Thursday, 2 March 2017

From William Morris’ Walthamstow, to John Ball’s Colchester: how placemakers are co-opting the dead

Heritage has long been a hot topic in the UK, expressed both in the love for old buildings and in the business of regeneration. Less attention has been given to the complicated relationship between historical figures and place, particularly how placemaking makes use of them.

This goes further than the Blue Plaque scheme; the dead both etch their ghostly presences on the character of localities, and can be self-consciously chosen to help retell a story of place.

I want to look at how the dead and place interact through the two case studies – William Morris in Walthamstow, and John Ball in Colchester. I’ll be looking at how the dead intertwined themselves with place, how history becomes contested as they are made use of by placemakers, and what works (Read more @ CityMetric).

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Why the counterculture matters to placemaking – Wally Hope and the free festivals

With all the recent talk about the state of political resistance, it's easy to forget alternative narrative of resistance - how the counterculture and alternative culture informs and shapes space. This article charts an early movement – the Stonehenge Free Festivals – that reframed place. And how it was closed down. So why does alternative culture matter to placemaking?

Alternative culture (music, nightclubs, coffee houses, festivals, and so on) has formed the backbone of social and cultural change in the UK. It has contributed to the transformation of attitudes towards sexual freedom, women's liberation, gay liberation, tolerance, a critique of the mass media, artistic and cultural space, to name a few. The boundaries between normativity and outsiderliness were broken down as a result of what might broadly be understood as the 'counterculture'.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Alternate realities in the high street – a small psychogeography of gentrification in E17

Hoe St E17

Men shout at me as I take photos, the cars disrupt my frame, and the fumes choke my fragile lungs. I see Hoe Street through the lens of my camera, and it looks awful, containing none of the promises of my dreams. The sweeping curve of the street is gone, replaced by grey and dusty buildings and the sense of a litter of chaos.

I’ve always been fascinated by Hoe Street in Walthamstow, E17, at least, that bit of it which runs from Forest Road to the High Street. If life was fair and we lived in a different kind of world (and one that I only push at with my imagination), Hoe Street would be an ambling walk through beautiful old buildings, with art galleries, cafes, and bookshops. A place where you engage with the feel of the old, remade successfully in the present.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Is not-London the new London? An article in CityMetric

The novelist AL Kennedy recently said that‘being out of London is the new being in London.’ Ironically we were both moving to the same place for largely the same reasons, though my exit was less newsworthy and (possibly, who knows?) more agonised.

And it seems that those we'd categorise as thinking people have to consider their reasons for leaving London. We may decry gentrification, pollution, the struggle of managing children, and the lack of proximity of everything. And, after we have emotionally and physically extracted ourselves from this ‘problem,’ we await a better life on the outside, in whatever ‘like London but without the bad bits’ location you have chosen.

Continue reading @ CityMetric.

Friday, 25 November 2016

To preserve communities, not everything should be for sale

London, if not the whole of the UK, is in the oft-noted, midst of a housing crisis. House prices and rents along with them have reached levels of absurdity, while wages either stagnate or spiral downwards for the majority. Councils are effectively banned from building social housing, even if loopholes preventing them from building are being exploited by a small number, such as Camden
The super-rich are emptying Central London, and conservation districts messed with in the name of vulgar opulence. Gentrification scatters populations ever outwards, as the takeover by artists and cultural experimenters - who unwittingly and often unwillingly inflate land values - is followed by shopping centres, developer flats, and chain stores.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

What hipsters tell us about cities

Hipsters have received bad press in recent months, blamed for gentrification, poverty and a rash of beard oil shops in East London. Here I attempt to put the record straight, and ask, from the perspective of subcultural analysis, what exactly are hipsters all about, and should we be quite so mean to them?

Hipsters, subculture and the Cereal Killer Café

Anyone who lives in East London, as I used to until very recently, will be familiar with the term hipster, the (normally male) figures of the shaped hairstyle, unkempt beard, plaid shirt and tight trousers, serving coffee or being served coffee. There are variations on the theme, but that’s the stereotype. What is remarkable is the degree of hostility they attract. Hipster is a term of derision, spoken of with a curl of the lip and a roll of the eye. It is, as Michael Gosse points out in an essay called Creative Bodies: Hipsters, Clothing and Identity, a label applied by the out-group and not one adopted by the subculture.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Psychosocial relationships: William Morris, Walthamstow and gentrification

William Morris (1834-1896), noted designer and socialist, spent six years of his life, from the age of fourteen to twenty-two in what is now the William Morris Gallery in Lloyd Park, E17. Of course, many London buildings and even houses are marked by a, sometimes short, residency by famous public figures. They give culture and flavor to an area, often done as part of local area boosterism.

In Walthamstow, I would argue there is a confluence between the psychosocial spatiality of the area and the legacy of William Morris. This is, of course, much to do with the history of the house itself. The William Morris Gallery was first established in Morris's old residency in 1950, with artists Sir Frank Brangwyn and Arthur Mackmurdo donating collections to it, as well as housing many artifacts from Morris himself. From 2011 to 2012 it was substantially renovated, and as I have noted elsewhere on this blog, has become a key flagship regeneration project and influence.