The hope in cities for me lies in spontaneous and passionate creation. The kind of creation that Oliver spoke to, and demonstrated in his public art works and community gardens in Vancouver and Toronto. I really started listening the morning of our conversation with Oliver Kelhammer when I realized that he was the person that had instigated the creation of one of my favourite roosts in Vancouver, the Cottonwood Gardens. I had never really thought to investigate the story behind those little plots and winding paths; figured that they were part of a municipally-funded project to brighten up a rather dreary part of the city, I guess. I was overjoyed to see pictures of the collaborative and subversive beginning of the place, with community members taking advantage of a new space to exercise their autonomy in the city and share their knowledge. It’s a radical idea: open space, in the city, for people to do what they do. Whatever that might be. And it may be that no one even knows what that might be.
Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin is another great example of this creativity that Oliver brought up. It is my understanding that this space was hard-won, wrenched from the grasp of a gaggle of salivating developers by the PEOPLE. That’s what I imagine, anyways.
Tempelhofer was a parade ground initially, then used as an airport, and today it is a zone for recreation and experimentation. There are community gardens, pop-up markets, naked sunbathers, walking and cycling trails, windsurfers, concerts, and to top ‘er all off, a 2.5-hectare BBQ area. It strikes me as admirable of the city planners to open a space for all that and more amidst the bustle of the capital of Germany. City planners are all about place-making, it’s kind of like water in permaculture: the idea isn’t to facilitate a landscape conducive to people rushing about without interaction or engagement, they want people to slow, s p r e a d, sink. However, the importance of pointless space can’t be overstated. Redundancy is resilience! Urban engagement comes from the freedom to express and experiment, people are going to do this no matter what because we are beautiful and creative little bugs, but it’s even better if it’s city-sanctioned! After speaking with Oliver it wasn’t at all surprising to me that he left Cortes for NYC. He clearly thrives on the energy of the city, and sees hope for the future in subversive ways of living in all kinds of environments. Or maybe he just does whatever the slime mould tells him to do.