before we actually design a solution, 2) we can always improve and learn from failures.

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A “rare species” that was not destroyed by the big fat marshmallow.

 

We also learnt about divergent thinking of generating creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions, as well as convergent thinking in which we focus on a specific problem and think of ways to tackle this problem. Both ways of thinking could be used in different stages of problem solving. In groups of three, we developed a persona with specific aspects and needs in their daily commute. Once we have developed the personas, we thought about solutions to tackle the problems faced on their commute. We brainstormed, threw out ideas, organised the ideas into clusters and tried to create connections between the ideas. Overall, the workshop was highly interactive and engaging, providing us with skills and proper procedures involved in problem solving.

 

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An example of character developed was Anjali, an injured student who uses crutches, travels from Zone 3 to UCL by bus and underground every day.

 

 

“There are no ideas too wild and no dreams too big”—Anonymous.

 

 

 

 

Day 1: (Re)discovering Gordon Square

When was the last time you thought, and I mean really thought, about that unassuming patch of green you walk by every day or that row of trees outside your house? To a busy Londoner rushing from one appointment to the next, these bits and pieces of green can easily fade into the steely grey cityscape. And yet, if you look closely, you can find signs of plant and animal life everywhere.

As an introduction to the (Un)Urban strand of the UCL Global Citizenship Programme, we were asked to do exactly that: become aware of the natural space we were in (in our case, Gordon Square, a public garden located in the centre of UCL faculty buildings and Halls of Residence) and discuss its purpose, aesthetics and atmosphere.

In groups of three, we set out to wander the garden’s meandering paths, cross the wide lawn and walk beneath lush canopies of leaves, heavy with fresh rain.

With thick bushes and tall trees blocking out any outside sights and sounds, Gordon Square revealed itself to be a true oasis – a sequestered retreat from hectic campus life, the ideal place to stroll, read, chat and eat. It is no secret that deepening your connection with nature can make you happier, more relaxed and more resilient to the pressures of urban life. But was this really nature?

We quickly realised that this supposedly ‘natural’ space was just as purposefully designed and carefully maintained as any other public space in the heart of London. The grass was cut evenly, trees were strategically planted at certain spots and the fences that bordered the paths were small but impossible to ignore. The fact that Gordon Square was covered in greenery and not concrete did not mean that it was any less artificial.

My friend Anne aptly mentioned the concept of ‘second nature’ which, rather than being left untouched and free to grow without intervention, is constructed and groomed by humans to serve a specific purpose.

This phenomenon, of course, does not necessarily result in grave exploitation or destruction of natural habitats. Gordon Square, for instance, features a fruit composter and a vegan café, encouraging the garden’s users to commit to the protection of the environment.

Apart from this, cultural, artistic and historical concerns seem to have played a significant role in the development of Gordon Square. The busts of poet Rabindranath Tagore and WWII agent Noor Inayat Khan create a quiet, commemorative ambiance. A sign explicitly instructs visitors not to play ball games or bring their dogs to Gordon Square: this is a place of remembrance and contemplation.

While vibrant university life continues outside the garden gates, Khan’s and Tagore’s faces remain unmoved. Carved into bronze, their distinct features remind us of the lasting impact that every individual can make on the course of our history and the heritage of our world.

So next time you find yourself in Gordon Square, don’t just rush to your next class. Instead, look around for a bit, take in the moment and linger just a little longer.