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Waiting for Orders

Observation at Boxhagener Platz


Note. Locations of waiting riders compiled from multiple observations.

Boxhagener Platz is a very busy square/park in the neighbourhood. On sunny days the park is always completely full of people relaxing, taking breaks, eating lunches and gathering in groups. These groups stay late into the evening drinking and hanging out together. It is a major social hub in the area. The park is also a hotspot area where bike couriers commonly wait between orders.

The bike couriers who wait around the park seem to be excluded from the social experience that everyone else is participating in. Not only are they physically removed – by sitting on the fence form a literal border between the activity of the park and the flow of traffic on the street – but also socially, the vast majority of the bike couriers sit on their own, staring at their phones while waiting for orders; only rarely did I see any couriers interacting with each other and only once did I see a courier interacting with a non courier.

One observation encapsulated this separation; I watched as a bike courier entered the park walking out onto the grass. I was intrigued because I thought perhaps the courier was delivering food to someone inside the park. Instead the courier walked to an open spot of grass, sat down and removed their Lieferando jacket indicating that they were no longer working and therefore allowed to spend time inside the park.

Erich

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Sometimes, he is alone and he has to manage delivery cyclists plus the customers queuing in front of the door, all waiting for their orders. On top of that, there are orders made by phone.

Mark (fictitious name) Turin, Italy
Former delivery cyclist, now restaurant worker

Mark explained that receiving delivery orders was crucial to keep the business open during the first wave of the pandemic. The volume of orders was actually higher than ever and quite stressful to handle. At the same time, thanks to the curfew and to the fact that no customer was approaching the restaurant for take-away orders, it was all in all more manageable. Nowadays, he would rather just handle delivery orders, as having the customers on site makes it more stressful. “Normally, one can offer an appetizer or let them sit to wait. Currently, they have to wait outside on the pavement for their take-away orders, so they soon get nervous and complain if their meal is not ready at the speed of light. Still, they can see that I am often the only one in the restaurant”. He went on by explaining that Glovo often miscalculates times so the delivery cyclist arrives too early to collect the food. He said this is also not fair for the cyclist, wasting a lot of time where another order could be taken in the meantime. The service is also the most expensive one, charging the restaurant 35% on each order’s amount. As far as he recalls, other services charge around 20-25% per order.

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The above extract shows overlapping needs and activities happening in one place, at the same time, with food as the central element. Nonetheless, it can be noted how time is becoming more and more an invaluable aspect for all the intersecting needs around food. More than sociality and nourishment, the focus is more on rapidity, on each individual’s need, creating a disconnection from the others’ feelings. The significance of the place (the restaurant) seems to be shifting towards a less relevant, socially-connoted space: it is a momentary stop to collect food for him/herself, not a site for encounters. As a reaction to a changing world, where the ongoing pandemic has further exacerbated certain dynamics and conflicts, our current times look unstable: conflicting views, struggles and claims populate territories and virtual spaces, redrawing cultural lines, sometimes by creating even stronger separation lines. Cultural geography invites us to focus exactly on the temporary residues left by the cultural life (meaning the intersections of cultures and context) taking place in a specific moment in time, in a specific location. Places are considered as dynamic (cultural) entities with multiple possible translations and shifting meanings, “ongoing compositions of traces”.  Such an ever-evolving, open approach tries to grasp the fluidity of places, of their meanings and of human interactions. It stresses out the fact that “we relate, therefore we are” - and through such material and immaterial traces produced we shape places.

At the same time, the “digital turn” of geography invites us to take into consideration how geographies  are more and more “through, by and of” the digital. It is important to critically analyse such socio-political implications, as data and spaces are computed, distances flattened and space and time contracted to fit algorithms.

Mariangela

Observation at GORILLAS distribution hub in Kreuzberg, Berlin


The GORILLAS dispatch center in Berlin-Kreuzberg. New goods are being unloaded from a delivery truck. The black banner hanging from the window reads “FUCK OFF, GORILLAS”.

GORILLAS is a newcomer in the delivery world, since 2020 the startup is present in Berlin, expanding rapidly in other German cities as well. Their riders deliver groceries to the clients – within 10 minutes after placing the order, promises the company. In an attempt to fulfil this ambitious goal, GORILLAS needs central hubs within their delivery areas from where the riders can pick up the products and deliver them to the customer. In this new hyper-local delivery model supply hubs have to be close to the demanding end consumer. Naturally, those areas are densely populated central districts of Berlin, most of them residential. In the case of the hub in Berlin-Kreuzberg, residents are complaining about the noise and traffic obstructions, and more generally a conflict over the use of public space has emerged as the sidewalk serves as a logistics area, break room for waiting riders and bike storage for their bikes all at the same time.

The case of the GORILLAS hub is different from the regular food delivery rider waiting in front of a restaurant, for several reasons: They are essentially trying to replace supermarkets, but because of their 10-minute promise they need to be in densely populated, residential areas - which often means narrow roads and limited space. In comparison to supermarkets, their hubs do not provide large private outside space for (un)loading goods and work equipment (in the GORILLAS case those are the bikes), therefore these activities are moved to the public space instead. Also, because riders return to the same hub, they know each other and gather in groups talking while waiting for the next ride. This causes more obstruction to people passing by than drivers waiting individually in front of restaurants. Furthermore, the city landscape is shifting as a space originally meant for small retail and little shops suddenly becomes a logistics center not really fitting its surrounding residential atmosphere. While the black dressed GORILLAS riders seem to be less visible in the city scape than other delivery employees, the impact of the related infrastructure is more disruptive in comparison.

This observation gives a first insight into what are the consequences of setting up a hyper-local logistics hub in the middle of a residential area.

Nora

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References

Anderson, J. (2021). Understanding Cultural Geography. Routledge.

Ash, J., Kitchin, R., & Leszczynski, A. (2018). Digital turn, digital geographies? Progress in Human Geography, 42(1), 25–43. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132516664800