A week before getting into London I’d read a quick article in the The Economist about the iconic red phone boxes. I hadn’t thought about it consciously, but yeah — I knew those things. Apparently they have fallen on hard times in the mobile era.
I had always pictured them as being, well, nice:
I caught this photo from the bus coming through a dodgier part of town around Victoria Station coming back via Stonehenge. I love the expression skid row as it conjures up images of logginng and the Pacific North West — so what a beacon to skid row. While I can’t speculate if this is a Londonian skid row, I can’t say to have seen many others this neon with sleaze. Yet, a good many would require a clothespin on the nose to make a call.
Given all this it’s tremendous to see that they can be put to better use. Icons can be re-imagined and revitalized. The corporate sector become a surprisingly big player in holding art collections per interesting research from the cool research by folks like Roy Suddaby at the University of Alberta. I saw a very light does of the first hand When at the Glenfiddich distillery in Scotland. They have some surrealist attempts: some sort of deer-like beast, all horns and hooves, appears in most. The logo is this of course, but it seemed very contrived.
While I admire the effort I was not overly impressed. But, there may be more than meets the eye — there was a satire of the film Super Size Me called Super Size Me with Whiskey years ago. It’s about as predictable as it sounds. Too much drinking scotch and not enough time not drinking water make Jack a terrible artist (or a very good surrealist.)
What I’d be interested in seeing is more of an effort from governments to embrace what makes them unique. London lacks good Wifi — rigging something up, for free & city wide, would be a cool techie approach. Or art stations. Or either: there is something to be said for a smart city. Kudos to London being very progrssive in (1) having free museam admission to many of its big hitters like the Bristish Museam and (2) also having transit free for kids under 18. This is necissary because (a) it is a good habit, (b) they have no money so a concession fare as per North America is stupid and (c) why put a cost in getting random places? Obviously the transit netowrk cannot be a hangout spot, but getting kids arround with less drticion is a valuable investment. This is much like what Mark Twain noted:
I have never let my learning get in the way of my education.
Brussels got me thinking about this. The city is quite nice looking but they have done a good job with some of the art. They also illustrate that a government can play a part is helping by just doing nothing. Not reacting, not covering it up. Brussels was able to accentuate its character by emphasizing its ties with comic books like Tintin. One of the Tintin murals was even commissioned when an ugly billboard was removed to expose and even uglier facade below. Pretty cool. Also some cool urban features like the invasion of the street artist Invader. He’s big on Space Invaders.
Where some of this comes in handy is when some of your key peices are not quite what they are made out to be. Sort of a backup to keep the engines of cool running. For instance, Brussles has the famous Manneken Pis statue. It is rumored to be one of the most striking instances of an overrated attraction in the world. It’s a fun list: I am pleased to have avoided the London Eye and am currently in the process of avoiding #9 , a franchise of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Amsterdam. So given the nature of the fountain, the colour-schme of the Invader work (above) makes more sense now.
Civic (and national) imagery is dynamic and evolving. Allowing change is best; if that is not forthcoming perhaps change can be induced. Leaving things like the iconic London phone booths to decay into urban wrecks seems to be a trend worth correcting.
On the Canadian front we seem to do an OK job. Per my previous post, I do appreciate/enjoy how we can, via some corporate sponsors, exports some Canadiana via to places like London. Similar commercial efforts where the BC government and firms like Canfor saw demo building built and tradespeople like like carpenters trained. Net result: an economic miracle for the province. It was a train folks and they’ll buy more 2×4’s sort of concept that was spectacularly successful over a decade lond period. That was a definitive move to protect a valuable commodity — timber — from having shrinking demand destroy its value and usefulness. By analogy, preserving intangible elements like how cool a city is or tangible ones such as taking the lead on Wifi with enough oomph to make a @*#! call on Skype (the bane of my existence) are all worthy initiatives.