Open Wireless Network

OWN was a mesh of Wi-Fi radios set up by James Stevens and SPC in 2008, covering large parts of Deptford, London SE8. Deptford is an innercity borough with a history of migration and working-class labour stretching to the imperial docks. Been heavily bombed in WW2, Deptford features vast council-owned housing estates, housing associations, and still affordable solutions for students from the near Goldsmiths, University of London. OWN picked to more than 400 daily users and about 100 nodes, a few years ago. Due to funding and time constraints, as well as to the less stringent digital divide brought by 4g phones and flexible broadband provision, OWN was temporarily abandoned in 2014. Later, it has been forked into MAZI zone, an ERC project with wireless technologies and Smart City flavour.

Screenshot of OWN live map, focus on Creekside Deptford (2015).

OWN set mostly around the Creekside, where the river Ravensbourne touches the strong tides of the nearby Thames. This is the latest gentrification frontier in SE London, with developers putting a lot of emphasis on the ‘cultural quarter’: Deptford is now said to be second only to Shoreditch for number of artists, studios, and exhibitions. This sounds at least peculiar, since the incoming gentrification has done tabula rasa of the affordable places used by independent artists and art students from Goldsmiths. In this controversial and evolving scenario, OWN provided free access to the ‘commercial Internet’ plus the possibility to experiment with mesh networking for local residents.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the early stages of this evolving network, hosting a node in my own flat for a few years, and actively participating to the weekly drop-in workshop called ‘Wireless Wednesday’. I have now written a paper on the connections between wireless proximity and anonymity vis-a-vis community building—published as a book chapter for Communicating the City (Peter Lange); and as an article for the journal City (Routledge), where I try to unpack the relationship between the social history of OWN and the rapid displacement of working-class residents, that the gentrification of Creekside is bringing about. Please feel free to download my papers and discuss my take on this complex phenomenon of urban change and smart technologies.

Wireless Wednesday drop-in workshop, at bitspace near Deptford.

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