“Critical California”.
Anarchitect’s Go West ( in Derby ) cycling in search of the American Dream
( looking at the corporate impact on the urban environment)

“California” that’s what they originally called the area of Stockbrook, Derby UK, named around the time of the US 1849 Goldrush. Now known as ‘Stocky’ to locals it was once a thriving industrial area, filled with all sorts of flourishing independent businesses and a strongly connected community. But that was a long time ago, way before big box Walmart and all the other High Street giants came to town.
So it was in the space normally occupied by real tourists, tired shoppers, vagrants, alcoholics and stray dogs, that prospective participants were being greeted, booked in on a bicycle tour, and asked to fill out their visa applications before being eligible for travel to California.
After the obligatory visa checks, the participants were given a brief introduction by their tour guides, Ange Taggart and Chris Graham, quickly learning this wasn’t going to be the sort of tour to encompass great architectural facades, or point out the relevance of rococo influences in modern building designs. This was going to be different, a bicycle tour searching for the American Dream run by an ex nanny and ex burglar both experienced anarchitects.

After weeks of piss poor cloudy weather, miles of pedalling around talking with the locals, the first Critical California tour finally began in the glorious sunshine from outside the Assembly Rooms in the centre of town. I don’t know what the shoppers of Derby expected to see in the High Street on a Sunday morning, but you can bet they didn’t expect to see a vandalised rickshaw, announcing the next tours, heckling high street stores, cheering and waving to those on bikes, followed by a group of smiling, if somewhat bemused cyclists.

The tour headed out of town past Farmfoods where the megaphone blared “it’s not from farms and it’s not proper food!” setting the tone for what was to come.
At the first of the scheduled stops, Abbey Street Car Park, the cyclists dismounted and heard tales of the American Dream, illustrated by Levi Strauss, Arnold Schwarzenneger and several agitated homeless people, of how ‘the dream’ has not been attainable for all.
On one of the tours a local homeless man embarked upon a mission to stop the tour it took several minutes of confusion, before the people realised this wasn’t part of tour and the smell of piss and beer was genuine. Once he realised we were’nt from the DHSS and it was after all National Bike Week he was happy for us to continue.

Participants were told how the area had changed over the last 3 decades, since the arrival of the superstores and one stop shopping. Pointing out the businesses left on the outskirts of the city centre that could no longer sustain the community or aid it’s problems. Small businesses and shoppers being f**ked over by corporations, Chris illustrated the point with Cocka Cola, a large strap-on, prototype dildo. Earlier in the week, Chris in an act of anti-consumer irony had enquired in the local Adult Shop if they would be interested in selling the object as people didn’t seem to mind being ‘F**ked over by corportations’, whilst Ange scuttled out on a series of midnight missions of 4 x 4 Play, taking off into the night to f**k cars, a video of this was screened at the supporting presentations made in the week after the tour.

Cycling onwards, past derelict houses, fenced off empty plots, through an industrial area left waiting on the promise of regeneration from the forthcoming multi million pound ring road, to Snack Attack, the second stop. Here the tour guides explained that everyone is not the same, isn’t able to buy the same, doesn’t want to look or live the same. Illustrated this time by a more real version of Barbie and Ken (crack whore Barbie, drug pimp Ken) shattering the illusion, that we can all be beautiful and happy, if we buy the right products.

Then off again past white vans, skips and external household beautification, “Thank you Fascia Mania” signs littering the way up to the park at the end of Bramfield Avenue. The tour stopped in the park under the much needed shade of the trees to explain “the true reality of the real thing”. A hard, dark look at abuse and exploitation in consumer society, paralleled to grooming and child abuse through personal anecdotes from Chris. This stop gave us a rest and chance to consider ways that people and communities actively resist corporate control. One participant, a teacher in the local school, shared his experiences of supporting pupils to plant and grow their own organic fruit and vegetables in the school garden.

The tour then weaved it’s way through the park to Joy’s Minimarket, the final stop. As the tour dismounted they were provided with water and chocolate, laid on by the joint owners Dal and his brother Manj.

Several of the participants still seemed alarmed when they were told that independent businesses like Joy’s were fighting back against corporate control and consumerism with weapons of mass destruction. That was until Ange and Chris produced “anthrax” “sarin” an “atom bomb”, a “grenade” and several other harmless explosive devices made from household objects, inspired by fellow anarchitect Richard Dedomenici.

The participants were thanked for their participation and asked to continue to support their local stores in their areas before they saddled up and returned to the market square. From there on it was all down hill past the tallest church in the area, St Luke’s, feeling the sun on their sweaty backs as they pedalled back into the hustle and bustle of the city centre to the tune of California Dreaming.
Chris Graham