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Monday, 22 June 2009

World Streets

Eric Britton and I spoke via Skype. He's doing some gentle lobbying for the New Mobility Agenda for World Streets - a daily blog linked to the mother-site. We've been cyberspace acquaintances for years. Here I was gazing at his room in Paris and he at our kitchen in Birmingham, wondering about the style and tone of public conversation that will best combine intelligence, politeness and urgent fear at the prospect of 'getting our feet wet'.
He was asking around for brief opinions of World Streets - a good way to convey a feel for the international reach of new ideas about how people and their goods should get around...
Eric. The title 'World Streets' is a portal, blog and website capturing the idea of thinking globally, acting locally, sharing, via the Internet, practical ways, after a century of distortion, to restore - through research, education, lobbying and debate - a balance between access by proximity and access by mobility. Simon
I see that Joel Crawford - soliciting images and opinions about car-free city streets and squares - has published Linda's picture of me cycling along the Liston in the June edition of Carfree Times.
The Liston is a kind of perfection. It's old but not a museum. It's grand but not big, and when crowded it's full of intimacy. There are no cars to endanger the children, pollute it with smell and noise. The Liston is a place for walking and sitting and talking and gazing around. It connects to the sokaki, Corfu's intricate back streets, and to the grand square, the cricket ground and the sea. It's open to the Ionian sky but has ready shelter from its generous rain. It is private space where people live as well as work - full of thriving interesting business - and it is a public space that takes civility for granted without pompous notices; an agora for all and an avenue for secular and religious celebrations of joy and solemn gatherings at times of sadness. It stands on its own connected to everywhere.
* * * Email from Dr Phil Jones, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Birmingham:
Hi, I'm doing a project looking at how people cycle to the university and wondered if anyone wanted to take part. Essentially it involves wearing a microphone and a GPS-wristwatch while cycling home, describing thoughts and feelings as you ride along. The equipment is lightweight and fairly unobtrusive. There's more information at Rescue Geography. Thanks. Phil
'As part of attempts to further refine Rescue Geography techniques, we're attempting to apply it to cycling, investigating the ways that bicycle-users understand their commute to and from work at the University of Birmingham. This involves asking participants to wear a GPS 'wristwatch' and a microphone while they cycle, narrating their journey with their thoughts and observations on the environment they're passing through...The University is a very large regional employer in a city which is notorious for congestion, pollution and poor provision for cyclists. In 2008 the University undertook an audit of how its staff travelled to work. One of the conclusions was that there was a fairly low uptake of cycling as a form of transport and significant barriers to its wider use.'
* * *
Richard, at our kitchen table, works on a website for Karen Van Hoff in Ludlow sharing screens with her as they chat; phones on speakers. "That looks really beautiful!" "Have you any thoughts on pictures?" "Some of the close ups were really lovely" "Hm...have a look at..." "Did you want to use that one...or that? The one we're looking at with..." "Yup yup"..."There's a lot riding on this's coming along really nicely."
I had another lesson at Apple this morning, getting my head further round Final Cut Express, my tutor, Nikos from Athens, slipped in a few lessons on Greek pronunciation as we captured some film and started editing. As well as the One-to-One service, Apple Bullring are now offering three hour workshops for several people to work on their projects at the shop, share ideas and get tutoring. I'm drilling deeper into the film-production process. For £75 a year these lessons - as many as I want - are worth it. The learning is fun - an antidote to the distancing we get seeking help from disembodied displaced voices for too many other services.
* * *
I've finally delivered the draft film I made earlier in the year of Councillor Alistair Dow, the politician who co-ordinates Overview and Scrutiny in Birmingham in conversation about daily business with John Cade, Director of Scrutiny in the Council. Because they suggested it I abandoned my usual questions and left the camera running for thirty minutes of a normal meeting. I have yet to gauge how far my presence and the camera's needs to be factored into any understanding of a most interesting conversation.


  1. Simon,

    When we worked in Brussels, we worked alongside a barrister who became a good friend and came to our wedding. We lost touch sometime after she moved to Paris, and married someone called Eric Britton. Is the same Eric Britton, I wonder. I always thought her husband was French, but had no reason for thinking so other than they lived, at the time, on the rue du Cherche Midi ...

    We've often wondered what happened to her, and left messages on old phone numbers. Perhaps you would know if it is her husband that you are friends with?

  2. Ah well, I'm sure she'll turn up eventually.


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Simon Baddeley