Networks, Connections, and Communities
When first considering how to approach developing a mesh network at the New Growth garden, I knew it was going to require a number of conversations with others. I came to know about Mesh Networks through disaster studies: reading about communities who developed them in times of crisis, when existing infrastructures either didn’t exist or were unavailable (mesh networks often pop up after natural disasters; but I first came to take note of them in 2013 after reading about the the Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network, built in response to austerity). I was interested in taking the time afforded to build a mesh network outside of a major crisis (recognizing there are many of us who are already operating in crises mode) in order to have the network up and running for those times when it might be needed most. I considered it from the perspective of practice: a chance to take time thinking through the big decisions around how such a network might be designed which otherwise might be missed out on when developed under the urgency of crisis response.
Beyond offering free internet to the neighbourhood, Stolon Mesh aimed to shift other’s thinking around our relationship to the internet and ownership.
If there is a need to consider infrastructure as resilient, this project begins first with connecting and inspiring community to see the potentials of infrastructure as both a technological and cultural (communal) initiative. An opportunity to consider access to the internet anew and as a part of a shared and collaborative economy, the project holds at its centre that a mesh network can always be built, but that its success relies on the connections across the community that might need and use it. If the mesh is to weather this world of turbulence that Wakefield points to, its design needs to focus beyond the technical needs of the network. It needs to consider design in long term ways that will support and encourage the community to be part of it. It needs to be practiced.
As an artist not living within Vancouver and invited to consider a public artwork for the x̱aw̓s shew̓áy̓ New Growth《新生林》garden, I knew I needed to bring others into the project with close ties to the community. A mesh needs to come from within, after all, and as we were building infrastructure as a way to ‘plant an idea’ to have to hold onto when needed most, introducing the idea, the potential, and strategies of approach was the project’s ultimate goal. During the many (many!) conversations across the project’s development, I found myself often saying something like: “this might fail, but the worst case scenario is we’ll have free internet for people to use at the garden.” In the end, we knew that the mesh itself needed to first be introduced as both object and concept before ushering in the necessary paradigm shift. The goal became setting up the hardware needed to get a mesh going in order to introduce community members to the notion that the internet could be a utility that was shared and cared for as a community. Written at the end of this first stage of the project, this reflection (how-to) is meant to help document ideas raised across the project’s development and offer other communities searching for similar infrastructures strategies of approach.
Stolon Mesh is, thus far, a prototype: a first phase that in a lot of ways precedes the mesh itself. Now that the underlying structure is in place, the mesh network can begin to further develop. The infrastructure is there; but the community itself needs to work together to determine how it might develop into fruition.
Now, the thinking is that you have to be resilient. So to be resilient means that you have to be, and the infrastructures have to be, capable of surviving a world of turbulence, where disaster and disruption and instability are natural, omnipresent, always going to be coming, and should be expected as part of the normal course of things, in fact, even welcomed and embraced because that is, according to this way of thinking, the true state of the world and of life itself. (Stephanie Wakefield talk 2021)
You can read more about mesh networks in Rosemary Heather's: What is a MESH Network.
Examples of other mesh networks we we're inspired by that also have great online resources include: NYC Mesh; and the Seattle Community Network