Rainbow politics

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“The removal of the Taylor Square rainbow crossing created an even bigger stir than its original installation. To mark its passing, people attached unofficial rainbow flags to poles in Taylor Square and tied rainbow ribbons to safety fences. But performer and activist James Brechney had a fresh idea for an alternate location that somehow captured the zeitgeist.”

My exquisitely objective article on the history of the DIY Rainbow Crossing is now available to read in the Dictionary of Sydney.

Some time ago I wrote a blog post on the symbolism of pedestrian crossings. It’s here.

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(Photos by meganix, taken in Darlinghurst in 2013 and Summer Hill 2015)

Asphalt rules

Man in the moon, Broadway Shopping Centre car park (Sydney), April 2015 (photo: meganix)

Man in the moon, Broadway Shopping Centre car park (Sydney), April 2015 (photo: meganix)

Today is the anniversary of the launch of this blog. It was on 3 May 2009 that I wrote the first post and welcomed readers to Pavement Graffiti, “where asphalt rules and grey is good. The focus is on roadways and footpaths, and ‘graffiti’ means anything written, drawn, scrawled or stencilled on them”.

Centennial Park labyrinth (Sydney), November 2014 (photo: meganix)

Centennial Park labyrinth (Sydney), November 2014 (photo: meganix)

Back then I had embarked on a PhD at Macquarie University, also titled Pavement Graffiti. Six years on, the PhD has been achieved, there is a gallery of images on-line at Pavement Appreciation and a Facebook page of the same name, academic articles have been published, magazine articles too. From time to time journalists stumble upon the blog and ask my opinion about graffiti, Eternity or, as happened this week, walkable cities. The blog does not have a huge following but I am grateful to those who have given long-standing support or have simply shown a fleeting interest.

'Happy BDay Lolz Grace', Watsons Bay (Sydney), December 2014 (photo: meganix)

‘Happy BDay Lolz Grace’, Watsons Bay (Sydney), December 2014 (photo: meganix)

My interests have broadened to encompass a concern for the disappearance of strange spaces, areas of decay, and layered sites under the pressure of urban renewal (or urban homogenization). I am now an Adjunct Fellow of the Urban Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney.

'Go vegan', Queen Victoria Building (Sydney), October 2014 (photo: meganix)

‘Go vegan’, Queen Victoria Building (Sydney), October 2014 (photo: meganix)

But I still retain my fascination for the pavement and am currently waiting to hear if my article on ‘Imagining the pavement: a search through everyday texts for the symbolism of an everyday artefact’ has been accepted for publication. Watch this space.

'I love same sex love', Sydney Park, St Peters, February 2015 (photo: meganix)

‘I love same sex love’, Sydney Park, St Peters, February 2015 (photo: meganix)

And do, please, continue to enjoy the literary adventure of reading the street beneath your feet.

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Tributes outside site of Martin Place siege (Sydney), December 2014 (photo: meganix)

 

Asphalt and umbrellas

This week I have been thinking about the role the pavement can play in our thoughts and feelings about particular places and times in our lives. Long after the Hong Kong pro-democracy protest is over, and whatever the outcome, the gritty surface of the city’s public spaces will figure largely in the memories of the people who took part. The asphalt has been a major player in the drama of the so-called Umbrella Revolution.

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Slate.com

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NBC News

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The Telegraph (UK)

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The Telegraph (UK)

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The Telegraph (UK)

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Global Grind

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Protestors themselves remove slogans and graffiti from the street. Getty Images

 

 

 

No parking

Enmore, 2014.

Enmore, 2014.

This is a story about the struggle between the green and the grey, between leaves and asphalt, between street trees and street parking, between what ought to be and what is. In inner city suburbs like Enmore and Stanmore, Marrickville Council is caught in this struggle.

One of the most stressful aspects of urban living is the shortage of parking. Suburbs that sprang up in the Victorian era, when there was no such thing as a motor car, are now undergoing gentrification; households often have more than one car but few houses have off-street parking.

Given the convenience of public transport in area, why do these people need cars? Partly it’s snobbery. Does your solicitor join the plebs on a bus to work? Would your doctor be seen dead in a train? Partly it’s necessity. With both parents working, try juggling work hours, childcare drop-offs and pick-ups, and Saturday sport all over the city. However much people might agree in principle with the environmental benefits of public transport and bicycle riding, often these are just not viable options.

Stanmore, 2014.

Stanmore, 2014.

Shortage of street parking spaces is made worse by visitors to the area. Now that Enmore has become a ‘vibrant entertainment precinct’ hundreds of customers come in the evenings to attend performances or enjoy the many new restaurants, bars and cafes. And they don’t necessarily want to travel across the city in public transport at night to get home. So they infiltrate ever-deeper into residential territory to find parking for their cars. Residents jealously guard driveways (if they have them) and fume when they have to park blocks away from their homes. Marrickville Council knows all this and is trying to address the problem with committee meetings, surveys, community consultation, plans and projects.

Enmore, 2014. Enmore Theatre is in the background.

So why is Council intent on reducing the amount of parking in contested areas, rather than finding extra spaces? It’s because they are also committed to an Urban Forest Strategy that ‘recognizes the urban forest as an essential, living infrastructure asset and resource that provides a wide range of social, environmental and economic benefits’.

And this is what has prompted the demonstration project in Cavendish Street, Enmore, where large Lilli Pilli trees have been planted in structured soil in the roadway. I wrote about this project in my earlier post ‘What lies beneath’. And even though ‘permeable paving’ means that the space taken up by tree-planting ‘blisters’ is smaller than would normally be needed to keep trees healthy, there is no question that parking spaces have been lost. Residents of the street are supposed to have agreed to this arrangement, but they probably would have agreed to any scheme that saw the former huge, inappropriate and destructive fig trees removed from their footpaths.

Enmore, 2014. One tree gained, two parking spaces lost.

Enmore, 2014. One tree gained, two parking spaces lost.

Meanwhile parking pressure on nearby streets has been increased just that bit extra. What’s more, Marrickville’s draft Master Street Plan has Lilli Pilli (Waterhousia floribunda) or similarly large trees slated for some of these same streets. Given the narrowness of the verges, this must mean more in-road planting and more parking lost. Residents of these streets are not going to be too happy about this.

A 2013 survey of residents in the Marrickville Local Government Area found that most people like having greenery in their suburbs. Of course. But what the survey doesn’t mention is that householders also like to park close to their homes and businesses don’t want customers put off by lack of parking. Until a whole lot of things in the world change, this reliance on cars and the need for parking isn’t going to go away. In-road planting is an impractical component of the urban forest strategy and would have measurable social and economic costs. An ideological commitment to such a component would have a detrimental, not a beneficial, effect on the local area. Small trees, please.

Enmore, 2014.

Enmore, 2014.

Body outlines

The 1950-60s television courtroom drama, Perry Mason, is said to have been the first detective show to feature either a tape or a chalk outline to mark the spot where a murder victim’s body had been found. The body outline made its first appearance in the episode ‘The case of the perjured parrot’. The writer of the show, Erle Stanley Gardner, had actually used this idea much earlier in the book, ‘Double or quits, which he wrote in 1941 under the pen name A.A.Fair (see Perry Mason TV series).

Ever since then the body outline has not only been used regularly in murder stories and television shows, but it is very often adaptively reused in illustrations alluding to all sorts of crime and fatality. It is a symbol — based on a fiction —  that is continually modified, re-invented and re-purposed. We recognise it in newspaper cartoons, TV commercials and political protests and we understand what is meant.

In New York I came across two instances of the symbolic body outline, both associated with the New York Public Library. The first was in an exhibition, Why we fight: remembering AIDS activism, which recently opened at  the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. One of the exhibits was this poster from the library’s archives. It was produced in 1988 by ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a deliberately confrontational organisation that was formed to challenge government inaction over AIDS.

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The other body outline was on one of the plaques along the section of 41st Street known as Library Way. These sidewalk plaques carry inspirational quotes about reading, writing, and literature. The one I photographed reads:

… a great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. William Styron (1935 –  ), Writers at Work.

To me, the embossed illustration on the plaque seems very odd. The reader of the book looks, not exhausted, but dead (presumably in a hiatus between two of those ‘several lives’).

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Tax Wall Street

On 42nd Street, near the New York Public Library, I spotted fresh chalk notices. Of course I had to photograph them even though I didn’t get a chance to read them properly because it was the evening rush hour and the sidewalks were crowded with people on their way home from work.

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Then I noticed there were more police about than usual and suddenly I realised there was a protest march coming down the avenue, timed to disrupt the maximum number of people. Marchers were confined to the sidewalk and were accompanied by a phalanx of police motor cycles in the kerbside traffic lane. It was quite a sight.

The issue was the ‘Robin Hood Tax’ or, more properly, a Financial Speculation (or Transaction) Tax. Supporters of such a tax maintain it is a way to raise funds to meet human needs, like protecting public services, tackling poverty and dealing with climate change. The date was 17 September, the two-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street.

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It was good to see a strong showing from Occupy Wall Street. The previous weekend a small group claiming to be Occupy Wall Street was occupying space amongst all the weekend goings-on in Union Square. Their presence was not very impressive.

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The symbolism of pedestrian crossings

In built-up areas the pedestrian crossing is a familiar feature of the horizontal signscape. William Phelps Eno, sometimes known as the ‘father of traffic safety’ is credited with introducing the cross-walk to New York streets in the early 1900s. Once motorized vehicles became popular, something had to be done to protect pedestrians from reckless drivers.

Sydney was one of many cities that soon followed suit. As early as 1912 lines were painted on the road at busy Circular Quay to provide a safe crossing area.  Within a few years designated pedestrian crossings in the rest of the city were being marked out with metal studs or pairs of white lines. Designs for crossings have continued to change over the years.

A stopping line at the intersection of Market and Pitts Streets in Sydney, marked out with metal studs, 1929 (City of Sydney Archives photograph, SRC7806, file 034\034213).

A stopping line at the intersection of Market and Pitts Streets in Sydney, marked out with metal studs, 1929 (City of Sydney Archives photograph, SRC7806, file 034\034213).

For some people, pedestrian crossings represent order, civilization and safety. For others they represent repression and regimentation of people’s behaviour.

Fake pedestrian crossing, ‘Design saves lives’, an entrant in the Eye Saw exhibition in Omnibus Lane, Ultimo during Sydney Design Week, 2006 (photo by meganix).

Fanciful pedestrian crossing, ‘Design saves lives’, an entrant in the Eye Saw exhibition in Omnibus Lane, Ultimo during Sydney Design Week, 2006 (photo by meganix).

Some pedestrian crossings have achieved iconic status. The most famous is the crossing featured on the cover of the Beatle’s 1969 LP Abbey Road. Photographed by thousands of fans and tourists emulating the Fab Four crossing the road near their recording studio in single file, this ‘modest structure’ (to quote an official of English Heritage) has been given heritage listing for its ‘cultural and historical importance’.

The original photograph has been recently used in a pedestrian safety campaign in the Indian City of Calcutta.

Road safety poster using Ian Macmillan’s famous 1969 photograph, issued by the Kolkata [Calcutta] Traffic Police in February 2013.

Road safety poster using Ian Macmillan’s famous 1969 photograph, issued by the Kolkata [Calcutta] Traffic Police in February 2013.

And then there’s the Rainbow Crossing at Taylor Square in Sydney’s gay precinct of Darlinghurst. When it was removed by the State Government some people were glad, with one newspaper letter-writer declaring that ‘compulsory pieces of public infrastructure should not force upon pedestrians political views which contravene their religious or moral conscience’.

The disappeared Rainbow Crossing at Taylor Square and a notice about a rally for marriage equality, April 2013 (photo by meganix).

The disappeared Rainbow Crossing at Taylor Square and a notice about a rally for marriage equality, April 2013 (photo by meganix).

However such views were drowned out by the groundswell of outrage that manifested itself in the DIY Rainbow Crossing protest. It is significant that this is all going on at the same time as the parliament of Australia’s neighbour  New Zealand had done what no Australian government will do and legalised same-sex marriage.

A painted DIY Rainbow Crossing in Jones Street, Ultimo (Sydney), April 2013 (photo by meganix).

A painted DIY Rainbow Crossing in Jones Street, Ultimo (Sydney), April 2013 (photo by meganix).

Mind you, as Lawrence Gibbons in City News points out, having created a public relations coup with the DIY Rainbow Crossings, Lord Mayor Clover Moore is left with a dilemma. Under policies implemented during her nine-year tenure, any street art, graffiti or posters in the City of Sydney must be removed from any highly visible site within twenty four hours. Under this ruling, the council’s scrubbing machines should be out there right now removing the rainbows.

 

A colourful story

This is a story about vindictiveness and vindication. On the face of it, it’s about gay pride and support for the gay and lesbian (LGBTQI) community. But it’s also about me, me, me and my Pavement graffiti project.

It all started with a pedestrian crossing at Taylor Square on Oxford Street that the City of Sydney Council painted in rainbow colours for the 2013 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in February-March. It was supposed to be temporary but Sydneysiders wanted it to stay.

Rainbow crossing, Taylor Square, Sydney, March 2013

Rainbow crossing, Taylor Square, Sydney, March 2013

The State Government declared it was a safety hazard and during the night on 10 April it sent in a crew to rip up the rainbow and repave the road. This is where the vindictiveness comes in. Many people saw this action as part of an ongoing campaign by  State Premier Barry O’Farrell to ‘Get Clover’ – Clover Moore, that is, the longstanding Lord Mayor of Sydney. Asphalt used as a political weapon. Here’s a newspaper report and video of the dastardly deed.

Rainbow crossing at Taylor Square replaced by grey asphalt, April 2013

Rainbow crossing at Taylor Square replaced by grey asphalt, April 2013

By the end of the week there were rainbow ribbons and flags flying around Taylor Square to mark the passing of the crossing.

Memorial rainbow ribbons, Taylor Square, 14 April 2013

Memorial rainbow ribbons, Taylor Square, 14 April 2013

But even more astounding, in protest against the Government’s action, a viral campaign to draw DIY rainbow crossings in chalk took off in Sydney, around Australia, and in other parts of the world.

DIY rainbow crossing, Forbes Street, just a few metres from Taylor Square, 14 April 2013

DIY rainbow crossing, Forbes Street, just a few metres from Taylor Square, 14 April 2013

Around where I live you can’t walk up the street without tripping over a rainbow.

Rainbow crossing outside Goulds Book Arcade, King Street, Newtown, 14 April 2013

Rainbow crossing outside Goulds Book Arcade, King Street, Newtown, 14 April 2013

And this is the vindication part. ‘Pavement graffiti’ may seem like an obscure and even unworthy subject on which to base a PhD and many people just don’t get it. But in the very week that I finish writing the thesis, along comes this hotly debated story to demonstrate that PAVEMENT MARKS MATTER. (It’s also left me wondering whether I should open up the thesis again and add an epilogue about rainbow crossings.)