Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ted Dewan: The Roadwitch

Another Eurogel presenter called Ted Dewan paved the way for a new perspective on cars.

The Space Between Buildings
Ted began by saying that the Danish are smart about the use of space between buildings. Not true, he added, in England.

Ted lives in Oxford and has been frustrated with the traffic situation for as long as he can remember. He contends that there is a popular delusion that the space between buildings is reserved for cars, and the goal for city design is to get cars from one end to the other as quickly as possible.

Only the space that's left can be occupied by people, and this is not acceptable.

Spontaneous Bursts of Community

Regardless of the sense of being pushed to the edges, or perhaps because of it, people in Oxford have proved to come together as a community with very little provocation. When Ted first moved to his street, he needed help raising an old iron lamp post he had brought with him.

He put a sign outside his house that said "Jubilee Lampost Raising" with a time that everyone should meet. The response was tremendous, even though he had not yet met any of his neighbors. People arrived on time, and the event took on the sort of comraderie and purpose usually reserved for Almish barn raisings.

See Ted Run

Now his street comprised a community, Ted had even more of an incentive to stop cars from keeping people in their houses. In his attempt to prevent kids from being run over on Halloween, he faked an accident. Cars that usually sped down the road stopped slowed down to rubber neck. The action was coined a "roadwitch."

This began a flurry of signs posted throughout the neighborhood that told cars to go elsewhere in amusing ways. Although the city council refused to fix the streets when there had only been a few deaths, it took the police only an hour to arrive and force Ted to take the signs down.

More Roads, More Witches

On his own street, Ted let the children paint the car as a sort of auto scarecrow. Cars again slowed down, and the congestion dissapated. He brought out a sofa into the street, and the children brought other furniture to create a sort of livingroom installation. Ted reported that the neighbors began feeling a sense of ownership as they sat in this space usually reserved for cars. People began coming out of their houses and stayed until the police came to take it all away.

The Trend Spreads

Roadwitching became a kind of street squatting that spread across the world, from France to Arizona. Anything that calms and pushes back traffic is good, these happenings said. When the spaces between buildings becomes ambiguous, they invite people to gather and form communities.

Ultimately, Not Bad Results

Ted has gained credibility with the city, not least, through his noteriety. One Christmas he was asked to create an installation for one of Oxford's main roads, and it became a Cyclemas Tree (made of bicycle parts) that effectively slowed down cars for the season as they stopped to stair.

Perhaps even more compelling, in Ted's street, the children are growing up with a sense that they can create change through political action.

And so the Roadwitches continue.

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