In and between: urban creativity in public space | Claudia Konyalian | TEDxTirana

Translator: Milton Haynes
Reviewer: Maddalena Bruno As a child I was pretty ambitious. I was sure I would grow up
and change the world. There were so many things to be done and ways to do them, people to reach and lives to transform. All these endless possibilities. This was a thrilling prospect for me. I always had this deep innate urge
that kept pushing me and telling me and making me
uncomfortable. Telling me over and over again I had to go out and do something. I had to change something, give something back. My art teacher and mentor told me first you give the system what it wants, then you can go out and change it. So I studied, I traveled,
I intellectualized, and I observed lives and people
in different places. And I started to become aware of the immensity of the world of its density and its complexity and how all of this existed
in each one of us. And it seemed to me that the one area that could always answer
was culture and art. Now think for a minute about your travels and memories of places. What made them special. For sure the food and the sights perhaps more important
were the human interactions that you had. And what about the ways
in which you experienced the place through it’s public spaces. The creativity that you witnessed
on a walk through a place or even on your daily commute Think of when you see an installation or a performance in a public space. What happens? People, busy people, stop. They gather, they smile,
they interact with each other. They take joy in sharing
with their children. They might even speak to a stranger. People come together in these brief
moments of a shared experience. And then disperse again out
into the veins of the city, going on with their day. But the experience stays and perhaps we even go on
to tell someone about it later I realized that that what made
a place special for me was how I spent my time there, in these shared spaces. The art that I encountered on the street. These were the experiences that left the greatest imprint that caught me tingling and made me feel connected to the rest of humanity in ways that a museum
or a concert hall experience just could not achieve. Of all the concerts that I’ve attended, the single most memorable
experience of music I have is hearing a Mongolian throat singer on the streets of Amsterdam. I had no idea what he was singing about I didn’t know him
or his story or his people, but his voice resonated with me, and I traveled the world in time through his song that he offered out in the city. And so I came to know what it was that I wanted to work for. What I had to work for. But taking on the world alone, is not very realistic and it’s not as much fun as doing it collectively. So, two years ago I joined urban gorillas and together we share a vision for inclusive and healthy city life through the creative use of public space. Nicosia is an amazing place. It is small and big like those babies who are born into the world with an old soul. It is characterized
as much by its modernity as it is by its history. It is noisy and quiet fast and slow. It is stunning, ugly,
chaotic and charming. Yes, it is divided, but it’s also porous. And it is peaceful for all its diversity
and its troubles. It is a remarkably tolerant place. The sun is intense and the shade is rare. The buses are too big the cars are too many. We park on pavement. We turn without signaling. We even leave our car running and the air conditioning on
while we go inside to the bakery. We spend far too much time in our cars and on our smart phones and in the mall. We cut down old trees to make room for wider roads. And we beep at cyclists
for getting in our way. (Applause) Yeah, it happened to me too We have limited public seating and we have just two streets in the center that are pedestrian only. And then there are the open air markets and the high end boutiques and the carpenters workshops just there from another era. And creative pockets of people
leaving their mark. Food from just all over the world. And then there’s the light and the colors that it creates from the rooftops. The palm trees that silhouette the skyline and the call to prayer
and the church bells that rise and blend in the soundscape of the city. In Nicosia we face largely unchartered territory. There’s very little research
on public spaces, and only a few examples of projects that really explore this area. Rather the narrative is dominated by the division of the city this space the is no mans land. This echoing, in between space that separates one part of the city from its other half. But for urban gorillas these in between spaces are everywhere separating the private domain, shopping, the inside of your car, your home life from the shared and separating us from each other. And so we ask, What is public space? Who is it for? What is it for? Who does it belong to? What is private and what is public? And how can we encourage everyone to make use of public space, as a forum for human
expression and interaction to bring democratic values forward. We must think critically and ask questions. Keep the windows in our imagination open. I think that’s the way
to a free and tolerant creative and imaginative society. That’s the kind of place
I want to live in. That’s the kind of place (Applause) That’s the kind of place I worked to create for my two daughters. So how do we work? Well as urban gorillas, we see opportunity everywhere, every corner, every alley,
every open space. It generates new ideas for us. It represents a new project. In talking to people, over two thousand people, we found out that public space in Cypress still has a lot of room for improvement. A lot of potential. And sadly we appear to be following an American trend where we value the accessibility
of a place by car. And we even consider malls
to be public spaces. In Nicosia, like in many
Mediterranean cities cafe culture dominates the scene. It even crowds public space. It blurs the lines between
what is private and what is public. Our largest project so far was the green urban lab, installed temporarily
for just a day or two in various locations around the island. These structures were created through a collaborative design and construction process. We worked with students from the University of Nicosia and with specialists from the field: Unpacked from Rome and Plastique Fantastique from Berlin. We had open calls to invite
participation in these whorkshops And we asked the public what kind of activities they would like to host inside and around
these inflatables. Then, we took these large, new airy structures and we placed them next to or within historic sites around the island. And in this way we were creating
contrast to permanence and temporariness, old and new, inside and outside, private and public. The structures became multi-use and functioning as performance space,
DJ venue, workshop space, exhibition area. While also themselves being design objects that attracted the curiosity of passers by of all ages. Some people would just observe. Others would have to get in and explore further. My four year old just loved to run up against them and they would bounce back you know she just found this delightful. In other situations the inflatable became a platform for community engagement, at once offering artist canvass space a projection wall and even a play area. And all of this was open
and free for the public. In the words of Jan Gehl, “Cultures
and climates differ all over the world, but people are the same. They’ll gather in public if you give them
a good place to do it.” (Applause) Yeah, I like that too. What I love most about these structures, apart from their obvious aesthetic beauty, is their ephemeral nature. They appear in a place and they change it momentarily and then they’re gone again. While they leave no trace they bring lasting change. The visitor to the site
is given the opportunity to see the place with new eyes. To reimagine it to even question its function and its accessibility in the city. Then later when you return to the site and the installation is not there the change remains in your memory. These moments colour us they add light to our day they take us out of our routine and they remind us to just pause to take joy and to be spontaneous. These experiences, I think, change us, And they build
and they speckle our identities both within our own selves
and within the places where we live. Our mapping and interviews with people before
and during our activities showed us that the installations
dramatically increased curiosity and the numbers
of visitors to the sites. But perhaps even more importantly the structures stimulated playful, exploration and interaction. Again, even among strangers. Overall people reported a very positive experience of visiting the sites. And among our achievements so far we consider the most important to be the active, enthusiastic participation of a wide and diverse public. One couple said: “We live here and we’ve never been to this site until your event today.” Claiming our urban public spaces
is a common right and yet our individual
experiences within them will be unique, as unique as each one of us. In a neighborhood event we installed on of the inflatables along a narrow street. It was practically touching
the buildings at one end. One neighbour talked about how she had to squeeze by to get to her front door, and how she thought
this was irritating at first and then she immediately found
the humor in the play in questioning and looking again at the space outside her own home. When we took an old bus from a scrap yard and transformed it into our green urban kitchen, we placed it next to a very
busy four lane street that goes around the old walled city. And again through a brief experience, we created awareness about sustainable living, about the environment and city life, and again through a playful,
momentary interaction. (Applause) Bringing art out into public space is the most democratic act I can think of. It dissolves boundaries and it sparks communication. It creates new pathways of interaction among new combinations of people. The appropriation of public space
for creative expression is one the ways we claim
a basic right to the city to shared spaces that are extensions
of our private living spaces. Public space is a common good and an asset to be shared by all. And a question perhaps for another time: How come we need permission
to have simply temporary actions that are created in the city? And yet, we are not consulted as a public when the central square
of our city is overhauled (Applause) using millions of euros of public money and causing month after month of inconvenience and disturbance in our daily lives. Creative interventions in public space bring a vibrant quality of life to a place raising its profile,
making it more attractive for businesses and visitors, even making it safer. A city also communicates
a certain confidence when it allows its people and enables them to express themselves freely, to ask questions about why things are the way they are. William White said: The street is a river of life
through a city the place where we come together.” It is the shared experience of public space that has the power to transform us. Forming an invisible web that connects us. Art in our city’s public spaces is the expression and reminder of our common humanity. (Applause) And so I grew up a little bit and I got a tiny bit more realistic maybe I can’t change the whole world at least not all at once
and definitely not alone. but as urban gorillas we can transform just some moments. Those moments in turn cause
gentle ripples across the city and out into the world. These are the changes that happen in small degrees. These are the sparks that crack open the dry dark places in our minds and let light and life in. And those transformed moments
are the magic nodes of interaction that bring lasting change. (Applause) For urban dwellers,
the city is our common. So take a good look at public space in all its forms and at how you’re using it and then question it, reimagine it, claim it and live it. (Applause)

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