Cole Land Transportation Museum: This Bangor, Maine museum displays a variety of land transportation artifacts such as snow removal equipment and early 20th century fire trucks. A collection of over 2,000 photographs documents life in the early communities of Maine.
In a similar vein, in order to distinguish and define the multiple issues faced by pedestrians in Nehru Place, a busy commercial area housing a major metro rail station in New Delhi, India, a research team from Curtin University, Australia, conducted interviews and field observation surveys (Creedon et al. 2012). Through combining the methods of experimental ethnography and performativity, the researchers were able to ‘ live' and ‘ perform' the place along with the local community and stakeholders.
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As ethnographers, the researchers lived the space, talked to people, walked with them, and acted as catalysts in conversations related to walking. As researchers, they engaged with stakeholders and the local authorities to sensitize them to the issues related to the area. Talking to people and observing their actions within the space was useful in recognizing major hot-spots where many people converge and where serious pedestrian issues arise. While the traditional model rests on a conceptual divide between the researcher and the object of study, this approach was for researchers to interact with the object and situate themselves as part of the human infrastructure. The researchers were thus part of the everyday shared urban space.
With the help of a local theater group, a performance was choreographed to simulate issues faced by pedestrians in the streets of Nehru Place. The objective was to make people more aware of the issues that they face while walking (Figure 5.1). The performance was the most critical aspect of this project, because it incorporated the researchers' understandings and communication of their survey findings. The initial ethnographic study showed that people in spaces where walkability was an issue learned to adjust to the constraints of the space. Challenging users of public space through exposing them to the issues that they had taken for granted helped to engage them in reconnecting with their local environment.
An initiative of this kind can be deemed successful if it communicates to the users and alerts the decision makers at various levels. The groups of people who gathered to discuss the performances interpreted the acts in different ways. They engaged in fruitful conversations with each other and with the researchers. They also came up with new ideas. The performance encouraged people to talk about their issues and raise their voices to demand their rights. At the same time, the information generated through this performance was spread through media to a wider community and to decision makers (Times of India, 2012). Soon after the success of this study, Clean Air Asia adopted the methods developed in this research to increase awareness among people as part of their walkability studies called Steer to Safety (Clean Air Asia, n.d.).
While ethnographic engagement enables stakeholders to reach common understandings by connecting with each other, it also increases the pool of knowledge used by decision makers to design places for the users of the space. This becomes a prerequisite in stimulating the sense of belonging and identity that are essential to the healthy development of a living environment, as well as to its preservation.
So far we have looked at different forms of collaborative engagement, the policy context, and various tools and methods used, with their pros and cons. Successful collaboration for a connected place must possess a few ingredients, which I term the three Es: education, engagement, and empowerment.