Kicking off the work: Meeting and presentations in Tallinn, 26-27 May 2019

The core PUTSPACE research team met up in Tallinn on the evening of 26 May.

From left: Wojciech, Wladimir, Tauri, Tonio, Frédéric, Silja. In the background, Tallinn’s historic Town Hall (1404).

On the morning of 27 May members of the project team presented the project overall and the work packages within it to an audience of researchers and practitioners largely based in Estonia. Three Associated Partners (APs) on the project were represented: the Estonian Road Museum; planka.nu (the free-public-transport activist group based in Sweden) and the South-West Finland Association for Mental Health. Click on the links in the text below to learn more about the institutions participating in PUTSPACE.

The morning’s presentations revealed connections and commonalities that had only been implicit when the project proposal was being drafted and edited. Tauri Tuvikene, the project leader, from Tallinn University’s School of Humanities, began by considering public space as something both ideal and actual. Something that is a pubic space for one person might not be for another; meanwhile, public space exists in a Habermasian sense as a zone of free and equal exchange of ideas between citizens. Public spaces are the focus of the overall HERA programme within which PUTSPACE is one of twenty funded programmes. He mentioned some of the existing research developing social and humanized views of public transport (PT) experience on which PUTSPACE builds, including David Bissell’s Transit Life (2018). Finally, Tauri laid out the broad distinctions between the three work packages, WP1 being essentially historical and textual in orientation, WP2 concerned with elements and assemblages of PT and WP3 with processes of cities’ use of PT in a process of Europeanization. The research dimensions of the project thus encompass histories (highlighted in WP1), political contestations (central to WP2) and user practices (the heart of WP3), while all three WPs touch on and enter the areas perhaps more central to one of the other packages.

Presentation of the three work packages (WPs) followed. First of all, Jason Finch and Silja Laine of Åbo Akademi University introduced WP1.

Silja Laine and Jason Finch present WP1.

The presentation focused on how the team will use ‘narrating’ and ‘experiencing’, two of the three aspects of PT as public space being traced in PUTSPACE, to drive the research in WP1. Equally important in WP1 is the connection between past, present and future, because this WP draws on historical evidence to make comments that should be applicable in present and future PT planning and understanding people’s use of cities for multiple purposes. WP1’s historical investigations will happen in close partnership with APs, in particular the London Transport Museum, and also the planned new historical museum in Turku. Reasearch on WP1 will concentrate on the enthusiast cultures of PT in the case study cities (as mediated in social media, via commissioned interviews and in other ways), London and Turku, as well as on readings of existing literary, filmic and documentary accounts of PT experience there. The stratigraphic layers unearthed in a quasi-geological fashion in WP1, and the question of the emotional charge of PT experiences, whether positive, negative or neutral, both featured in questions the WP1 team members were asked in the discussion that followed.

Next, the ULB/Cosmopolis team from Brussels spoke about WP2. Building on Marxist critical geographies, the researchers on this team, Wojciech Kębłowski and Frédéric Dobruskes demonstrated how their analysis of uneven physical distribution of access to PT will work, using a cartographic method. Brussels has an estimated 100,000 paperless migrants including people from very varied backgrounds. For these people, ticket control potentially involves being arrested and deported from Belgium. The WP2 team members introduced an app and website, controlebxl.be, on which riders report where and when teams of workers checking tickets were sighted. The design of PT networks is not spatially neutral. WP2’s research revisits PT planning as a socio-political production, the key factor being the question: who decides? In Brussels, people have been offered a ‘Mercedes-Benz of trams’, but the offer seems limited to certain (wealthy and predominantly white) regions of the city through which this vehicle would pass. Questions for WP2 researchers highlighted the connection with anarchist groups’ information-gathering across national boundaries and enabled a spokesperson for Tallinn city government to introduce the city’s part in a broader Sustainable Urban Mobility Programme (SUMP) for Estonia.

Next, WP3 was presented by project researchers Wladimir Sgibnev and Tonio Weicker of the IfL in Leipzig. They announced the WP’s aim of taking Europeanisation seriously by examining it as the subject of different paradigms (including PT) within varying parts of the post-Soviet space. This work partly develops from the earlier Marschrutka project at IfL. One example from Volgograd was highlighted in which a Soviet-era tram network, a new bus network using ‘smart ticketing’ and a post-Soviet marschrutka share-taxi system operate alongside one another with no ticketing that enables more than one to be used on the same ticket. Notions of Europeanness come into play at the intersection of these systems which in effect contain different ideas of the European. The definition of the public also came up in the presentation of WP3, for instance as meditated on in John Dewey’s The Public and Its Problems (originally published in 1927). The marschrutkas which sprang up in post-Soviet cities during the 1990s could appear chaotic to outsiders, but typically followed closed-down Soviet-era bus routes, private enterprise thus stepping in where the centrally planned single-party state had disappeared. Ordering of PT thus seems central to WP3.

Valuable questions followed in interaction with audience members. Areas such as status in public transport, entry points and the publicness of different internal layouts of public transport and indeed the border of the urban came up. These and the APs’ presentation of their work could be the topic of a second blogpost on the very valuable 27 May event.

Most of the project team with two cuddly public transport vehicles (a bus and a trolleybus). Tallinn University, 27 May 2019.