2nd September 2016, Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society, 2016
Aim of the sessions
Despite the complex and multi-faceted dimensions of place making and development, critical engagements often focus on large metropolitan centres, whilst practice is informed by predominantly Western, metropolitan and professional experiences, suggesting an implicit tension arising through the privileging of social and cultural positions of both the observers and observed. Overlooked, perhaps, is the ordinary, everyday and banal sites of lived experience – the vernacular realm, neighbourhoods, small towns, the rural and informal settlement (Bell & Jayne, 2006; Edensor et al, 2010; Jones et al, 2012, Lombard, 2014). These three related sessions present inter-disciplinary research that focuses on ordinary place making, to reveal multiple, nuanced and diverse practices emergent through the lived experiences of communities engaged with attempts to inscribe place identity within their localities, exploring interconnections and conflicts arising within the nexus of professional/non-professional practices. In the first session, the tensions and disconnections between place making imaginaries, policy rhetoric and lived experience are explored through place-based case studies. The second session foregrounds critical enquiry and methodology applied to the context of everyday spaces within ordinary places, including adaptations that extend beyond physicality/materiality to generate atmosphere and engagement with multiple sensory experiences of place-making. The third session explores creative place making strategy and tactics to reveal affordances of arts and creativity as a source of inscribing place identity.
SESSION 1: place making case studies
New Town home town revisited: place making in Warrington New Town
Susan Fitzpatrick (York St John University, UK)
The conurbation of Birchwood formed part of the Mark III Partnership New Town at Warrington (UK). It was a place designated in 1968 and built in the early to mid-1970’s. This paper will delineate some key narratives relating to early efforts made by the Warrington New Town Development Corporation to establish a strong and arguably singular sense of place. The paper draws on archival sources and oral history interviews with “early settlers” in Birchwood. At stake is the question of how the institutional arrangements of the Development Corporation intersect with everyday constructions of cultural discourses surrounding both the places where early residents came from, and Birchwood itself. Two policy-led, place-making activities are considered in the paper: first the unique approach of ecological woodland landscaping or “Countryside on your doorstep” which the Corporation developed (Scott in Jorgenson 2004), and, second, the New Town’s resident designation policy; a set of criteria, which regulated residential access to corporation built houses in the 1970’s. Place-identity in the UK’s New Towns, when considered alongside work on urban sense of place literature (Massey 1991) could be theorised in terms of a perceived lack of various attributes such as character; heritage; a rapidly changing population; a dynamic built environment. This research, however, aims to locate the complex instances of social spatialisation in Birchwood, as Shields terms it: “The construction of the social imaginary (collective mythologies, presuppositions) as well as interventions in the landscape” (1991:31) which become operational in the process of populating a New Town through both policy directives and through the residents’ everyday lives.
Place-Making, Passion and The Ginnel That Roared
Morag Rose (University of Sheffield, UK)
This paper explores an ordinary place rendered extraordinary when it was threatened. Community action transformed an everyday path into a space of imagination, conflict and a conduit for wider debates around heritage, consultation and public space. In 2011, Manchester City Council (UK) revealed ambitious plans to redevelop key buildings and public realm in St Peters Square. This included refurbishing the library and town hall and erecting a new reception area, necessitating the enclosure of Library Walk, a curved alleyway that bisects the two buildings. A campaign group quickly emerged challenging the official description of the path as dangerous and unloved; they reframed Library Walk as a site of civic pride, beauty and considerable affective resonance. Friends of Library Walk mobilised in a variety of ways, including an action “beating the bounds” of the contested area utilising vernacular tradition to reassert community ownership. They revealed the multiplicities of a space the council defined as merely an accidental void between buildings. This work offers an autoethnographic account of community place-making. It will discuss lessons learned when folk came together to define, defend, and celebrate Library Walk. It explores both why this place became so important to people; helping define their belonging in the contemporary urban landscape, and the disconnection felt when that environment was ruptured. This revealed hidden power dynamics, issues of land ownership and the fissure between Planning Regulations and citizen passion. This is the story of the ginnel that roared.
Place becoming: exploring the ‘entanglement’ of ordinary place-making and planning in regional Australia
Sue Kyte (Griffith University, Australia)
State-led renewal policies and planning interventions have been widely critiqued as privileging economic and spatial outcomes without fully recognising the complexity of socio-spatial processes and the contribution of residents in constructing place as a location and site of meaning. This paper explores the interaction of ordinary place-making and formal planning in Cooroy, a regional Australian town forced to re-assess its future after the loss of key industries including a timber mill; a major employer that reflected the town’s timber-getting roots. Attempts by local businesses to seek financial compensation from state government failed but the contaminated, flood-prone site was ‘given’ to the community to be held in trust by the local government authority. Tensions between the business community and Council prevented agreement on the future of the land and led to the establishment of a community board representing residents including young people, and community organisations, as well as Councilors, and Council staff. Interviews with board members revealed how place identity and sense of place were a significant influence on planning decisions for the site. Residents and local Councilors convinced Council planning and economic development staff to retain mill buildings earmarked for demolition. Residents’ attachment to these buildings and willingness to invest their own resources in the restoration and re-use highlight the way in which social and cultural elements of place and identity can be vested in the physical; an attachment that is often undervalued or misunderstood by local government and built environment professionals. Decision-making for the site remains contested but collaboration has contributed to design outcomes for a new library and open spaces that incorporate residents’ lived experience and social and cultural activities integral to ongoing place-making.
Where is our Place? The Forced Rise of a Bottomup Neighborhood Movement in the Postsocialist City
Jacek Kotus (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland)
Michał Rzeszewski (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland)
Tomasz Sowada (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland)
Dominika Pazder (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland)
In the recent years in Poland, there is a visible rise of grassroots movements concerned with urban space. Places and placemaking focus the attention of city dwellers on a scale never before seen in a postsocialist reality. We present here the case of Asnyk Square in Poznan, where topdown design intervention initiated by city planners sparked the local movement. The rebuilding of the public square, undertaken without public consultations, changed its function and appearance dramatically and in result significantly altered its genius loci. Authorities claimed that they created an “urban salon” but since memorial plates of famous people were the most prominent feature, the square was soon dubbed “salon of the dead”. Only then, did neighbourhood residents become aware of the importance of the square in their everyday lives and how they were deprived of ‘their’ place, the place that they had taken for granted. Since the “renovation” was already implemented the only viable option that was left for them was to protest. They established Internet communication, organized themselves and eventually forced consultations and redesigning. Now the square is equipped with an outdoor gym and children playground. However, superficial changes are no longer enough and the struggle is ongoing. It seems that reshaping of Asnyk square empowered local community and produced active and engaged citizens. This is just one of the examples of a growing phenomenon in which paradigm change towards real participation in spatial planning is forced by bottom up initiatives fueled by increasing appreciation of public places.
“I’m not trying to be Warrington’s answer to Banksy”: amateur knitters and quiet activisms in ordinary places
Laura Price (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Session 2: Place making enquiry
On place making as Bringingtogetherness and some implications for community
Hannah Pitt (University of Cardiff, UK)
Something of a disjuncture has developed between interest in place making as a field of professional practice and policy, and geographic theories of place and space. Attempting to bridge this divide I propose a theory of place making derived from empirical study of ordinary practices and processes of communities making places special to them. Massey suggests relational places are a Throwntogetherness, coming together by chance resulting in masses of different journeys converging (2005). But she does not detail the processes involved or consider a role for deliberate place shaping. Places are not wholly unpredictable as spatial processes often follow rhythmic patterns (Edensor et al 2010), and are shaped by the agency of actors from state down to ‘ordinary’ residents (Lombard 2014). Hence, I propose place making as bringing movements together, guided by skill and feelings as people work to achieve goals, which can include the will to shape places they want to enjoy. Cases of communities making shared vernacular greenspaces demonstrate that involvement in place making practices contributes to sense of community as belonging together amongst a particular constellation of socio-spatial rhythms. However, one quality of these processes is how people pull towards those they have affinity with, resulting in places more homogeneous than Massey suggests. The significance of belonging developed through participation in place making processes may limit the spatio-temporal extent of benefits arising. These characteristics have implications for community building and the potential for place making to form relationships across difference.
Investigating ordinary place making in UK University student halls of residences
Mark Holton (Plymouth University, UK)
Recent discussions of the geographies of students have called for a reassessment of the ‘spaces of education’ to investigate the influence of campuses, accommodation and social environments upon students’ interactions with term-time locations and specifically how student-centric spaces may improve student experiences. This literature can be extended through a consideration of how students living in halls of residences negotiate their ordinary place making as they transition from the family home and how this contributes towards the development and maintenance of the student experience. This is pertinent as the residential experiences of UK students are viewed as complex and multi-scalar. By exploring the micro-geographies of the shared living spaces within halls (common rooms, kitchens and corridors), this paper will examine how students negotiate the formal and informal shared spaces of their term-time accommodation through their interactions, routines and domestic behaviours. In doing so, this will highlight the temporality of students’ experiences of home and place making and how this may produce different emotional connections between flatmates as they negotiate their identities and relationships. This is useful as such, communal environments may constitute important spaces for the formation of social bonds for young people and may assist in alleviating the pressures of marginalisation and self-segregation within what can be strikingly homogenous and segregated spaces.
Dereliction and revival: belongingness among migrants and locals in Toxteth
Zana Vathi (Edge Hill University, UK)
Kathy Burrell (University of Liverpool, UK)
This paper interweaves cultural geography, urban sociology and environmental psychology to investigate the role of the physical environment in the belongingness of locals and migrants. It looks at Toxteth, which holds a special place in Liverpool’s history due to its human and spatial diversity. The area combines various historical landmarks with major city parks and inhabited areas that were severely marginalised in mid-to-late 20th century. These issues aggravated after the 1981 riots, which had among others a high negative impact on the material space – only partly addressed by the regeneration processes in the 1990s-00s. Research conducted in 2015 shows that migrants and locals relate to the area through different cognitive geographies. The material consequences of failed housing programmes and the lack of amenities in Toxteth appear to weaken the sense of community and belongingness. At the same time, dereliction and regeneration of the area reinforce place identity and strengthen the sense of neighbourhood identity among the locals. Through these spatial ‘wounds’ and more recent revival the locals feel they have a special claim to the area and a particular nostalgia that strengthens a sense of unity and belongingness. Interestingly, migrants engage in a more comparative aesthetic analysis in their relationship with their locality, drawing on their memories of their locations of origin and their mobility experiences. The physical environment especially appears to affect their shifting sense of belonging to Toxteth, but how this is manifested depends on their background and immigration experience into Liverpool. Overall, the findings point to the enduring importance of the physical environment for the shaping of different local attachments.
Place-Making with Light
Tim Edensor (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
This paper explores the capacity for illumination to foster and deepen a sense of place, focusing on two very different examples that demonstrate how light is deployed to re-enchant space. Firstly, I focus on Chris Burden’s Urban Light, situated on a previously bland area of paving alongside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and adjacent to the busy Wilshire Boulevard. The installation comprises a dense arrangement of 202 restored street lamps from the 1920s and 30s that were formerly situated across Southern California, all painted in a uniform grey and clustered together in a regular geometric grid. The installation conjures up a vanished world of public space and ornate street décor that critically contrasts with roads now primarily devised to facilitate the speedy transit of motor vehicles. Urban Light reconfigures this providing a convivial, nocturnal public space in which a host of activities take place and in its unusual dense gridded form, a sensuous attraction through which bodies can weave. Secondly, I discuss Matlock Bath Illuminations, a vernacular light festival held on four successive weekends at the end of summer in this small Derbyshire town. The occasion attracts thousands of visitors each night, and features around ten rowing boats decked in colourful themed illuminations that make their way along the River Derwent. The display acts to defamiliarize what is by day a riverside walk devised to satisfy the romantic desires of those seeking a picturesque encounter with ‘nature’ in a national park. Yet as with Urban Light, it produces a powerful historical resonance, honouring the Victorian origins of the event by initiating proceedings with the display of a candlelit boat
Your place or mine? ‘Ordinary’ place-making in a fast-changing English provincial city
Ben Rogaly (University of Sussex, UK)
‘Places left behind often accompany subjects on their journeys as welcome or unwanted baggage and infiltrate other places, creating a kind of palimpsest of spatial meanings’ (Kilian and Wolf, 2016: 8). This paper forms part of a recent study of place-making in the provincial city of Peterborough, England involving ethnography, oral history and creative arts. Rather than using ‘ordinary’ as a euphemism for white ‘indigenous’ long-settled people who do not migrate, it explores the idea that people constructed as ‘natives’ also move, while people understood to be ‘migrants’ may stay put. The paper reveals relations between places within Peterborough and also between Peterborough and its multiple elsewheres – through people’s memories, experiences and imaginings of, other places at various scales – from a single room, to a whole country or even continent. This relational approach to understanding place-making involved oral history interviews with residents – newcomers and long-term residents alike – about their connections with other places, places beyond, places they variously came from, still went to visit or work in, as well as places they avoided or fantasized about. Such discursive and affective connections and disconnections are explored alongside material place-making dynamics emanating from the political economy of the city, including council-led corporate regeneration and small acts of resistance and deviance.
Session 3: place making and creativity
Cultivating permaCultural resilience: towards a critical praxis for Creative Placemaking
Anita McKeown (Independent Researcher)
This paper presents a critical praxis for Creative Placemaking (CP) including a nascent framework, practical methods and evaluation rubric to develop permaCultural resilience (pCr); the ability of a location to adapt to changing conditions initiated by a systemic Arts-led process. Trialed in London, Dublin and New Mexico, a trans-disciplinary, Open Source and resilient model of praxis moved away from live/work schemes, landmark cultural projects, design enhancements and the place-making expert. By integrating the ethics and design principles of Permaculture into a situated arts-led process of engagement of co-production for self-organisation, the emergent praxis is proposed as an operating system for CP. Within the proposed system, an Arts-led approach is used to develop micro-ecologies and facilitate the cross-pollination and integration of existing local knowledge and expertise. The knowledge synthesised is represented in accessible forms, explored in tangible ways, and deployed within catalysts that seek to affect change: whether a change in perception, knowledge, process or behaviour. Through Arts-led experimentation the means of piloting new ways to communicate and interact within a geo-location forms the basis of a continuous re-shaping of the physical and social character of place. This in turn initiates and facilitates locally scaled self-organisation towards potential solutions grown from the inside-out. The initiation of self-organised citizen CP is achieved through the creation of opportunities to reveal and actualise local potential and resources, allowing for emergent adaptive behaviour. Through the re-deployment of resources and services in a creative, effective manner, citizens are encouraged to re-imagine existing place narratives through diverse understandings of place, emerging from the everyday.
Place Making in the 21st Century Consumer Culture: Co-authoring Self-expressive Art Experiences
Zafeirenia Brokalaki (King’s College London, UK)
George Neris (University College London, UK)
My research paper focuses on the emancipatory potential of participatory art concerned with the collective understanding and elaboration of meaning, the communal aspect of art experience and the political dimension of participatory self-expression (Bishop 2006; Zachary 2012). The study examines the interplay between art, lived experiences, and the socio-political sphere and explains how art can be used to metamorphose our everyday places (Zukin 2011). Thus, we explore the role of participatory art in the sociocultural politics of consumption of public space by examining collectively created and collaboratively consumed grassroots arts experiences aiming at political activism (Bardhi and Eckhardt 2012; Chatzidakis, Maclaran and Bradshaw 2012). More specifically, we look at shared self-expressive art experiences in the context of an economic catastrophe in order to investigate the impact of structural conditions of shared hardship on sharing and collaboration phenomena (Belk 2010), the role of art participation in the sharing and communal use of public goods, particularly, public space, and its consequent effect on the formation of the public sphere. We examine the research questions from a critical perspective using ethnography for one case study of a consumption space in Athens, Greece, a country that has suffered from an economic recession for the last eight years. This particular consumption space utilizes the arts as the primary source to form an active community of citizens challenged to imagine and create new modes of being, alternative collaborative market models and unconventional collective social organisation examples, as well as to motivate its visitors to potentially replace existing state structures by contributing to community empowerment, to the economy, to the development of the local area and to the social recovery.
The role of small-scale cultural events in transforming ordinary spaces
Elaine Rust (University of Southampton, UK)
Urban study has a tendency to focus on the city and the extraordinary, overlooking the smaller town and the apparently mundane. Bell and Jayne (2006, p. 683) lament that, where it exists, research in this area is ‘patchy.’ Small towns, however, offer locations where the intricacies of the everyday are more noticeable (Besser, 2009). Viewing the ordinary place through the lens of cultural events reveals that these places are far from being bland or uninteresting. In contrast, cultural events possess the potential to transform an ordinary space into an individual place, whose identity can be forged on the reputation of a single event. Study in this field is currently minimal, with research centred on the larger scale, yet the latter are often rare or one-off and require major investment (Getz, 2008). Small-scale cultural events in small towns are more regular, less costly and can be viewed as a key component of the life of such places, punctuating the mundane with vibrancy and vitality. They are, consequently, worthy of further enquiry. This PhD research explores the social and cultural role of such small-scale events through case studies of three very different English market towns in the south of England. One case study in particular reveals that, although apparently popular and welcoming to all, there is an underlying narrative that subverts the spirit of carnival, as understood by Bakhtin (1984) in his interpretation of Rabelais; where alternative behaviours would be tolerated for one day. Beneath the veil of inclusivity, the reality is quite different.
Learning from Blackpool Promenade: re-energising and re-enchanting ordinary sterile streets
Steve Millington (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
Following Venturi’s et al (1972) invitation to reassess popular taste, vernacular style and excess, this paper examines Blackpool’s Promenade and famous “Golden Mile”, a place largely insulated from international design and creative place-making conventions. Principles embedded in documents such as Manual for Streets, encourage the over-design and regulation of streets, including measures that preclude social gathering or intentionally design-out itinerant groups. Consequently, the street is subject to serial reproduction of sterile and unsensual “non-spaces” as anticipated by Augé (1995). Blackpool does it differently. The reconstruction of The Promenade through a functional necessity to improve sea-defences also provided an opportunity to transform the public realm of this seaside resort through a series of creative interventions encouraging walking, gathering and social interaction. These include sites of playfulness, such as the Comedy Carpet, a public space covered by a compendium of Britain’s funniest jokes. Tactile materials, steps and sculptural forms encourage visitors to experience multiple sensations through sounds, smells and visuals. Within this streetscape, however, sites of local identity and distinctiveness remain prominent, unfrozen heritage attractions such as the Tower and North Pier; whereas new sculptures including 30m high blades of illuminated “dune grass” contribute to a defamiliarisation of space. The Blackpool visitor stands in contradistinction to the figure of the sophisticated, detached flâneur, as Blackpool affords a convivial, collective engagement with linear space coproduced with place-makers who tacitly understand those who use the space. We conclude that Blackpool provides an alternative manifesto for small towns and ordinary place, to the creative place making commonly associated with the metropolis.
Re-imagining everyday spaces: creative place-making in suburban high-rise neighbourhoods in France and Canada
Roza Tchoukaleyska (York University, Canada)
Kathryn Travis (York University, Canada)
This paper will examine processes of place-making through a comparative study of suburban high-rise neighbourhoods in Paris (France) and Toronto (Canada). Drawing on experiential research methods, we seek to explore processes of spatial appropriation and creative adaptation by residents living in neighbourhoods subject to state-led high-rise renewal initiatives. We are interested in the tensions produced when formal policy meets neighbourhood initiatives: while residents are claiming high-rise public spaces as their own through minute everyday actions, persistent usage, performance and spectacle; municipal directives seek to label these same spaces as ‘failed’, and in need of top-down intervention. The resulting contestation raises questions about the function and meaning of high-rise public spaces, and calls for engaged and interactive methods to capture the range of experiences. In this light, our focus in this presentation will be two-fold. First, we will outline the discrete forms of public space appropriation enacted by residents in Toronto and Paris, with a focus on creative resistance to high-rise renewal policy. Further, we will consider how ethnographic methods such as walking-whilst-talking, sound recordings, visual mappings, and others reveal the complexity of everyday experiences. Working across these two registers, we aim to stress the affective side of place-making in scholarly practice. Depending on the approach and philosophy of the scholar (and discipline), the scholar-as-creator emerges alongside the communities and places they are working with.
Link to conference overview