The PHLASK Project has been fortunate to take part in Philadelphia Assembled’s larger initiative to envision a better Philadelphia:
Philadelphia Assembled is an expansive project that tells a story of radical community building and active resistance through the personal and collective narratives that make up Philadelphia’s changing urban fabric. These narratives will be explored through a collaborative effort between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a team of individuals, collectives, and organizations as they experiment with multiple methodologies for amplifying and connecting relationships in Philadelphia’s transforming landscape. Challenging, inspiring, and as big as the city, Philadelphia Assembled asks: how can we collectively shape our futures?
The Philadelphia Assembled Project interprets these narratives and actions through five atmospheres: Futures, Reconstruction, Sovereignty, Sanctuary and Movement. The following essay is an interpretation of how the PHLASK Project can contribute to each atmosphere.
“How do we reclaim the past in order to decolonize the future?” (Philadelphia Assembled)
At the heart of the PHLASK Project is the imperative to recast water from a resource that can be commoditized into a shared resource for all life. Decolonizing the commodification of water begins by shifting the attitudes of how we consume water. The PHLASK project wants to normalize water as a resource to be shared by rejecting the capitalist infrastructure that exists to profit from the sale of water.
PHLASK believes that an effective tactic to transforming water into a shared resource is to, quite literally, encourage people to start sharing water. The PHLASK Project in many ways is a sociological initiative to normalize behavior around sharing water. Given how inefficient, wasteful and expensive bottled water is, the act of sharing water from existing water infrastructure is an almost no-cost solution to reducing waste and increasing access to water.
“…reconstructions do not search for a former authenticity, but hold a complex identity that encompasses past and present. They are (re)claimed, (re)built, (re)written, (re)worked. The Reconstructions atmosphere is specifically focusing its efforts on identifying spaces that speak to re-writing personal and collective narratives through the lenses of mass incarceration and displacement.” (Philadelphia Assembled)
PHLASK’s goal of liberating water resources for the public welfare carries the spirit of rewriting, rebuilding and reclaiming that which has been exploited and controlled. Sharing water requires both a ‘reconstruction’ of physical spaces and social norms.
The physical infrastructures that supply us with potable water are publicly and privately controlled. With the exception of public water fountains, though, even public infrastructure is beset with varying degrees of private ownership. PHLASK aims to reconstruct this existing hybrid public-private infrastructure as a more radically open and accessible public water utility. When future water infrastructure is constructed, hopefully it will hew to more radical water-sharing design principles that increase public access.
Reconstructing the physical infrastructures begins with reconstructing the social norms around accessing water, and asks, “why can’t people access the vast majority of private taps linked to the public water infrastructure?” It is our hope that, over the long-term, as private businesses, organizations, enterprises and individuals choose to share access to their taps that access to water will be reconstructed as a norm for sharing water.
“..the Sovereignty atmosphere seeks to address the specific concepts of land and the alternative marketplace as each relates to histories of self-determination, the preservation of community wisdom, and new forms of cultural exchange.” (Philadelphia Assembled)
Reconceptualizing water as a resource for sharing falls squarely into the atmosphere of sovereignty by reasserting that water is a human right to be preserved by the community. Claiming water as a human right challenges the notion that any entity, state or individual can claim ownership of water resources. Moreover, it is through the most simple of cultural exchanges – communication and sharing – that we can collectively re-imagine water as a shared resource.
“…seek to embody a dynamic understanding of sanctuary that expresses various models of self-care, asylum, and refuge. In order to realize this site of embodied sanctuary, the Sanctuary collaborators have brainstormed what their notions of an ideal safe-space could look like, even if such a space only exists outside the bounds of reality.” (Philadelphia Assembled)
The PHLASK Project was first welcomed to the Philadelphia Assembled Initiative through, of all places, the sanctuary atmosphere manifested at the Sanctuary Dome. What can be distilled from the myriad of conversations had with curators and visitors at the Sanctuary Dome is that Sanctuary is a haven for peace and respite.
Although sanctuaries come in many different forms, and provide refuge against many of life’s harsh realities, PHLASK understands that water is equivalent to sanctuary for all carbon-based life. Water, the universal solvent, is the origin of life; life gestates in water. Our humanity is contingent upon our access to water.
To expand access to water and redefine it as a public resources is to reimagine that all life deserves sanctuary. Water, and the physical systems that contain it can – and should – be treated as our shared sanctuary.
“The Movement atmosphere is looking at the intersections of the project’s eight public sites and proposing ways in which these sites can influence one another across the city and at the Museum.” (Philadelphia Assembled)
Like the Movement atmosphere, the PHLASK Project aims to transcend the built and spatial boundaries of Philadelphia to build a network of water sharing. Much of the water infrastructure already zig-zags underground, past tunnels and sewers, into the homes, businesses, parks, industries and skyscrapers that make up our city. Reconnecting the disparate public and private taps into one, accessible PHLASK network is critical to re-imagining how people can obtain water as it flows throughout the city.