Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Bluestocking Salon: Regeneration & The Public Realm

so, immediately after thursday’s Evening of Modernist Delights, a mini cavalcade of brunswick bluestockings and i travelled to london to participate in TINAG. my contributionwas billed rather grandly as a

‘Blue Stocking Salon: Regeneration & The Public Realm: an informal tea and conversation on the theme of contemporary urban renewal and its aftermath; introduction to walks and research into the Castlefield Urban Heritage Park and Manchester...’

tinag is a rather marvellous endeavour. a quick peruse of its website rewards with this summary: This Is Not A Gateway {TINAG} is a voluntary organisation that creates arenas/platforms for those whose point of reference is the city. Working across disciplines, TINAG encourages inter-cultural dialogue and rigorous production through four strands...

armed with a sturdy teapot, a 3 tiered cake-stand and my trusty bluestockings, off i set to meet and make friends with an army of international urbanists, activists and dreamers. my afternoon tea was planned for the last afternoon, an attempt to bring something of the informality of the bluestocking circle to the present day, an opportunity to reflect on issues raised during the festival. my hope was that killing castlefield, a project and series of walks along the leeds – liverpool canal for last summer’s artranspennine08, might provide a suitable backdrop and case study for a more general reflection on urban regeneration and its legacies.

and hanbury hall, a disused huguenot church hall in the heart of spitalfields, turned out to be the perfect setting - spruced up and painted by the tinag team it turned into an ideal hub for a thoroughly modern salon, just the place where a likeminded group might meet over tea and cake to chat and exchange ideas and information on a particular topical theme.

the hall was the bustling heart of the festival, filled morning to night with a series of talks, discussions and armchair sessions, whilst the tea shop provided the perfect spot to take in the exhibitions, films and project launches or rest a while and plan what to see next. over the weekend i settled there often to listen, watch, read and make friends. perhaps my favourite encounter was with the bulgarian photographer Nikola Mihov ‘s mother, a poet who last visited Britain in 1973 enjoying the opportunity for a whistlestop tour of the south of England with her coterie of young post-socialist era born urbanistas, the TRACE project team. like her i was captivated by the enthusiasm, energy, insights and perspectives emanating from this veritable hub of global urbanism.

finally the time came for my own session. tea was brewed, cakes and biscuits sliced and my little pamphlets scattered on armchairs and tables. gradually the space filled up and around thirty guests settled in whilst a slideshow of snapshots of castlefield and the surrounding waterfronts was projected on screen to illustrate twenty years of manchesters urban redevelopment.

to kick start proceedings i offered a brief resume of some of the festival themes, ideas and discussions that might resonate around the room and spark off conversation. and the attendees, hailing from birmingham, london, belgium, germany, bulgaria, sweden and far flung perth swiftly set the agenda, with conversation ranging across general and specific experiences of the processes and consequences of social housing renewal projects, how they affect what it means to be community and how we at grass roots level might influence and shape the city as it continues to grow and change. what we all seemed to agree on was that present and past dominant models haven’t proved satisfactory, that the ever growing schism between social and private housing is extremely inadequate and that there is a growing apprehension and tension around the ideal and future of shared public space and the public realm.

and afterwards as i packed away my tea set and said my goodbyes to this inspiring room of urbanists, activists, citizens and residents of the 21st century i was struck by how similar our experiences are no matter where we hail from and despite ostensible differences; that there is an urgency to addressing how we live in cities, who creates them, who they are for and how we can continue to create conversations and grow strength from each other’s experiences, to ensure that our cities are truly spaces for all, not merely a privileged few.

on a personal note, it renewed my faith in face to face conversation and forums for discussion and i am hesitantly looking forward to attempting to create a regular manchester salon or tea group where we too can share thoughts, ideas and concerns and get to know each other ‘off-line’…watch this space!!

Post script: For anyone with the strength to carry on reading, here’s a transcript of my introduction to the session:

the images up on screen are a snap shot, a photo album of a series of journeys exploring castlefield urban heritage park and its surrounding canalways made as a personal response to an article that appeared on Manchester confidential called Killing Castlefield.

A flyer is scattered about which attempts to summarise the histories, decline and renewal of this historic district of Manchester. Do take a look of you want to know more about Castlefield’s story. It was originally presented for artranspennine08 as a series of journeys and walks, of drifts and explorations, documenting its forgotten landscape by the Edwardian flaneuse Miss EP Niblock.
Artranspennine08 was the third incarnation of a 5 yearly art festival which reached out from Manchester and Liverpool across the Pennine region taking in Leeds, Sheffield and Hull. This latest version saw over fifty emerging and established artists placing artworks, staging events, making videos, and hosting exhibitions in cyberspace and in multiple venues and locations throughout the Pennines; responses to the notion of the Transpennine region first mooted back in 1998.
Killing Castlefield’ was an examination of an urban success story of the eighties and nineties, interrogating accepted orthodoxies surrounding dominant models of urban renewal, a warning to the relentless redevelopment of our cities, investigating the past, present and future of Castlefield, the granddaddy of a plethora of subsequence schemes across the city and triumphantly designated ‘Britain’s first Urban Heritage Park’. Now as a new breed of developers hover ever closer in an unseemly land grab, the mismanagement and short-termism inherent in the cultural strategy teams responsible for the ‘branding’ of our cities and the profusion of identikit renaissance schemes in other cities, despite increasing recognition of their economic and moral redundancy, has never been clearer.

there have been numerous echoes of the last twenty years of Manchester’s own urban renewal programme this weekend at TINAG. globally it seems we are facing the same challenges and responding in a variety of ways, contesting entrepreneurialism and the erosion of our public spaces. In the exhibition monumental architectural complexes in post socialist Bulgaria, the tension between preserving and regeneration and the contestation of location, memory and space take on a particular political tenor. the emerging case studies from many of our post socialist neighbours such as duopolis aptly capture questions we have not successfully debated in our own experiences of regeneration, that we perhaps have so far swept under the carpet but that post recession we can no longer afford to ignore. Views from above and below, depicting neighbourhoods in Istanbul and London, presented an international perspective on a familiar trend of privatisation of urban land, entrepreneurial governance and aspirations to attain world class status, something Manchester does relentlessly – there is never a time when we aren’t bidding for a games, a super casino, a major football tournament. City change, exploring the urban festival as culturally led regenerational tool in the historic city of Porto, has echoes of the now abandoned Castlefield festival in the specially created amphitheatre, a core element of its roman reconstruction (largely invented or embellished from frugal remains!). How can such initiatives have real legacy and community sustainability once the developers have gone? And whilst such urban transformations continue and gather pace, who benefits, and who loses out?
Questions that rose immediately to mind for me include –
· is the past worth preserving and if so whose history is told?
· What do we want from the contemporary city and how can culture construct a path to this city?
· When major regeneration programmes such as spitalfields in london, new Islington in Manchester and the other millennium projects swing into action, what has it meant to local populations, what is its aftermath? What were the ideas underpinning the projects and who was driving them?
· What is a successful regeneration project and what does it look like?

· What will we take back as urbanists to our respective cities and situations?

Slideshow photo album.
- some of these appear on the flyer and blogsite killing castlefield; more will follow shortly….

Oxford rd to knott mill – exploration of the arterial route in and out of castlefield, still a somewhat neglected way to navigate the city often deserted apart from a few anglers, the odd solitary jogger or dog walker and a large colony of swans, geese and ducks, despite clean up campaigns and clusters of regeneration around its basins,.

Castlefield is the story of movement, trade, travel and commerce, on the intersections of 2 important revolutions, canals then railways, running and forming the leeds / Liverpool canal route. The Castlefield Basin is the original Mamucium, arguably the largest single contributor to the prosperity and growth of Manchester, its influence spanning 2 millennia – home of the Roman fort, the world’s first passenger railway station, the Museum of Science & Industry, as well as epicentre of the legendary Granadaland, the first independent purpose built television studios, designed by Sir Ralph Tubbs, architect of the 1951 Festival of Britain’s centrepiece, the dome of discovery.
Nb – regeneration of the canals is not without contestation, as the cleaning up of the silted up canals accompanies the clearing up of the active gay cruising grounds along its city centre edges, censuring and tidying away these perceived unsavoury aspects of canal life with what many activists have described as the commodification of manchesters gay community, containing it into its own district, reducing it to a mecca for the stag and hen party boom and a presence in the official pink history trail. Manchester has long been quick to seize on the commercial values of many of its unique cultures across the city, the gay village, the northern quarter, the curry mile, the Italian quarter, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, the first urban heritage park, all part of the campaign of the original modern city….

Knott mill to potato wharf – the heart of erstwhile Heritage Park. 2 main narratives, the industrial city of Stephenson bell, railways and the roman city, the fort, the timeline, the vicus, the tower. Alongside are the remnants of the nostalgia museum industrial constructed to support these narratives in an open air museum – the castlefield visitor centre, the amphitheatre, the signs and information points, the trail markers dotted about, barge ring pulls, horse tethers etc.

Granada Land to Albion Wharf - Behind the museum of science and industry is a third abandoned, forgotten and forlorn narrative – that of Granadaland, heart of Granada tv, home of coronation st and Sherlock holmes series; for many years with its own studio tours, Granada Studio Tours, a reinvention of the glory days of northern independent film and television. Now both the tv station and the studio are defunct; their physical remnants an archaeological landscape….

Piccadilly basin to New Islington – redeveloped piece meal in the last 5 years and still unfinished capitalizing on the promise of Ancoats Urban Village and New Islington over the boundary to north and east Manchester. The descendant of the Castlefield HP model , masterplanned by the enfant terrible of private development – its progress, social effects and aftermath are hotly debated and anticipated, especially in the wake of credit crunch and a tangible slow down in the property market. ILVA, the purpose built ikea type warehouse showroom on its edge, proudly heralded as the dawn of the commercial viability of the programme, only lasted a year before closing down for good.

No one wants to buy a used, second hand luxury loft apartment when the incentives, enticements to buy into the latest developments are overwhelming. Does this demonstrate the innate weakness behind this unsustainable model. As each new quarter or development is marketed and revealed, the last one is effectively ‘killed' off. There seems in practice no actual growth of the market, of the citys reach and capacity, simply a constant merry-go-round - instead of the radiant city, we have the rotating city - those pioneers who buy off-plan and move in often are simply not rewarded as a new rival, a new quarter, stalks in and sees it off, attracting grants, investment in a wearying groundhog day of self aggrandizing marketing.

Ancoats to Chips – working mills, community clearance and compulsory purchase, old landmarks, new icons, life disrupted by or as yet ignorant of urban regeneration fever....

No comments: