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Interview Pink Pony Express: municipalities are afraid to have real contact with citizens

The Pink Pony Express is a collective consisting of an urban designer, a few graphic designers and a spatial planner/designer. Working independently from any municipality, they initiate projects in neighbourhoods all over the world. Pink Pony Express: ‘An image is stronger than just words on paper, like policy often only is. We are specialised in journalism with images, not only words.’ What is so special about their approach is that they actually live in the neighbourhoods they work in, at least for a while. This gives them a good insight into what is going on in that particular neighbourhood. Their aim is to bridge the gaps that exist between citizens and the government by organising all kinds of bottom-up initiatives.

How did Pink Pony Express start? 

Pink Pony Express started off 3 years ago with a project in Detroit, US. They found out that postmen could not deliver much of the mail, because people had been evicted from their homes on short notice, leaving large parts of the city empty. Nothing was done with these huge amounts of piles of post. Back in the day, riders on horses delivered post from the East to the West of the United States; the Pony Express. This service was not only a way of transporting post, but it connected the pioneers with their families back home,  the history of the east coast with the future of the west coast. And that’s where  our name comes from; Pink Pony Express, as a reference to achieving big things with simple means.

Pink pony
Photo: Corine Vermeulen

Project Supernaturel: making biogas out of holy bread

Pink Pony Express just finished a project in Amsterdam called Supernaturel, about making biogas out of holy bread to heat up the local mosque. According to the Koran old bread may not be thrown out into the garbage. Bread is holy, and must be given back to the earth. Pink Pony Express makes energy from this holy bread. Thousands of pieces of bread and a prototype digester that turns old bread into gas are on display in the neighbourhood. People that live in the neighbourhood are free to visit the prototype digester and all have their own opinion about it. The municipality is enthusiastic and has given Pink Pony Express funding to build an even bigger digester.  Pink Pony Express: ‘Supernaturel is a good example of an object that is not only beautiful, but also useful.’

Project Goldmine: only changing the physical environment is not enough

The neighbourhood council regenerated an unused part of a field into a city park by planting a couple of fruit trees and placing some benches there. However, only dog owners actually made use of the city park, which resulted in dog feces all over the place. Nevertheless the neighbourhood and the city council presented it as a success, although nobody wanted to stay there for long. Pink Pony Express set up an installation, sticking small yellow umbrellas in the middle of each bit dog excrement; green and yellow umbrellas in excrement dumped ‘legally’ (inside the fence). Small umbrellas indicating the feces of small (and friendly) dogs and big umbrellas indicating feces of large (not so friendly attacker) dogs. The inhabitants became increasingly curious and began visiting to the field more often. They started talking to each other and made contact. This ‘installation’ of Pink Pony Express broke down the barriers so that people actually began talking and giving their opinions. This example illustrates that merely redesigning a public field and altering its purpose is not enough. People need to be able and willing to really utilize the object/space in question. Only then will their mentality and behaviour (use of the space) change.

 

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Citizens don’t feel responsible

Pink Pony Express: “It’s all about the degree of control by the government. Pink Pony Express thinks the government restricts citizens too much and speaks too soon of ‘non-social behaviour’ among citizens. Nowadays, citizens have gotten used to the idea that the government solves all their problems and arranges everything for them. The consequence is that many citizens are only capable of nagging all the time. But citizens must start to feel responsible for their own neighbourhoods. Only then will we see a real difference. The Dutch Government tries to stimulate the feeling of responsibility among citizens by initiating projects in which citizens are able to get their ideas funded, but only a few people make use of these opportunities. Simply because they don’t actually feel responsible. The projects still have to fit into the existing system of politics and rules – when actually it is often the case of this process and these rules needing to change to fit the project.” 

Washing windows with policy makers

Pink Pony Express organises activities for policy makers aiming to persuade them to step out of their comfort zone. Pink Pony Express: “We were invited in the Kolenkit neighbourhood in Amsterdam, to lead a workshop there about 'the role of the artist and cultural interventions’. Instead of mediating a round-table discussion, we decided to take our group into the neighbourhood to wash windows. The participants cleaned ground floor windows without asking permission and they had to come up with their own story about why. The policy makers couldn't control the process, including the reaction of the person on the other side of the window, and we couldn't control them. Such an activity made clear that a lot of policy makers are afraid to actually talk to individual citizens.”

 

To get in touch with Pink Pony Express, please send them an e-mail directly or visit their website.

 

This article is written by Sanny Wensveen 



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