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Tomas Jonsson – Day 2

September 15, 2010

On Tuesday, September 13, beginning at 5:00 p.m., another small, enthusiastic group congregated at aceartinc. to continue a discussion about poverty and housing.

This is how it went…

After the same sort of welcome and basic introductions, Tomas shared a few details about his overall artistic practice, and updated the attendees on the activities undertaken the day prior. He also introduced to the discussion a few current newspaper articles he had clipped about the housing market and social housing fundraisers. To this were added articles about bedbugs and strategies associated with neighbourhood safety.

From there, a conversation was generated based on the various thoughts expressed by participants. The idea of how property is valued, supposedly de-valued, and speculated on for development led to discussion about displacement as well as the various types of manufactured social pressures associated with housing. The strange way in which housing shifted from a place to eat and sleep to a commodity/form of investment was pondered. What could have driven this concept? What is at stake if it were to suddenly change to revert back, or change to something altogether different? The recurrent theme of the day was clearly gentrification and the movement of people between different neighbourhoods as they become fashionable/lose their popularity. The cyclical nature of the process was also addressed.

Through this process, the group noted concern about the limited availability of affordable rental properties and lamented the lack of procedures in place to prevent absentee landlords from allowing sites to decline. This was contrasted with the lack of support and understanding demonstrated for people trying to manage the houses within which they live. The idea of an “eyesore” as something merely subjective, and concerned less with the lives of people than the capricious notion of commercial value was noted.

We discussed the various parts of the city rife with boarded up buildings and decided to go for a walk to look at some of the ones nearby.  While we walked, we noted the interesting intermingling of domestic and commercial structures. How much sense it would make if only neighbourhoods continued to keep sites living and working proximity, thus reducing need for cars, and with shops and services all scattered throughout, even better!

We reached a house that seemed to be in a situation we discussed earlier. It looked like it had been painted fairly recently, but was boarded up. Someone was clearly trying to keep it in use, but it was condemned. Why? We had post-it notes on hand, and decided to leave messages and drawings as a gift to the house hoping it will come upon better days. Did our concern about it increase its value in the eyes of others?

At about this time, another participant joined us and drew out attention to block corner with two condemned houses and a very large empty lot where another house most likely stood at an earlier point in time. He had proposed this as a site for a student housing project, but it was, unfortunately, rejected. En route we spotted a large, multi-storey building for lease. Solid and elegant, it had been sitting vacant for an extremely long time. Another participant told us a story of events that had transpired there. We reflected on the space, left a few more notes, and carried onwards.

When we reached the corner block in question, we were struck, once again, by evidence of the remaining structures had clearly been cared for not all too long ago. Partially upgraded electrical, new paint job, and an almost brand new fence, but once again, the structure was deemed uninhabitable and boarded up. While writing additional notes, we were approached by a man who offered us his business card – he worked in construction and specialized in paving. He was working on a new luxury condo development on Portage. Interestingly, his site was one on which we’d noticed earlier for having a “housing strategy” sign on it, among other indications of public investment.

We decided to walk back to the Exchange and were welcomed into RAW Gallery of Architecture and Design to debrief. We carried on conversation about the buildings we saw, their potential, the relationship between structures and community/commerce, as well as structures and art, and we discussed the difficulty of protecting structures so they can be used to the greatest benefit.

We returned our attention to the conceptual scavenger hunt initiated the day before and decided two things. First, that it would emphasize the idea of home and belonging. Next, that it needed was the inclusion of a post-it note to invite others to participate in the same dialogue with structures that we’d just experienced. The participants present on this day, but not the day before, gave valuable feedback to tighten the language used in the questionnaire, and helped determine locations for them to be placed.

Matt started working on the layout and we all looked online at documentation of Guy Debord’s 1959 project, Naked City, which employed the concept of psychogeography that he coined just a few years prior. We also looked at examples of work by other people inspired by this concept.

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