#walkingwomen: loitering with intent

Updates: Step by Step 5 (series), building on the #walkingwomen project, took place on 24 April, while the LADA Study Room Guide was launched on 25 April and is available for download (contents: schedule of events, directory of artists, list of titles in the Walking Library for Women Walking and a list of titles in the LADA bibliotheque)…Geoff Nicholson on walking with women walkersRhythms of fearCharlotte Mathieson on walking in Villette…more Feminists walking the cityWalking women: embodied perception in Romantic and contemporary radical landscape poetryThe gendered garden (see Abney Rambles)….How walking became a radical act of defiance

#walkingwomen are everywhere this summer, with events in London, Edinburgh and Manchester, plus the media fluff around Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse. As a woman who walks, what’s in it for me?

Walking Women: Somerset House and Forest Fringe

Walking Women (The Standard) took place as part of Somerset House’s utopia season from 11-17 July, curated by Amy Sharrocks and Clare Qualmann in collaboration with Dee Heddon. Over 40 walking artists were present, with events including a Wikipedia edit-a-thon (based on the rhizomatic Art+Feminism model; Amy Sharrocks, Simone Kenyon), films, pecha kucha, a Walking Reading Group utopia walk and a new walking library walked along the suffragettes’ marching route. Three pre-event podcasts from Jo Norcup/Geography Workshop’s ‘Er Outdoors project (one | two & three) on Resonance FM, plus recordings from the event.

Walking Women in Embra (WAN), on 11 August was curated by the same team and organised by Deveron Arts/the Walking Institute, part of Forest Fringe (“unusual events and experimental performance in Edinburgh and beyond” since 2007). More of the same, with Scottish contributions including Jeni Cumming (Edinburgh Walking Workshop) and Invisible Edinburgh leading a Powerful women of Edinburgh walking tour, plus Deveron Arts’ Claudia Zeiske on women walking in wild landscapes. Streamed, but no recording as yet.

Also involved was Rosana Cade, whose Walking:Holding (17-20 August; in the Gdn) “invites you to walk hand in hand with a series of very different local strangers around nearby streets, parks and alleyways. It is a participatory performance for one audience member at a time, offering a gentle meditation on identity, touch and intimacy in urban public space”.

Loitering with intent in Manchester

Loitering with intent: the art and politics of walking is an exhibition celebrating 10 years of Manchester’s Loiterers Resistance Movement (LRM),  organised by Morag Rose and running from 23 July to 14 October at the People’s Museum with accompanying events programme (again). Includes male-led events, such as Chris Wood‘s Spatial machines, exploring GPS infrastructure using walking exercises.

As part of the exhibition Tina Richardson has published the second STEPZ zine (PDF), inspired by Northern Psychogeography. Of most interest so far has to be the Manchester Modernist Heroines Walk, celebrating 10 inspirational women, conceived by the Shrieking Violet (on Issuu) in 2011.

Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse

Published on 28 July and R4’s Book of the Week from 8 August, Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse: women who walk the cities (GuardianSpectator | Psychogeographic Review, who has a further flâneuse piece | Big Boots) is a blend of memoir and cultural history, focusing on five cities through the mirror of assorted flâneuses (pl? I have no French).

While the cover is off-putting and much, including the inevitable Guardian article, feels over-familiar, Lauren made some good points in an interview at the London Review Bookshop (audio; worth a listen not least for the audience comment: “most women are very interested in clothes”). She initially found Paris a very “ritualised society”, played out through “performative rituals” – walking was one way of connecting to the city. How you practice flâneurie is specific to a time, place and culture, it’s a subversive way of intervening in space. Today’s flâneu(r)/se is “anyone who feels they don’t quite fit in the space they are walking through”, and who by walking tries to defy “the affective charge” of the field of prescriptions (at c47:48).

Walking is like mapping with your feet, it makes you feel at home. Lauren did not walk in US suburbs, where you are considered weird if you walk without a dog or a tracksuit. In Denmark, walking is similarly restricted, although here by the bicycle rather than the car (you may also cycle with your dog running alongside, although tracksuits are definitely déclassé for the cycling crowd).

(See also Cole Swenson’s Walk, poems exploring the walking and writing of George Sand, Virginia Woolf and Lisa Robertson.)

Update: the library obliged. The best section was on Tokyo, an addition to the slim canon on not liking somewhere, where Lauren makes “an attempt to connect with Japan, or at least with its past”, liking Kyoto (note: To-Kyo) rather more.

For the rest, an editorial dead hand feels to be at play, with the sections of memoir feeling like an afterthought added to catch a current wave and addressed to an assumed ‘we’. The much longer biographical sections, as so often, require an interest in the subject to come alive.

As above what resonates most are the sections on moving to another country: “I came here with a suitcase…denuded of context. You quickly cover yourself with new things, a new persona. But you will live in a state of heightened sensitivity; you will always feel exposed…Although I loved the way it felt to be inspired by Paris, set at an angle to it, able to appreciate the ways in which it was different from home, the initial joy of displacement eventually wore off. I wanted to settle into a slot in Paris which corresponded to the slot I had vacated in New York…I was not a rebel. I was just someone who happened to have moved countries. Displaced, dislocated. I wanted to be re-placed, re-located. (p233-234).

On returning to her ‘home’ city she notes (p282) “My city isn’t mine any more. And yet it always will be, more than any other. We get to know our cities on foot, and when we leave, the topography shifts”.

The best quote though comes from Virginia Woolf:

  • As they grow older, says Rose (who has grown older), they become less visible, and they can walk wherever they like at any time of day. (quoted on p307; source: The Years, p173)

What gives?

Presenting the second #walkingwomen podcast, Dee Heddon and Cathy Turner postulated that #walkingwomen is not about heroic walks or challenges, but rather about how walking transforms the everyday. Walking not as a form of escape, but rather as a way of making connections and relations. See Walking women: interviews with artists on the move for examples.

Can’t it be both? This discourse just doesn’t meet me where I am coming from. Do women really walk so differently from men in the western everyday context? Cathy Turner’s account of the Rural Scapes artists’ talk takes Caspar David Friedrich to task once more – the heroic seems to be at the nub of concern, but don’t we all want to feel the rush sometimes? (Another CDF meme: his heroes are urban outsiders, dressed in city clothes, not part of the landscape.) All too often #walkingwomen reeks of “everything is awesome” (possibly the #some effect), if not the dreaded hygge. The LRM, more about play and inspired by the Situationists, feels a tad more edgy. Update: see also the 4th World Congress of Psychogeography (@TykePsychoGeog | #4wcop | again | report) much of which was streamed by John Popham.

Flâneurie is increasingly reproached for being a) male b) gentrified, an outsider pursuit. Exclusive yes, but not flattening or normative. It’s that which makes it interesting and challenging. (And gender is not a criterion for rejecting, or conversely accepting, something.)

On which note see Deveron Arts’ All roads lead to Venice on 12 August, marking Anthony Schrag‘s (and others) walks to the 2015 Venice Biennale, also involving an ugly walk, and the Guardian’s share your stories feature and follow-up – lots of outsiders there.

As for #walkingwomen, see also Janet Wolff’s The Invisible Flaneuse. Women and the Literature of Modernity (1985; citation) and Helen Scalway’s The Contemporary Flaneuse: Exploring strategies for the drifter in a feminine mode (2002).

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Studying walking and my practice

I’m currently participating in the Walk Exchange’s Walk Studies Training Course, a six week online seminar which “takes the form of a walk that facilitates interaction with the city through the lens of critical readings and examples of artistic practice”. Now I don’t do performance or play, let alone self-identify as an artist (at best a curator/formidler), so it’s all a bit tricky. (For more on tours as performance or artwork see B_Tour’s Imagining new spaces for an urban society through artistic guided tours | full lecture.)

From my course application:

The trigger [for my interest in walking as a practice] was moving to Denmark, which for me has not proved to be a fairy tale. Key factors are the homogeneity of Danish society and what I have come to call ‘Danish scale’ – Danes do not often dare to dream.

Walking (in a city which worships the bicycle) has played a key role in coming to terms with this. Brought up in an Edinburgh suburb in a walking family with dogs as constant companions, daily walks with my two beagles, a questing breed, have led to an intimate knowledge of Hvidovre, the suburb I live in. Weekly excursions to Copenhagen, in the main the less touristed parts, are illuminating in making connections with my life experience in a range of UK urban environments. Overseas trips provide further input – maintaining a holiday methodology in Copenhagen makes it almost feel like being on holiday once a week.

After 10 years in Denmark I still feel adrift – but it’s been a rewarding process getting to know the city better.

As far as walking in Denmark and writing about it goes, it’s a very different culture. There is, however, a wave of site specific work going on over the summer, spotted first in the shape of En landsby på højkant on Amager (reviewanother | Byens NetværkReumert-salon):

My aim in undertaking the course was primarily to put a stop to going down rabbit holes and work out what my walking practice is all about, so I can move onto a more productive phase. Here’s the course process:

  1. Read the attached text and the website linked above.
  2. Look through the walking exercises submitted after last week’s walk. Pick a few to try out during your walk.
  3. Complete this week’s walk along with a few of the exercises developed last week.
  4. Create instructions for a walking exercise that reflects your walking experience. Make sure this instruction could be completed by a solo walker, or a group of walkers. Include your instructions in the comments section below.
  5. Add any reflections, thoughts, writings, photographs, ideas, etc. to your personal page.

It’s an odd thing, with the reading a very mixed bag and the requirement to create a walk and integrate others’ into the next week’s walk representing a further challenge. Plus it feels quite anonymous – compared with a MOOC it’s not very social.

Of the other participants the Edinburgh Walking Workshop, founded in January 2016, is obviously of interest. From performance corner (see founder Jeni on on walking as a creative process), where walkers can engage with the prompts/provocations in any way they like.

Looking through their work so far I enjoyed Jeni on The Esplanade and Account of a group walk to Musselburgh, plus Kay Cur’s Purposes of walking to the airport. And, just seeing the placenames (Crags, Hermiston, Oxgangs…).

I find responding to the exercises hard, but rewarding afterwards, and it’s highlighting some key issues to unpick.

Full posts to come, but for now here’s a quick overview:

  • week 1: territories in transit – a solo walk to Hvidovre’s former centre, now a transit zone (text and photos)
  • week 2: pigeon patrol – a beagle led walk in the garden to reflect on cultural approaches to nature in the city (text)
  • week 3: going for a walk – a drift through shared space and its associated obstacles (text and photos)
  • week 4: the last walk/invisible walking – a drift on Nordic taciturnity and the designing out of personal contact (text)
  • week 5: soul experiments – hitting a dead end (text)
  • week 6: walk anywhere anytime – from oppositional practices in everyday life to the articulation of cultural narratives (text and photos)

Post-course reflection: I only actually went a specific WSTC walk in week 1, which ironically featured the least creative response. In the other weeks I used the exercises as a kick-off for my own walks, with mixed success. The exercises helped create a focus, however my issues with walking art remain. See Debbie Kent:

Does there really have to be a big gap between walking art participant and someone who takes a country walk to look at the landscape or who goes on a tour to learn about the history of a place?

She suggests that “the artist’s walk might tend to have the intention of affecting the participant or the audience in some way, whether by involving them in an unusual activity or shifting the way they perceive and process the world”, but is this specific to walking art?

 

#citylinked: from CPH to Embra and back again

Update, Arkitekturens Dag 2017, with map!: 50+ events, with Aarhus (European Capital of Culture, folks) drawing down the blinds on the Rotunda pavilion and Rethink Architecture, plus the inevitable architecture run (CPH Urban Trail seems to be no more); in CPH Bygningskulturens Hus has a lecture on social housing of the 1940s/50s (see also the exhibition and renovation guide), always welcome, and there’s a tour round Ballerup’s fælleshuse

Update: 30 Oct sees City Link CPH/FRB: Reimaging the city, kicking off at lovely Novozymes. Somewhere‘s walk on Nordre Fasanvej has some appeal: ” The tour will stop at selected locations, where the clashes in this diverse area are most obvious, to talk about what creates a good city, gentrification and about art’s possibilities in an urban space such as this.”

City Link (Facebook | Twitter) describes itself as a “co-creating network of artists, activists, cultural entrepreneurs, researchers and people with ideas that link cities”. Launched in 2012 as a project between the ‘cultural communities’ of Copenhagen and Hamburg, I came across it last year via partner GivRum (Facebook), and was piqued to discover that their 2015 festival would be held in my home town of Edinburgh. But being the wrong side of 40 *coughs* I don’t think I’m in the target group:

The festival aimed to “explore how we can create more sustainable and democratic cities”. Organisers included Carol Hayes, purveyor of Culture Pie (FacebookTwitter), now at GivRum. Update: reviews by Richard Williams | Stacey Hunter.

On the programme:

Picked up lots of nice Scottish urban stuff, not least Creating Places Scotland and Creative Embra‘s Desire Lines project. It’s particularly interesting to compare the Scottish context with Danish discourse. Edinburgh is ‘my’ heritage, and putting it into the urbanist perspective may help me engage more with the Danish. Meanwhile, it’s notable that most Scottish organisations present an engaging public face, with blogs, newletters, Twitter etc. Danish ones mostly…don’t. And regarding engagement in urban planning this side of the pond, the Hvidovre bymidte case is more my experience.

The City Link Festival weekend also saw the climax of the 25th outing for Edinburgh Doors Open Day, with talks, walks and tours.

Copenhagen doesn’t do open doors (previously Bygningskulturens Dag) any more and isn’t part of the Open House/Doors Open Days/Heritage Open Days family, sadly, although some similar events are held as part of Kulturnatten (Culture Night), this year on 9 October. Instead there’s Arkitekturens Dag (Architects Day), organised by Arkitektforeningen and Landsforeningen for Bygnings- og Landskabskultur, held on/around 1 October and covering the whole of the country as the Danish contribution to World Architecture Day.

The 2015 outing on 1 October, with the theme of “creating via sharing”, includes urban interventions and pop-ups, more walks than you can shake a stick at, finally (plus a run, Arkitekturlobet in Aarhus), and trips to some old favourites (and not so favourites):

  • Irmas Kaffetårn i Rødovre – built in 1968 by Bent Mackeprang and Thorkel Klerk and listed in 2014, the iconic tower is to be the heart of Irma By, a(nother) new housing development
  • 8-tallet – residents give insights into daily life in 8-tallet, built to be a community; is social living the way forward for life in cites? (note: due to the number of tourists eyeballing the development, there are now “no entry” signs outside)
  • Panum og Mærsk – #brutalism klaxon! SUND, the Faculty for Health at CPH University, inhabits the Panum Building (1975), shortly to be joined by the Mærsk Building (planning guidelines on building high seem to be increasingly ignored these days)
  • visit to the Villum Window Collection in Søborg, simply because…
statue of Wellington astride Copenhagen, at Edinburgh's East End

statue of Wellington astride Copenhagen, at Edinburgh’s East End

The Edinburgh police box

I bagged two old Edinburgh police boxes on my visit in December:

It turns out they are a thing! Next sighted on a post on Urban Ghosts, which led me onwards to Planet Edinburgh’s cultural historyThe Edinburgh Reporter’s collection and Malcolm Irving’s gallery.

My box was the Barnton Box. I could have sworn it wasn’t there the last time I passed, nearly three years ago, but Wikimedia Commons has a picture from April 2006, and here’s now, or at least June 2014, courtesy of Google Street View. It looks rather unloved. (And WTF is going on with the Barnton Hotel and the petrol station?)

It just goes to show how you stop noticing things when you walk past them every day. Now I just need to find an older picture with the 20 bus stop outside, maybe a 1970s Google Street View, with me, my brother and my mother waiting for the bus.

Next time there’s a sell-off I might even be tempted. After all, there’s a red phone box in the garden of a house at Friheden, so why not an Embra police box too? (Turns out you can rent a phone box, should you want to.)

a red phone box - now how did that get there?

a red phone box – now how did that get there?

And what do you know, this weekend sees the Edinburgh Police Box Festival (@Edinburgh_box; #policeboxfestivalFacebook; mapstory), celebrating this iconic piece of street furniture and its new eclectic uses. Now that’s what I call a festival.

Updates: and now there’s the Embra police box book, aka From cuffs to community by Dane in Edinburgh @Photina_dk. I’m sure it’s gorgeous osv, but at £25 that’s Danish prices. You can take the girl out of Denmark…The Police Box, open on Doors Open weekend in 2016 and 2017 (but where is it?? lots more police box news)…

 

The Water of Leith: a storymap

At the beginning of December I spent a weekend in Edinburgh, combining shopping for festive essentials with some heavy duty city walking. I’m now a tourist in what used to be my home town, although my Edinburgh, of the late 1970s and early 1980s, is still there too.

On the Sunday I walked a section of the Water of Leith, somewhere I had never really been before. Rather than a series of photos I’ve tried something different as a way of curating this walk, using Knight Lab’s Storymap JS. It’s a really easy to use tool, synching with Google Drive as a back-up. Among the maps on offer is Open Street Map, which shows the walkway perfectly, although it seems to pick the scale it fancies. The end result is attractive, with the drawback that it’s not possible to draw a route – and it doesn’t play with WordPress.com.

Click on the image below to go to the interactive version of my My Water of Leith storymap.

WoL storymap

For more see the walkway and audio trail on the Water of Leith Conservation Trust (@wolct) website. If you are in Edinburgh you can pick up a free leaflet with a basic route map in the TIC at Waverley Bridge, but the £1 version, with text from a book now out of print, is well worth the investment.

Updates: Urban Ghosts, who must surely have an Embra correspondent, have also spotted the ruin at Bells Mills apartments, while the Broughton Spurtle sheds some light on what’s going on with Antony Gormley’s 6 Times – the wee men shall return!

Geoff Nicholson, fellow travellers and art

Geoff Nicholson has been all over the place lately, what with a new novel out.

The LARB has published a “multimedia collaborative story” called inevitably Geoff Nicholson maps the territory – as well as text there’s a video (below) and photos. The map/territory meme originates from Alfred Korzybski, who first used it at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in New Orleans in 1931.

Nice chat too on Colin Marshall’s Notebook on cities and culture podcast. I actually thought Geoff N was on a couple of weeks ago, but it turned out to be Geoff Dyer, who I keep getting him muddled up with (and vice versa). I wonder if they know each other, after all they both live in LA…

I’d be tempted to leave a fan girl comment on Geoff N’s blog to make sure he’s aware of Congestion Zone if it weren’t for the fact that he doesn’t do fellow travellers. It seems we all become a Venn diagram of 1 at the end.

After a year’s immersion in this stuff I pretty much agree on both what we probably must call the craft of creative writing and walking as a performance – see the review of Urbanscape + Ruralsprawl at Summerhall and A walk at the edge of the world at SNGMA, both part of this summer’s Edinburgh festivals. But I’d probably have gone on both, given the chance.

SNGMA, in the old John Watson’s College building, is a former frequent haunt – check out that landscaping. I was once hit by a flying tray in the cafe in the garden. Happy days. In the same vein it’s a real shame about the Dick Vet, renamed the rather blander Summerhall, and I’ve just come across something called Jupiter Artland, a sculpture park in what I call Bonnington House. The things that go on when you move away!

SNGMA – check out that landscaping

Here’s more me on Geoff:

Geoff watchers will notice that this post is almost in his style.

Jan Gehl and the human scale

Update, 12 Dec: the Danish Embassy is pimping Gehlism in the UK, and the man himself appeared at a Guardian event on 9 Dec. Here’s my Storify – more to come on CPH as it is lived in 2015. On a recent Urbanist podcast the approach was described as turning cities into retirement homes…

Update, 1 May: a couple of quotes from a Gehlite’s trip to London helps to clarify where we part ways: “is it possible to transform a polluted and neglected railway area in the middle of London into something truly nice?” and “as fond as we are of walking, the vastness of the Olympic park and the scarceness of distractions, managed to make our feet and legs growl”. Many CPH developments arouse the same reaction in me as this on why new urbanism is so creepy.

Update, 30 March: Magasinet KBH does a TOP+FLOP series, asking Copenhageners for their likes and dislikes about the city. A big cheer herfra for cartoon artist Philip Ytournel, who finds the city lacks dynamism and diversity. Cities shouldn’t be neat and tidy. He wants the trams back, plus more cars and skyscrapers. To him pedestrianised Strøget is like tiny town Vejle, or a shopping centre without a roof, while Ørestad is provincial, overplanned, dismal, windy and cold.

Came across Jan Gehl in Politiken in the autumn, then in week 5 of the Designing Cities MOOC on communicating in cities. With RIBA and the BBC about to rehabilitate modernism, let’s check him out.

[Gehl has spent]…countless hours walking the streets of cities around the world, studying life beneath, between and around buildings. “Man was made to walk…all our senses are made for being a walking animal – for that speed, for that horizontal perception – and when we are in that natural environment that we are meant for, then we can watch and talk and kiss as we were meant to as human beings”…the need for the city to be an ‘invitation’ to spend time, a welcoming and sustaining place for people to live. “A good city is like a good party – you know it’s working when people stay for much longer than really necessary, because they are enjoying themselves.” (in Melbourne)

For a place to work you need “something to look at, something to sit on, somewhere safe and clean – where you don’t have to buy anything.”

  • Jan Gehl: the city is big (2014) – “Bird shit architecture, just a collection of funny buildings…they hope they can just plop these down and a city will form around them. This doesn’t happen.”
  • Brasilia: a bird’s eye view of the city reveals a bird-shaped plan (sort of); Gehl: “Nobody thought about the fact that only if you had helicopters could you enjoy it”
  • The human scale (documentary, 2013) – The most influential architect you’ve (probably) never heard of
  • Jan in Melbourne (2013) – “outdoor dining, cycle lanes, the gradual erosion of the pre-eminence of the car in favour of the pedestrian and cyclist…the number of pedestrians in the city on weekday evenings has doubled; and Swanston Street has more pedestrians per day than Regent Street in London”; not entirely at home with the ‘new wave’ of Danish architecture; comments warn of dangers of complacency
  • Derfor er det gået galt i Ørestaden (2010) – essentially it suffers from Brasilia syndrome

Gehl’s 2011 work in Edinburgh (Riccardo Marini is City Design Leader), which I know well over decades, is interesting. His ideas for Princes Street would represent a radical change in the nature of the street. Is Edinburgh a city or a village? There’s a difference. Princes Street is unique in that one side is a park with views of both Edinburgh Castle and the Firth of Forth. It doesn’t need pavement cafes.

His latest book, Bylivsstudier (How to study public life; foreword by George Ferguson) presents a public life study toolbox, with examples illustrating how by understanding people’s behaviour and systematically surveying and documenting public life our emphasis can change – here’s some before and after pics of Copenhagen:

Copenhagen has successfully moved from a “traffic place to a people place”. Hmm. While it’s hard to imagine Strøget with traffic (for starters it’s not very wide), now it’s the same depressing retail experience as any other pedestrianised precinct (or ‘walking street’), and there’s no other reason to go there. Some of the other central streets are devoid even of that level of life – Indre By is a strangely deserted place, and it’s only when the streets open out that there’s a feel of movement or buzz. Update: see these before and after pics from Copenhagenize – objectively, a mixed bag? I’m certainly not seeing anyone “choking on car exhaust or diving to safety from vehicles”.

The council’s annual urban life account (Bylivsregnskab) aims at more city life for everyone, with more people staying longer in the city and walking more, but is this leading to an over-planned version of city life, even social engineering  – one size fits all? The preface to the 2012 account highlights two problems: the city hibernates for up to six months of the year, and it’s all about ‘play’. I’ll look more at these issues in another post. For now, see a different sort of before and after on Kultorvet, and Strøget in 1972, bye bye trams…

tram on Strøget at Nytorv, 1972

tram on Strøget at Nytorv, 1972 (Københavns Museum)

There is something in the theory, but as ever it’s babies and bathwater. It feels like a flattening approach, with nothing to strive for, no room for imagination. Plus at the moment it’s one of those things which make me a bit suspicious as there’s no critique to be found.

…transformed from a city where we once rushed to the office and back home again (“like ants to their various places and when they are finished they go down like ants down in the hole again”) to “a city which really is very inviting for promenading, and for lingering and sitting and enjoying (Melbourne again)

Postscript: Jan Gehl’s scale

According to Jan, and often quoted, the human is a “small, sensitive and slow creature with a speed of 5km/h”, needing stimuli at eye level every 4 seconds. Distance between stimuli is key – public distance: 3.5 – 10m, social distance: 1.3 – 3.5m, personal distance: 0.5 – 1-3m, intimate distance: 0 – 0-5m. The social field of vision: 0.5- 100m. What distance should city places strive for? A 5km/h environment is made for walking through, a 60km/h environment is made for driving through. And  how do you accommodate a range of city preferences?