Monday, March 27, 2017

Safe in the City? Girls Tell It Like It Is

Image 20170323 4961 obycxt
How does a city shape women’s feelings of safety? P Salen
by Nicole Kalms, Monash University; Gill Matthewson, Monash University, and Pamela Salen, Monash University, The Conversation:

When authorities decide that an area of the city is “not safe”, the usual response is more lighting, CCTV cameras, and police.

But what if there are more subtle indicators of safety in the environment that they are missing?

This is a question being asked by a team of researchers from the Monash University XYX Lab who are collaborating with Plan International Australia to identify and illuminate why women and young girls often feel unsafe in Australian urban spaces.

Late last year, Plan International launched a campaign asking young women and girls in Melbourne to engage with a web-based interactive map Free to Be and, over a three month period, comment on how safe and welcome spaces in the city made them feel.

They did so by dropping “pins” on the interactive, geo-locative map of Melbourne and suburbs. In total, 1,318 pins were dropped by around 1000 women - either green ones (marking “happy” places) or red ones (marking “sad”).

Some responses were obvious: Federation Square and the State Library were “happy” spaces. “It’s usually pretty busy and I feel safe and connected to Melbourne here,” said one woman of Federation Square. Observed another of the State Library: “Always a lot of people hanging around and it’s a safe spot to meet others.”

“Sad” spaces, however, often involved accounts of concerning incidents and places that felt frightening. Said one woman of Swanston Street near Flinders St Station:
It’s scary here at night time. It’s well lit and there are always police around, but it can be really scary. One of the reasons I don’t stay in the city late at night.
Another reported an incident where
Two male teenagers loudly harassed me about my gender because I wasn’t wearing make up and have a short haircut.

Flinders Street, Melbourne. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017

Our analysis found some common themes. Busyness gave a place a buzz. But spaces that were crowded seemed to provide a cover for unpleasant incidents such as pushing and groping. Sexual harassment was a major element of “sad” places. It ranged from cat-calling to propositioning to distressing sexual assaults.

One young woman wrote:
I rarely go out after dark in the city any more after years of harassment from drunk men. To be catcalled, then verbally abused in a very aggressive manner if I don’t respond or turn them down is incredibly scary. I don’t like that they’ve won over the space, but I don’t want to be bashed or raped. And the only way seems to be not for the men to stop but for me to leave.
While the highest number of sexual harassment incidents were recorded at Flinders Street Station, the most serious events reported occurred in Chinatown. In total, there were over 300 cases of sexual harassment reported over the three-month period and 69 reports of sexual assault incidents, which ranged from groping to more than one alleged rape.

Signs in ‘Happy spaces’. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017
Interestingly, King Street - known for its strip clubs and with a reputation for violence - had markedly less red pins than other areas of the CBD. This indicated that women and girls have already self-excluded themselves from city streets that are explicitly identified as masculine.

This preliminary research raises important questions for architects, designers, planners and policy makers. For instance, are there environmental factors in the built environment that either support or discourage such behaviour?

One key description of “happy” spaces was that they were open, spacious and welcoming. It was also fascinating to examine the language, branding, signs, and advertisements in spaces described as both happy and sad. By looking closely at three “happy” spaces (Hardware Street and Lane, Degraves Lane, and the State Library) and three “sad” spaces (La Trobe Street between Swanston and Elizabeth, Bourke Street Mall and the Flinders Street Station area), a pattern emerged.

Signs in ‘sad’ spaces. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017
In the “happy” spaces, small and unique brands with positive messages and attractive graphics (Little Cupcakes, Clementines, Doughnut Time) were featured. Much of the advertising was hand-lettered menu boards, which seemed to create a friendly feeling.

In the “sad” spaces, restaurants were dominated by masculine names (Duncan’s, Mr Burger, Hungry Jack’s, Lord of the Fries, McDonalds). There were also subliminal and gendered messages such as logos that resembled large breasts and names linked to transgressive behaviour (The Joint Bar, Dangerfield, High Voltage City).

It was in these spaces that there was a high incidence of sexual harassment recorded by those with the Free to Be app:
Someone spanked my ass…
Had a drunk, mid-40’s man with his friend slap my ass hard as I walked past with my husband.
He walked past and grabbed my vagina.
Was harassed and followed into a shop by a man trying to talk me into sleeping with him.

Swanston Street, Melbourne. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017

The analysis of the signage alongside the women’s comments suggests that there is a possible correlation in the way that language, as well as the precincts of franchisees, might affect the experiences of young women in urban space. Studying these “happy” and “sad” spaces in more detail will give us the potential to learn from them.

This research unfortunately reveals something that most young women already know: that the city is far from gender neutral. There is much work to be done to uncover how cities shape their experiences.
A recent workshop held by the XYX Lab with Plan International and the City of Melbourne brought together Victoria Police, public transport authorities, councils, Our Watch and other interested people. It revealed a willingness across the board to investigate and address these issues.

MADA’s new XYX Lab was officially launched on Sunday 26 March at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Nicole Kalms, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at Monash University, Monash University; Gill Matthewson, Lecturer in the Department of Architecture, Monash University, and Pamela Salen, Lecturer, Communication Design, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Launching a Cooperative Isn't Easy: Here's a Resource to Get You Started

My foray into the cooperative movement began when I was a student at Indiana University doing campaign-based activism. 
Along with my fellow activists, I focused on putting a stop to things like the buy-out of the university-owned bookstores on campus by Barnes and Noble and the high costs of rental housing near our campus. 
After learning about the cooperative model - in which the users of an organization's products or services own and control the organization - our focus shifted to presenting cooperative solutions to these issues. However, our initial attempts at creating a cooperative failed, and we eventually lost energy for the work. I attribute much of this to not having sufficient outside guidance.
When we wanted to launch a network of low-income housing cooperatives off-campus, the lack of support continued to be an issue. I contacted a national organization dedicated to helping students start housing cooperatives and never got a response. Almost two years of work went by on these cooperative projects with virtually no outside assistance, resources, or expertise. Despite the lack of support and formal expertise, we were ultimately successful in starting our initiative. 
The cooperative, Bloomington Cooperative Living, now owns over a million dollars worth of property and provides affordable housing to more sixty students and non-students in the community. By working with these various groups, I learned by doing and failing, several times. In my over a decade of work in cooperative development, one of my biggest frustrations has continually been a lack of economically and culturally accessible resources for many of those interested in starting cooperatives.
In response, I envisioned a resource that would be both accessible and practical for people of all identities and backgrounds interested in the cooperative model, provide a holistic picture of entrepreneurship, share basic insight into the "hard" skills of starting cooperatives like financial planning, and focus most the more nuanced work of keeping a group together through the ups and downs of starting an organization.
This week, we at the Traveling Cooperative Institute, a peer-to-peer cooperative business development program of the Northcountry Cooperative Foundation, launched "Collecting Ourselves," a comprehensive cooperative entrepreneurship curriculum.
The curriculum walks participants through an examination of the philosophy and practice of cooperation, the meaning of "development" and "entrepreneurship" in their lives, the steps taken to develop a cooperative business, and an exploration of two of the most important steps of collective entrepreneurship: organizing people into a steering committee and creating a business plan. 

Popular Education methods are used throughout the curriculum, drawing directly on the expertise and insight of participants to guide the learning process, endeavoring to make the content relevant to a wide audience by "meeting people where they're at."

The total curriculum is comprised of nine workshops, encompassing up to 16 hours of training. The curriculum can serve as content for a semester class in university, be used in regular community study groups, or for a retreat-style academy. It was developed for young people in their teens to thirties, but is modular and adaptable for most ages, identities, and experiences.

My sincere hope for this resource is that it can serve as a tool to support all people in their efforts to pursue cooperative entrepreneurship. Further, that these pursuits don't just create cooperatives, but also contribute to halting patterns of harm in communities.

We are not just creating things with our friends - we are responding to and resisting systems that perpetuate injustice and hurt. Building cooperative businesses, if done with this both grand and fundamental intention, can be a way to contribute to necessary healing and the building of a better world. I hope this resource can help make building a better world a little easier for more people.