8 Aug 2010

Barclays Bikes: is there any more space left to brand?

On a visit last week to London for work I made an attempt to use one of the 'Barclays Bikes' but needed to be a little more prepared - hadn't appreciated the sign-up process. It was quicker to walk Great Portland Street to Paddington - in a month or so I understand it will be possible to sign up as a casual user.

This looks set to be a great scheme and I would hugely welcome it in many other places - I have already used it in other countries - why does it takes us so long to get set up here....

The bike hire scheme is designed to encourage thousands more cycle journeys in central London - and the more that cycle the safer it becomes - in the first week some 12,000 people signed up - far outstripping the 6,000 bicycles which will be available at the special docking stations by the end of the summer. See Q&A BBC web page on the scheme here.

The system operates with keys that cost £3 and the cost of using the cycles varies from £1 for an hour to £50 for 24 hours - 30 mins is free and indeed I could have cycled my bit in that time - used to cycle lots many years ago when I worked in London.

London Assembly Green Party member Jenny Jones is quoted in much of the national press saying: "The bikes should have locks and bigger baskets. A target date should be set for people to be able to use Oyster (travel) cards to pay for the bike hire. The scheme also needs monitoring closely to ensure that the cost is not putting low-income Londoners off using the bikes. Above all, the scheme should be expanded quickly, as we currently have only a quarter of the bikes which Paris now has and the scheme covers a much smaller geographical area."

Barclays and arms

Criticisms have also come from anti-war activists who have placed large stickers about the conflict in Afghanistan on the back of bikes to highlight Barclays investment in the arms trade. The message read: '£20M INVESTMENT IN BIKES. £7300M INVESTMENT IN BOMBS' and'FUNDING DEPLETED URANIUM BIRTH DEFECTS IN IRAQ'. Transport for London report only a few bikes but activists claim 4,000 bikes got stickers. Other demonstrators left stickers on bikes at Hyde Park Corner in protest at Barclays' sponsorship of the scheme, unhappy about the bank's record of investing in defence companies.

SchNEWS report that Barclays chairman, Magnus Agius, when asked about the stickers at the press launch, said: 'I have nothing to say.' And hey Barclays are only paying £25m towards the £140m cycle scheme which now bears their name.....some have presented this as payback to Boris for his support over the banks?

Barclays and painting our public spaces

But it isn't just the name 'Barclays Bikes' - we get enough of that sponsorship anyway but it is that we will also get 100km plus of road painted Barclays blue - yuck indeed. Justin McGuirk wrote a great piece in The Guardian on the bikes - see it here he writes: "London can now claim the dubious honour of hosting what is surely the largest piece of corporate branding in existence. It's not just the scale, the mind-blowing square footage, that is shocking about this – it's the principle. We're not talking about some supersized billboard here: we're talking about the mayor selling off the very road beneath our wheels – one of the few parts of a city that counts indisputably as public space. Whether they realise it or not, whether or not they even care, from now on thousands of cyclists are doomed to commute on a giant Barclays ad....There is something, too, in the gibes suggesting this is not just Barclays blue but Tory blue. Neither New Labour nor former mayor Ken Livingstone did anything to prevent the growing privatisation of the city, but it is hard to imagine Livingstone selling off a chunk of the public realm in such brazen fashion."

I have long argued that we should not cover our public space in ads - see for example my letter from September 2005:

Dear Madam, The Gazette informs us that Gloucestershire's 1,090 "poop bins" will be among the first in the country to carry commercial sponsorship (9/0/05). While I can recognise the need for such bins and can welcome councillors attempts to save a few pennies on our Council Tax I can't help but feel uneasy.

Adverts are intruding ever more into our lives: bus stops, sponsored road signs, television sets in airports and even sports professionals have become walking advertisements. Ten years ago there weren't ads in the loos at motorway services or daily phone calls trying to sell something and now we are getting ads on 'poop bins'. Where will it stop?

We are certainly not like the US where some schools have compulsory ad viewing and even police cars are being looked at for their commercial potential. But isn't it time to question this visual pollution? The advertising industry's implicit message seems to be a total lack of respect for our time, our attention, our peace of mind, our privacy, and even our concerns about our children. Public spaces should be free from ads. Yours Sincerely, Philip Booth

Dog poo bins is one thing but it goes much further. Justin McGuirk writes more about this creeping privatisation of public space and opened my eyes to the extent it is reaching in London and points to a book by Anna Minton that I think I will read:

"We must be careful not to assume a loss of innocence; private ownership and interests have held sway in this city for centuries, and often cooperation between private and public bodies is the best way to meet the city's needs. However, the public realm that the Victorians handed over to municipal authorities to manage in the public good – including streets and pavements, squares, and infrastructure such as transport and sewage networks – has been under steady assault since the privatisation of the Thatcher years.

"A decade ago, Naomi Klein argued in her book No Logo that we had reached a point where it seemed nothing could happen anymore without a corporate sponsor. The inevitable upshot of their growing social power was that brands wanted an expanded visual presence. T-shirt logos and media advertisements were no longer enough: branding had to be a fully immersive experience. As the superhighways prove, there is no amount of space a brand will not happily fill, with public bodies all too willing to hand it over. TfL is becoming ever more imaginative about the bits of Tube stations it will sell off to advertisers – including, now, the space between escalators and the gates of the exit barriers. Every year the Regent Street Christmas lights, once a public gesture organised by the Regent Street Association, turn a major thoroughfare into a 3D advert for some fashion label or blockbuster movie.

"Increasingly entire pieces of London have become brands in their own right, a process that began in the 1980s with the privately owned Canary Wharf development. Since then, so-called "business improvement districts" have been popping up all over the capital under the banner of regeneration: Broadgate in the City, Paddington Basin, Kings Cross Central, the new Spitalfields Market, the More London development near Tower Bridge. It's a national phenomenon, too, exemplified by "malls without walls" such as Liverpool ONE or Brindleyplace in Birmingham. They might look like other parts of the city, but they are very different. Stroll through Broadgate and you'll notice the logo of developer British Land studding the pavements. These are privately owned developments, policed by private security guards who can throw you out for the slightest misdemeanour or – if you happen to be sleeping rough, say – simply for disrupting the projection of affluence. In the case of More London – a series of sterile glass blocks set amid some rather uptight landscaping on the South Bank – the very name is a deliberate deception. The developers are trying to claim this is just an ordinary piece of the city. Don't believe it.

"Anyone who wants to find out more about the insidious privatisation of British cities should read Anna Minton's latest book, Ground Control. The point is that we are in danger or running out of unbranded space. Though it may seem innocuous, the branding of cycle lanes sets an all-too-exploitable precedent. As citizens we have a communal birthright, which includes the public realm. Our representatives are supposed to protect that – not sell it off to corporations who are neither responsible nor accountable for the spaces of which they claim symbolic ownership. Politicians seem only too ready to turn our cities into horizontal billboards. If we're not vigilant, the urban landscape is going to become a brandscape."

Hey I hadn't meant to copy so much of Justin's excellent article - you probably would have done better reading that than this blog!! Ah well a big thanks to him for raising the issue...The push for more cycling is clearly a good thing, but I think we are being taken in by Barclays.

1 comment:

Russ said...

It's not surprising that politicians are so glib about selling of the country to PR. PR is a politician's life; a lot of them see the world through the tinted glasses of PR to start with.