Neglected areas are everywhere you look. Parking lots, empty parks, vacant lots, parking spaces, foreclosed homes, closed factories, business districts outside of office hours, quiet streets. Perhaps if people question these neglected spaces, they may begin to imagine new purposes for these spaces and reclaim them?
Urban planners and policy makers are constantly looking for solutions for the revitalization and regeneration of dead public spaces through creative practices. Public art is considered to be the main way of bring life back to the public realm.
Street music changes how people feel about the quality of a public space. By changing perception, we can change the urban experience. Public music performance is more effective than other forms of public art in constructing perceptions and experiences, since it can transfer emotions and feelings in a more direct and intensive way. It can affect our sense of comfort, sense of community, sociability, accessibility, and use of the space. These effects can cascade through more public interaction with more people, resulting in greater levels of health and happiness. The perceptions and experiences constructed by similar practices are considered to be the explanation behind the success of art-guided revitalization projects.
Roaming the streets with a mobile sound system, we instinctively identify neglected areas and add meaning that challenges existing perceptions of these areas. This becomes a way to suggest revitalization without actually redesigning a specific space. Our activities re-contextualize environments to softly build curiosity, activate new thinking, encourage interaction and collaboration, and spark reinvention.
The personal, cultural and social characteristics of the audience will affect how they perceive our activities. Some people will respond positively and love what we do. Yet not everyone will appreciate our freestyle, or even the fact that we are bringing a mobile sound culture to the street. However, the actions of public performance will still influence their qualitative perceptions of the places we engage.
In our neighbourhood in East Van, many streets and spaces are publicly neglected. Space is so expensive and highly contested that our mobile sound system has become an essential way to address our lack of accessible space. Residential spaces are too small and packed too close to successfully host sound-based social functions. New art and community spaces are unaffordable or unavailable due to global competition in the rental market. Ultimately, the only place reliably available is the public street, but the realities of unhappy residents and noise bylaws means that we have to keep moving. When we move freestyle expression into the public sphere, we’re also resisting the trend of solitary online interaction, and the commodification of socialization where the only places to be social are commercial venues.
The point we’re making is that your freestyle in the street is part of a larger picture. You and urban planners share the some of the same goals. Sometimes you might be allied with forces of gentrification, and your cultural contribution is adding value to future urban developments. Sometimes you are reclaiming neglected spaces for your community, creating a cultural richness and increasing the quality of life in the urban landscape. What you freestyle about is personal expression, but the act of public mobile freestyle practice contributes to a culture of community expression. The street is your canvas to paint on, the page on which you can write a story. A rich property developer has the power to define a neighbourhood with a large construction project. You have a different power. When you turn a parking lot into a dance floor, or an empty street into a place for interaction and conversation with freestyle, you are literally redefining the urban environment and the mental space of the city.