World Social Forum Tunis

In Tunis with thousands of others for the World Social Forum 2013. As with Egypt, the Tunisian Spring is a revolution unfinished, a country without a constitution. Then the assassination of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid barely a month ago. Suddenly there was an air of something providential about the arrival of the World Social Forum, along with a sense of urgency.

Rambler in the Berlin Unité

After a two year association with the Unité D'Habitation in Rezé, Nantes, I confess I went to the Berlin Unité with some preconceptions, in search of another scenario to explore the concrete shell and its relationship with urban ecology. I came away with the realisation that when it comes to architectural styles, it's not so much the clothes in the wardrobe but who wears them that matter.

Altieri on agroecology

Miguel Altieri at the APPG
(the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology) 12 January 2012

If anyone articulates the political potential of sustainable food as a means of social transformation, it is Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology at Berkeley, the University of California. Altieri has a simple explanation of what agroecology is "It’s like a stool that has three legs. One that is socially just, one that is economically viable, and one that is ecologically safe. And when one of those legs lags, then the stool falls down". In other words, it's all or nothing. Agroecology thus demands the total transformation of our food system; tweaking it here and there will not do.

Parliaments of Dartmoor

Camping in Dartmoor April 2011. Lost in vast expanses of space, it is somehow easier to speculate on the future, and potential social imaginaries. Dartmoor is a particularly appropriate place as it is full of anomalies. Although much of it is privately owned, we can roam across the empty desolation with few restrictions thanks to the Dartmoor Commons Act of 1985. The rugged landscape is itself the result of ecological collapse. Once upon a time Dartmoor was a dense forest. Then came farming and overfarming which upset the balance. Turning forestry into fields progressively eroded the natural cover of oak trees.  Disaster awaited. Without the trees to hold together the soil, the nutrients were washed away. Crops failed, livestock died and Dartmoor became the soggy barren moorlands we know today.

Frontline street

This post is a mediation on the street as a revolutionary front line. The capacity of taking to the street to confront the State directly. The horizon of the political possibilities available to us has certainly changed with the Arab spring and the realisation that austerity Europe can not carry on as it is. Something has to give. The street beckons. However when it comes to the street as a 'revolutionary front line’, our imagination wanders back to May 68 as a sort of auto political default. A critical question thus would be to ask how relevant is 68 to our current day struggles?

Hi-density Food Chain [ 1.2 ]

Experiments with local food supply in 2 hi-density urban estates
Maison Radieuse, Rezé, Nantes and Broadwater Farm, Tottenham, London

In this continued post I look at two initiatives at the downstream end of the food chain, the consumer end, through the different approaches in two projects I have engaged with in the past few years (2006-2009). Both are in high density public sector housing, one at Maison Radieuse in Nantes, one of Le Corbusier’s celebrated Unité D’Habitation buildings and the other at Broadwater Farm, the sprawling prefabricated 60s Modernist housing estate in Tottenham, London N17

Hi-density Food Chain [ 1 ]

Experiments with local food supply in 2 hi-density urban estates
Maison Radieuse, Rezé, Nantes and Broadwater Farm, Tottenham, London

The past 20 years have seen massive increases in the corporate share at both ends of our food chain – downstream at the supply end with a few supermarkets and upstream the domination of food production by agribusiness cartels. Thus today just five companies control over three quarters of the world market in cereals with one, Cargill, controlling more than than 60%; three companies control 85% of the world’s tea market; three in cocoa have 84%; and with agrochemicals, the top 10 companies own 90% of the market. So why this wholesale takeover at a time of relentless environmental campaigning and anti-capitalist activism; is it down to the power imbalances of neoliberalism, or the lack of protective legislation, or subsidies  skewed heavily in favour of the large, or do the progressive messages have no effect on consumer culture?

Netroots UK

Netroots UK: day of workshops at TUC Congress House London 8 January 2011

There is an assumption that political consciousness is no longer being shaped by the traditional media or institutional politics but by self-produced social media and the blogosphere. Whilst political valorisation of new media is not new, how can we really assess how the two things, electoral politics and e-activism on social media interact with each other? Behind all the presumptions and opinions, what are the actual convergences? An opportunity to ask these questions came with the Labour party’s netroots UK conference. Billed with the slogan ‘building the progressive grassroots online’  Netroots brought hundreds of e-activists to spend a day indoors with the Labour Party.

Domestic footprint

Workshops on reducing household energy footprint led by ecoteams at Hackney Town Hall, Mare Street, London   4 December 2010

Anyone whose work involves connecting the lives of ordinary urban communities with ecological awareness, knows the problems – questioning private habits, or critically engaging the space of anyone’s home invariably implies a measure of invasion of who they are. A previous generation of environmental artists and cultural activists saw the connection between ecology and culture as a way to move the present conditions of society to another beyond capitalism, debt, consumerism and individualism. But it has been a double-edged process, with phrases such as ‘ecofascist’ becoming part of our language.

Prinzessinnengarten 2010

Workshop on Urban Farming and Local Empowerment
led by Nomadisch Grün

at Prinzessinnengarten, Kreuzberg, Berlin    
24 to 30 September 2010

These workshops for Urban growers take place at Prinzessinnengarten just off the busy traffic hub of Moritzplatz in Kreutzberg, below the drone of cranes engaged in new build. This is Berlin’s real estate land alright. By its looks, Prinzessinnengarten is certainly strange; there is an enormous amount of formal aesthetic innovation in this ‘urban garden’ which combines an economic pragmatism with a rampant grow in any way and every way you can approach:  white vinyl bags strewn around with vegetables growing out, herbs popping out of tetrapacks, stackable red plastic containers, a ‘grow or be damned’ attitude. The colours combinations aren’t too bad either, red, white, then the clean minimal lines of the café and kitchen in shipping containers. Everything here is mobile; if push comes to shove this community garden or farm can pack and go, all of which contradicts conventional notions of both community and food growing. So what brings about a phenomenon such as Prinzessinnengarten?


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