Some thoughts on ‘Shared Space’

By Jason Pennells |

A stream of consciousness of reflections on ‘shared space’, the theme of the 2012 Andrew Raven Trust weekend, mostly leaving aside the diverse and distinct areas of virtual space, the arts, theatre and education which will be explored at the weekend (and which seem to me separate matters from the environmental matters of shared use of the physical location/land).

The local Scottish context...

In a Highland context, one of the key characteristics of Andrew Raven's job as Chair of the Deer Commission for Scotland (DCS) was to reconcile the competing views, needs and interests of people who see deer and their presence in the Highland landscape from competing perspectives.

From a Wikipedia entry on DCS: 'It has been claimed that the compulsory slaughter the Commission carries out has driven foreign shooters away, with critics claiming that this is 'killing' the £100 million Scottish deer-stalking industry, with so few stags to shoot that many return to their countries empty-handed.' Another take on shared space, perhaps - the influx of visitors from other places, into the very locally specific environment, and the ambivalence this may occasion.

One might extend that to think of the (hypothetical, I don't have any idea of the realities) case of fish farms in Highland lochs and the compromises their presence might bring, and the possibility that they might be owned by and making profits for companies anywhere in the world, just as any other industry (including open sea fisheries, agricultural, manufacturing and service industries), while having a direct physical presence and impact in one location.

More broadly...

The same of course can be said of interventions on more drastic ecological scales elsewhere, such as oil companies and mining operations around the world, the current prospect of fracking oil shale in England, foreign logging companies in Guyana and so on and so on ... including the conflict and ‘gold-rush’ opportunities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, digging up the mineral which is used in the SIM cards of mobile phones made elsewhere and bought and used around the world.

In another realm, there are the endemic conflicts in the game parks of Kenya, where subsistence farmers and pastoralists (who are so often in conflict with each other over use of shared space around the world) are unwelcome to those who want to maintain the parks for wildlife and for the income wildlife tourism brings both to the local and national economies.

Related to that are the economic and cultural relationships between foreigners and Scottish citizens/residents, particularly with the shift to nationalism in Scotland at the last general election, and the questions this throws up for the future social and economic shape of the UK and its constituent nations. In an age of globalisation, there is an opposing drive to Balkanisation (as Gordon Brown termed it). What are the parameters of the space - economic, social, political and geographical - which mark out the territory in question; and is the sharing of space a sharing among those on the inside, or with those on the outside of, those parameters?

Capitalism may be the least bad alternative so far devised to work on a large, and now unavoidably globalised, scale, but it nevertheless involves exploitation of resources and of one group of people by another group.

Back to the specifics of the Scottish microcosm…

From Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)'s site (DCS having merged with SNH a couple of years ago), a few hints of some interests and perceptions in relation to shared space from the viewpoint of deer, their presence or absence and how they are used and considered, as the central prism through which the shared space of their habitat is refracted (as I suppose RSPB would hang its broader environmental policies and positions around birds, etc, etc...):

Managing deer
• Understanding deer management - including: who manages them; methods; species; deer related damage to forestry and agriculture and managing urban deer.
• Wild deer welfare - including: what wild deer welfare is; welfare perceptions & research; and deer vehicle collisions (DVCs).
• Managing designated sites - including: grazing management, joint working programme, favourable condition targets, selecting sites, audit list, financial support, grazing options and deer fencing guidance.
• Scotland's Wild Deer A National Approach - including: why a collaborative approach is being developed; its objectives; and latest updates.
• Sustainable Deer Management Sustainable management of wild deer is at the heart of all good deer management planning, decisions and practices.
• Enjoying deer - including: venison as a healthy and nutritious food; deer watching; and education.
• Best practice - best practice guidance for managing deer.

Time as a complementary dimension to space...

If the weekend is taking the theme of shared space as broadly as it seems to be going to do, should there be within this a consideration of time as a complementary dimension to space? Some aspects of this seem to open out:

At a specific and practical level, the sharing of a finite physical space among a large number of different people and purposes can involve, accidentally or intentionally, managing the flow of people (or animals), to promote the best harmony and least conflict or stress on the system and on people. For example, migratory pastoralists may negotiate with farmers to herd their animals through a farmland area after the crop has been harvested, to avoid crop damage and to manure the land and benefit from the stubble/remains as fodder; communities which benefit from tourism income might prefer visitors to come not all on the same day but at certain times in the year (walkers avoid shooting or lambing seasons, eg) or in a steady trickle all year round.

At a broader and more general level, the interactions we have with a physical place or space, as the human race, as a society, or as an individual, are surely tied up with the interactions other species, societies and individuals have with the same space, before us and in the future. This applies across the scale of timeframes: from astronomical through geological, archaeological and historical down to within a personal lifespan. So we have to resolve knotty problems of how we reconcile our present needs and desires to operate in and on the space we inhabit, on the one hand, with, on the other hand, the value of conserving what exists from the past (eg, mineral resources, oceans, wild land, ancient forests, long-established and cherished human-shaped landscapes, archaeological remains, 'heritage' buildings; and traditional cultures and life patterns), and what the impact will be on the environment we leave behind us. Our presence in this space is transitory. There are philosophical and moral dimensions to these matters as well as pragmatic. 

In harnessing current technologies and techniques as means of sharing to serve learning or communication purposes, online/distance learning may utilise ‘shared space’ in synchronous ways (people interacting at the same time - eg, in live chat and speaking on the phone) or in asynchronous ways (people interacting at different times - eg, by email, online discussion groups and sharing of and collaboration on documents through a virtual learning environment or file sharing facility such as Dropbox). The more asynchronicity there can be, the more flexible and accommodating the space may tend to be (eg, across time zones and to fit different people's timetables).

Colonial appropriation of space as against sharing of space...

Colonialism and empire over the centuries of course illustrate that the existence of rival claims for the ownership and use of space is not a new issue, though our handling of it may have evolved. As one example, the tiny central African country now called Burundi was once thought to be in the domain of a colonial power, Belgium (though I think the Belgian ruler originally concerned never came to Africa), just as so much more of the globe was in the thrall of Victorian Britain and other colonial powers, and, earlier on, diverse populations and their habitats were overrun and imprinted on, culturally, politically, economically and genetically, by the Greeks, the Romans, Genghis Khan, and so on.

Every year of every decade there are official wars and undeclared wars raging around the world over one or other struggles for political or economic domination of space, rather than 'sharing' it, and it all comes back to whose narrative one accepts as to what that space is and how it is defined, as in the case of territory under current or recent dispute (for example, is it 'Derry' or 'Londonderry'; was it ‘the Vietnam War’ or 'the Resistance War against America'?).

The sharing of space and resources, or the competitive struggle to dominate them, is never far from the surface of co-existence, prosperity or conflict. This is the case both in local, parochial and even domestic conflicts, and on national and international scales around the world. Throughout Africa, for example, this is nowadays very much to the fore, with the colonial era of the past now superseded, first by a period of largely failed attempts at autonomous and internationally supported development (depending on your viewpoint, aided and/or undermined by international bodies such as The World Bank and IMF, and by internal power interests and ineptitude), and more recently by the huge shift to the involvement of China in (extractive? co-operative?) trade and resource relationships with countries across the continent.

The resolution to many issues relating to shared space seems intractable. But it seems clear, we do have to recognise that space is shared in very many ways, that this is true now more than ever before, and that we have a heavy responsibility as individuals, communities, societies and as a human race, to work out how to do so for the best and to put that awareness into effective action.

So, this has been a roam around some thoughts, not in a particularly organised order, but sparked nonetheless by the theme of ‘shared space’.

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