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Tomas Jonsson – Day 3

September 27, 2010

On Wednesday, September 15, beginning at 5:00 p.m., the conversation about housing and poverty started once again. This is how it went…

After a brief summary of the activity that had taken place the past two days, Tomas noted a few recent newspaper articles he had come across, including one reporting on the apparent difficult a local millionaire is having selling his home. We speculated on why, and this initiated a discussion that took a various twists and turns, but ultimately explored the notion of housing as a reflection of an individual’s desired image, old and new developments, and gendered space.

First, a very interesting question was raised: Is it a noble pursuit to seek affluence? We live in a culture consumed with consumerism, so are we not, therefore, supposed to aspire to being wealthy and live in a big house in order to participate in society?  This was discussed in various terms including ideology, sustainability, and justice. We looked at the terrible difficulty of that model accepting class divides as a natural and normal thing. We also addressed the environmental problem associated with the constant pursuit of bigger, better, and new.

This led to conversation about the deeply instilled perception among many people that second-hand goods (i.e. clothing and furniture), is unclean and distasteful, and eventually to the acknowledgement that some people feel this so deeply that they can’t bring themselves to live in a house that others have lived in. We wondered about this as a western phenomenon – the suburb as a place to escape the “dirtiness” of the “second-hand” city.

Eventually we decided it was time to go outside for a walk. Still intrigued by the distinction of old and new, we decided to explore an area where the two confronted each other very directly. We walked to Winnipeg’s Waterfront Drive, where numerous condo developments stand adjacent to the few remaining and restored warehouse buildings.

Once there, we reflected on the lack of people present. True, a few cycled by, or were seen driving into underground parking lots, but the buildings themselves seemed uninhabited and — just as the empty retail windows peered into what looked like anthropological dioramas — the few traces of habitation through patio furniture placed on various balconies, looked somehow staged. We reflected on lack of places to encourage/facilitate social activity. True, there was a cute little park across the street, just before the water, but there were no cafes, or shops, or day care centres. Instead, there was a place that sold coffee machines, two aesthetic service centres, and nothing else.

It struck as interesting that these shops dictated the tone of the street as one that prioritized glamorous image through meticulous maintenance based on a generic media definition of femininity. This was, furthermore, paired with a strange marketing installation of a female mannequin having what appeared to be a bubble bath in a massive coffee cup as a means of connecting with potential lifestyle retailers. Regrettably, a still image isn’t presently available; however, Tomas recorded video during our walk, so that will likely be added later.

What does this combination of things tell us about who is expected to be living in this area? We had a few ideas and wondered how to engage with this on the prescribed level. It crossed our minds that we could go into one of the shops for a body sugaring or tanning service, and engage the esthetician in conversation as a point of entry into understanding the community that was starting to take shape, but we decided against it.

Next we passed a condo sales advertisement that featured a rather stereotypical couple (Caucasian, heterosexual) cuddling in their stylized lifestyle environment. We thought about the strategies used in these types of communications, and imagined what they might look like if they were advertising other types of housing in other types of communities. We didn’t feel this advertisement spoke to us, but we did see that the 3rd side of the 3-side structure was vacant.

Our ideal intervention then came to mind – creating condo-sales ad style collateral for other types of housing and looking for/challenging the “saleable” qualities in each circumstance.  However, since we didn’t have computer or printing options available at that very moment, we decided to engage in an on-the-fly action involving the post-it notes we still had on hand. We asked questions such as:

  • What types of shops and services do you feel you need in your neighbourhood?
  • Where did you live before? Why did you move?
  • What will these buildings look like in 30 years? 100 years? Will they still be standing? Will we find them charming? Will they be loved?
  • Tell me about your rooftop terrace. What can you see from there
  • Did you have a chance to picnic in the park this past season?

We were both conscious and suspicious of our potentially negative inferences, so we deliberately left positive statements, such as:

  • It’s a lovely day to go out for a bike ride!
  • I like that you have a roundabout instead of street lights!
  • I like your underground parking lots – they are like amazing bat caves!

We posted these notes on the blank side of the structure and, just as we were doing so, a group of people walked outside from the building being advertised. We said hello to one another, but didn’t have a chance to talk to them about what we were doing.

On our way back to aceartinc we were thrilled to see a group of teenaged boys skateboarding in the parking lot of that very building. From where we’d been walking, the area looked virtually deserted, and this was a satisfying contradiction. They say kids will be kids. Perhaps they will grow up wanting more places to play and otherwise be social as part of their living environments? We appreciated the fact that skateboarding is always a meaningful dialogue with the built environment because, no matter how “cold” the concrete and pavement, skateboarding makes a space productive and participatory.

The next morning, Tomas noticed our questions were still up just as we left them. We weren’t sure if anyone had seen them, but we hoped they had.

It rained later that day.


Here is a link to two videos recorded that day:

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