In October, I received a snatchmail from Ryan Bigge (no relation) asking to interview me for “an article about Spacing and David Meslin for Toronto Life.” We eventually chatted on the phone on 2006.10.10.

  • Bigge asked several times, always in subtly different ways, what exactly my problem with the Spacers was. I went down the list of TPSC activities and avowed that the only one I disagreed with was de-fencing, which has nothing whatsoever to do with Public Space and everything to do with a kind of (“angry Marxist”) intrusion onto private property. Good fences can make good neighbours; a fence isn’t their goddamned Space to make Public.

    I told Bigge my esteemed colleague and I had bumped into Spacers doing guerrilla gardening and that the gardeners had passed all his skill-testing questions. He is no longer so favourable toward the enterprise, but in any event I was somewhere between not really caring and vaguely approving.

  • What were my suggestions to improve Spacing? Tighten the copy-editing, I said, pointing to the many references to “parking metre[s]” in the current issue. (UPDATE, 2006.11.17: Spacing should just bite the bullet and pay Moveable, né Moveable Type, $10 a page to copy-edit each issue. They’ll catch nearly everything, and it’s money well spent. [In fact, don’t be cheap bastards and complain about the price. You won an award for the magazine; time to live up to it.] See what Moveable did with my first book.)

    And broaden the contributor base. Well, have you ever pitched an article to them? Bigge asked. No, because the Spacers know perfectly well I am a qualified writer and they should be pitching me.

  • If a journalist were looking for somebody to talk to on public-space issues in, say, 2000, would there have been anyone to call? No, I said flatly. The Spacers invented the discussion, and, like the Walkman, it is something we didn’t know we needed until we got it. It’s just that lots of people can now carry out Spacer-style activities on their own, as I am doing, and it is incumbent on Blackett and the rest of the bunch to be more gracious to people who agree with nearly everything they’re doing, disagree on a few things, and are doing work that is compatible with the Spacers’ own. I repeat here: Be more gracious.

    If somebody contacted the Spacers with the aim of starting up a Regina Public Space Committee or an Iqaluit Public Space Committee, I told Bigge, the Spacers would bend over backwards to help them. Whereas they treat me like an adversary.

    (Here’s a little news tidbit, by the way: The various Spacers, both at the Committee and the legally separate and unconfusable magazine, are exactly as informed as I am about nearly all Spaceresque topics. I give them all my data the moment I get it. In fact, they had the street-furniture questionnaire results before I posted about them.)

  • Bigge asked for advice on where to go next and I told him follow the money: Find out the purpose and amounts of any consulting contracts or grants the Spacers have received. The avocation of public-space activist offers the tantalizing prospect of turning into a full-fledged vocation. Everyone’s got to make a living, but, when carrying out Spacer activities, Spacers have to be more transparent about who’s earning what and for what reason.

Bigge had to hang up during the interview because the mayor was on the other line. That sure had never happened to me before.

En tout cas, Bigge’s article, “Space Man,” has been published in the December 2006 issue. The article’s existence has still not been mentioned at all on any Spacer Web site, which entrenches my impression that Spacers are not wild about public analysis, criticism, or even discussion of their activities. (Spacers want to control every agenda they bring into being.)

Something else the article entrenched is my impressions of Spacers. Ur-Spacer Meslin is “young… [in his] 30s.” He “believ[es] in biking and public transit and [doesn’t] like cars very much,” and is “suspicious of advertising… [wanting it] removed to the fullest extent possible from public space.” Meslin does not have a university education, but he worked for the NDP, part of the Spacers’ “solid NDP bloc.” Bigge lists Meslin’s income for the last two years, which may be a case of following the money a tad too closely.

I was surprised to read that the city “recently presented a budget that, in a nod to the TPSC and Spacing, included the cost of street furniture with and without advertising sponsorship.” This is news to me and to one Spacer with knowledge of the topic.

While Meslin has been perfectly nice in E-mail of late, did you know that no Spacer at all, none, has made the slightest overture toward actually meeting me? Did you also know that I was planning on attending the last Spacing launch and proposing a joint venture on an event of public interest? Sadly, I didn’t make it down from Seaton Village to the inevitable venue of the Gladstone, so the latest in a string of peace offerings wilted on the vine.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.11.16 15:47. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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