Beached As on Boxing Day: an Open Civic Collaboration
I was at the beach with my son on Boxing Day, and I went for a swim, but he didn’t want to, so we brought a spade and a trowel to make a sand castle. I made a simple base with a moat doing some heavy digging and then left him to do more while I went for a swim. We decided that it should be a kind of combination of Mount Doom and the Eye of Sauron from Lord of the Rings, the leaf at the top is the eye of Sauron. We spent time finding just the right thing to make an eye shape picking up, discussing, and discarding objects until we were satisfied.
But then something interesting happened. Two little girls ran up and without asking permission just started adding twigs and leaves to decorate the side of the castle. I explained to the little girl that it was an evil man’s castle, and up the top was his eye to look down over all the land. She listened intently and got a kind of mischevious glint in her eye, but ultimately decided in her head and informed me that “no he’s not a bad man”. This was interesting because it pushed Josh and I to think creatively about how we could have a scenario where Sauron wasn’t evil. Was it an alternative universe? Was it in the time before he’d gone evil? Was it at a later time when he actually redeemed himself and became better. Because the little girl had her own interpretation of what we were now working on together, this pushed us to reframe our thinking about the sand castle in creative and interesting ways. We had to let them know to be really careful of the tower in the middle because it was perched in a fragile way on top of a bark platform which was itself perched on three sticks.
We wanted to take a picture so we asked the girls to look after the sand castle but also if they needed to go that was ok too. We had to trust them not to destroy our creation, and I felt a gentle anxiey as we drove home to grab my phone and come back, but when I came back they had made beautiful designs and were proceeding to pour water in the moat. Our trust was well placed! We took photos of the castle but didn’t want to take photos of them with it lest we intrude on the family’s privacy. And when it was time to go I told them that it was their tower now; the girl looked delighted. We’ll never know what wonderful directions they might have taken it in after that, who else joined in, or perhaps they completely lost interest and the tide returned everything back to status quo; the continued life of the collaboration is a mystery to us.
Open civic collaboration is fascinating, and exciting, and challenging to me. It requires us to trust, stretch, include, challenge, explain, discuss, and so on. So often in city life we choose seperation and siloed, service-delivered solutions. But now more than ever we need to live collaboratively and collectively. Who might you collaborate with in 2023, and what could you create together that is greater than the sum of its parts?