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Life at the edge: reflecting on Calais, borders and camps

RicardoMarten Caceres26 April 2016

Two weeks ago, as part of a preliminary research supported by the Urban Transformation and Social Diversity clusters, a DPU group visited Calais and Dunkirk to better understand the dynamics around refugee camps in Europe, particularly ‘The Jungle’ camp close to the border checkpoint. We visited a few sites and met with activists and NGOs currently engaged in humanitarian or logistical responses; this brief piece is an initial reflection on our visit.

 

In the past months, it has become frequent to find accounts of life in the Jungle from different perspectives: its spatial implications, the plight of individual life stories, the political dynamics around it, the impact it has on Calais’ citizens. The Jungle has become the most mediatised camp in northern Europe for many reasons, to the point where its semantic value has been stretched and fitted into multiple narratives. On the one hand, it serves anti-immigration supporters as the perfect example of a problem exploding beyond control, the arrival of lawlessness right at the gates of jurisdiction, with the implicit suggestion that European values (whatever those may be) stand before a cultural clash that may break them apart for good. On the other, it has raised awareness on the transformative wave of migration that currently crosses the continent; thousands upon thousands of people fleeing their countries searching for a better life and the illusion of opportunity, in need for help and support along the way. Of course, reality lies somewhere in between these views because migration, camps and border control are not homogenous blocks with absolute variables of exchange.

Container camp in The Jungle

Container camp in The Jungle

At the heart of the current Jungle camp, there is a new government-sponsored container camp hosting nearly 700 refugees. Its sanitized white aesthetic stands in sharp contrast to the slum-like informality of the surrounding group of densely packed shelters. Those who live in the new camp have to comply with fingerprint scanners in order to enter one of the three checkpoints, all set up with security rooms, metallic gates and narrow, rotating barred doors that only function if the registered hand palm has been identified by the device. The container camp has no real social life, as it lacks social spaces and, fundamentally, has no area for cooking in the shelters. The administrator of the camp, La Vie Active, is an NGO that has little experience with either camp management or with supporting vulnerable refugee populations, having focused on elderly care initiatives. Yet this is the NGO contracted by the local government to make of this typology an example of a successful intervention, one that appeases the local citizen’s concern while implying the authorities remain in control of the situation.

While South and Eastern Europe are filled with all sorts of camp typologies (from humanitarian shelter compounds to detention centres) dealing with millions of refugees, this tiny region in Northern France is struggling to find an adequate response with the few thousands that make it here. At Grand-Synthe, Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) has recently built and opened a camp in partnership with the local authorities. Driven by the local mayor’s desperation at the lack of governmental support, this camp currently hosts around 1500 refugees in rows of identical wooden shelters. MSF were given the right to buy the land, taking over the whole construction process and delivering the camp in three months. Regardless of this camp’s constraints and limitations, it shows light on the paradoxical state of humanitarian response: Grand-Synthe is a more inclusive, strategic solution than the Jungle’s new container camp and yet it is an anomaly because it came from political will and institutional support. Despite its constraints, this camp’s original vision is anchored on basic solidarity principles, and its construction signalled to its dwellers an acknowledgement, however limited, that their agency was recognised.

Emergency tents at the Jungle & MSF Camp Grande-Synthe

Emergency tents at the Jungle & MSF Camp Grande-Synthe

Visiting these camps in order to build grand overarching conclusions is an exercise in futility, not because it is impossible, but because it is a disservice to the complexity in place. The jaded, introspective learning process of young volunteers who, in a matter of months, have dealt with troublesome issues around human right violations and basic needs, reflect a problematic that transcends specific camp design or typological debates. This is a humanitarian crisis at the core, about people in movement following chaotic patterns and transforming the spatial axes out of elemental urgencies. The urban, spatial responses appear to be always one step behind, reactionary instead of thoughtful, punitive instead of engaging. Planning has been eroded from political dialogue and established camps have fallen, at least in character, into monocultural instruments of control, becoming the designated spaces of illusory social corrections.

 

The local bookstore in The Jungle has maps where refugees have pinned and drawn their personal trajectories from their place of departure all the way to Calais. Next to the pins are post-it notes describing the time spent at different countries; months of displacement that brought them closer to the UK. In that context, where distances travelled and experiences acquire an additional power by being diagrammed, the Jungle feels like a brevity, an impasse that will be sorted one way or another. At least that seems to be part of the collective ideal. Proximity can play with illusions easily, because despite the layers of security and the implacable transparency of the border’s militarization, the destination is almost at reach. To the north of the camp are a set of barely usable emergency tents, marking the edge of the Jungle proper. A stretch of thick marshland follows, a few meters later the beach, then the sea, and beyond them the infinite imaginaries constructed for weeks and months; a conclusion of innumerable journeys drifting away.

 

This process is now part of the European reality, reminding us that migration, cultural assimilation, and the legacies of war are permanently shaping our perceptions about society and space. And in that spirit, we are eager to continue this research, in an effort to further understand the intricacies surrounding this unparalleled period of continental transformation.


Ricardo Marten Caceres is an architect and urban designer, graduated from the Technological Institute of Costa Rica (ITCR) and with an MSc degree from BUDD. He has worked as an architect in between studies, leading a studio practice in Costa Rica focused on residential projects, as well as being partner in a design practice based in Germany working with several NGOs in Haiti, the Philippines and Tanzania. His academic interests lie in the urban dynamics between informal settlements and territorial variables. Ricardo’s current PhD candidacy looks to examine these elements, particularly focusing on the urban legacy of official spaces of exception and the resulting informal counter-narratives.

Meeting the Change Maker Painters: Street Messages in Accra, Ghana

ClaireTunnacliffe20 April 2016

The first experience of a city is a disorientating introduction of smells, sound, temperature and touch. It is primarily sensorial. Before you can get your bearings, your body reacts, attunes, listens, smells, and looks.

I’ve been fascinated about the use of the wall as a tool for communication and transformation, and while I’ve known from previous visits to Accra that there were messages inscribed on the walls, I had never paid close enough attention to them, the walls passing by in a whir of taxi windows, going from place A to B. This time it would be about following the surfaces, not about the destination but the in between.

Accra’s visual landscape is dominated by signage; Ghanaians express and shape their culture through this, as common as the informal flows that dominate the city. Signs stating ‘Do Not Urinate Here’, ‘Post No Bills’ sit alongside adverts for Indomie, Glo and Juvita. School walls are decorated with children playing and learning. Billboards advertise religious services, skin care and weight loss. In and amongst this, businesses paint the front of their shop with illustrations of their services and products.

Figure 1: Signage, Hospital Road

Figure 1: Signage, Hospital Road

 

Hash-Tags

On Accra’s main roads in and around the city, messages become slightly more political, more patriotic. On November 7th 2016, Ghana will have another election, and the surfaces along the streets are covered in posters for party leaders and tags. Ghana is a multi-party system but either the National Democratic Congress or the New Patriotic Party largely dominates it, with any other party finding it difficult to achieve electoral success. However, along these main roads is the repetitive scrawl: #GHANAGOESGREEN #TOTALSUPPORT #NEWREGISTERSTOVOTE or SAVE GHANA. A retort to the current election process and another party, the Convention People’s Party, a socialist political party based on the ideas of the first President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah. After a bit of digging online, I learn that #ghanagoesgreen isn’t based on green party politics, but rather for Ivor Greenstreet, a candidate standing for Presidential Election in 2016.

Figure 2: #GHANAGOESGREEN, Ring Road Central

Figure 2: #GHANAGOESGREEN, Ring Road Central

 

These hash-tags straddle two existences between public space and cyber space, a tactic used by political parties, musicians and other businesses. While many people do have phones, what part of the demographic accesses the Internet? Do these tags predominantly exist online or offline?

 

Murals

I met Larry, who co-founded Nima: Muhinmanchi Art (NMA), a grassroots organisation that provides art workshops to youth, beautifying communities through public art and promoting urban renewal through culture. Larry tells me how he sees mural paintings as an opportunity to transform everyday spaces, empowering local communities and how it’s a powerful tool to changing the perception of Nima. Nima, is a dense, vibrant and ethnically diverse residential area in Accra, made popular by a large market. It is a stigmatized area, external perceptions have created prejudice and cultural barriers to the rest of the city, and as a result, it has become a city within a city – with its own authorities, rules and policing, undergoing its own development, driven and enforced by its inhabitants.

 

Larry is passionate about the power of art as transformative, calling the artists in NMA the Change Maker Painters. I ask him about the mural making process and he explains that it begins with a visibility study, to identify a surface that has the most footfall followed by a conversation with the community; including chiefs, the wall owner and households in the immediate vicinity. He presents what he has noticed about the area or what other people have raised with him – the murals act as a vehicle to talk about issues; child labour, waste, and politics. The murals, are subjects of conversation before, during and after their production, with people stopping to talk and ask questions, and share their own experiences. He tells me about a mural that the NMA did after Accra was devastated by a flood and explosion in 2015 that saw the loss of 150 lives. They decided to paint a mural along Kanda Highway to stress the importance of waste management, one of the main causes found for the flood that had blocked drainage systems. As a result, people clean their drains outside their homes and in their community more frequently than when they are just blocked, creating more preventative methods of avoiding another flood.

 

I meet with Rufai Zakari, an artist, in his studio in Nima, and I ask him why he has made the transition to murals, “Art contributes to positive change. But also introduces something African into the street art scene. My community, which I promised to help with my profession, needs this. I am a child of that community and I use art to change the perception of it, but also to fight for my country and continent”. In March 2015, he set up with other street artists GrafArt GH, a group of young artists from Ghana with the aim of using art to address issues facing the African continent & also to promote Ghanaian art & culture to the rest of the world. Rufai explains that to him, art is a multidimensional tool, to change peoples view of the area, to beautify, but also as a platform for change and awareness raising.

 

Art movements in these contexts are therefore less about the individual, about the money, than they are about the collective, the community, so that everyone grows and learns together. These Change Maker Painters, see themselves occupying two roles, one within their own communities, painting the inner bellies of the walls and communal courtyards to address very localised problems, but also more widely in the streets of Accra, drawing attention to who they are, to changing the perception of their community, to showing Ghanaians and the world their art.

 

Figure 3: Flood & Fire, Kanda Highway

Figure 3: Flood & Fire, Kanda Highway

Accra is a creative and dynamic city, its visual landscape a thick tapestry of politics, social, environmental and economic messages. From the religious billboards that dominate much of the main roads, to the upcoming elections, the hash-tags that flicker past moving vehicles, to the Ghanaian flag which is bold and colourful, to the murals in communities and the art festivals in the streets of Accra more widely. There are therefore many ways in which street messages are communicated to the city and its inhabitants, orchestrated by individuals, communities, businesses, artists and politicians. While their intent and agency may vary, the wall is a space for appropriation, discussion and transformation, and as one artist pointed out to me as, “if there are no walls, we will build the wall, to share our message”.

Figure 4: Bird, Jamestown

Figure 4: Bird, Jamestown

Many thanks to NMA for opening up their studios and selves to my questions – and personally to Larry, Musah, Rufai and Kamal. I extend also a big thank you to Samoa, for taking me on a tour of Jamestown, exploring the route of Chale Wote. Thank you to Victoria Okoye from African Urbanism, for the contacts, resources & tilapia.


Claire is a DPU MSc Environment & Sustainable Development Alumni. Since graduating in 2012, she continues to research the role of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences. She is a PhD student at the Bartlett School of Architecture exploring street messages in West African urbanism. However, her interests are interdisciplinary; community engagement, urban street art, public interest design, sustainable development, town planning, creative cities, art psychotherapy, mental health, the psychodynamics of public spaces, and their impact on place making in the city. All images taken by Claire Tunnacliffe.

A bottom-up approach to heritage conservation: the case of Barrio Yungay in Santiago, Chile

Maria PSagredo Aylwin12 January 2016

Heritage has become a key element of the development of cities and an asset for urban renewal strategies. Historic neighbourhoods and cities have become valuable spaces because of their sense of place, the concentration of cultural activities that reflect local identities, and the increasing economic relevance of global cultural tourism (Bandarin and Van Oers, 2012). However, the production of heritage is not a neutral process. It implies a process of reinterpretation of the past in order to engage with the present. In consequence, it is also about challenging existing power relations and transforming how communities are perceived and classified (Smith, 2006).

In this context, critical literature recognises two main approaches to the production and conservation of heritage, each of them related to different scales. The first one refers to the production of global heritage supported by international organisations such as UNESCO and/or national governments. This process is mainly carried out by authorised experts, creating an official heritage discourse (Harrison, 2010). This approach has been criticised for leaving out local communities from the production of heritage, and even from heritage sites themselves (Bianchi and Boniface, 2002); nevertheless it has also implied the access to conservation funds and plans that would hardly have been accessed by other means. It has also been criticised for focusing mainly on the tangible heritage, i.e. buildings and facades, leaving aside the intangible aspects of heritage, represented by the use and practices carried out in the physical spaces (Bandarin and Van Oers, 2012).

A second approach refers to the production of unofficial discourses of heritage, mainly at a local level. This approach emerges from the actual relationship of people with objects, places and practices, and therefore it constitutes a bottom-up approach to the production of heritage (Harrison, 2010).

Plaza Yungay

Plaza Yungay

A good example of production of heritage at a local level has occurred in the Barrio Yungay, located in the city centre of Santiago, Chile. The neighbourhood was built during the 19th century and it was one of the first planned neighbourhoods of the city. It was originally inhabited by upper and middle class families, but during the late 19th century it became a workers’ neighbourhood, characterised by the presence of cités, a continuous construction of one flat houses with a central common space and one or more accesses to the street.

During the last decade, residents of Barrio Yungay formed Vecinos por la defensa el Barrio Yungay (Neighbours in defense of Yungay), an organisation that intended to protect the neighbourhood from real estate pressures. After presenting a request with more than 2000 signatures, the neighbourhood was declared typical zone by the Council of National Monuments in 2009. This status prohibited the construction of multi-storey buildings and other potential alterations of its traditional buildings, among them, the cités.

2. Cité in Yungay Neighbourhood

Cité in Yungay Neighbourhood

Since then, there have emerged many movements that have focused not only on the protection of houses and buildings, but also on the intangible heritage of the neighbourhood. An interesting initiative is the Fermín Vivaceta Arts and Crafts School founded in 2010. This was a community project that arose from the need to train people to conserve and restore the architectural heritage of the neighbourhood after it was declared a typical zone in 2009. Additionally, the earthquake that occurred in 2010 affected many buildings in the area, intensifying this need. The proposal was supported by Neighbours in Defense of Yungay. It has been focused mainly in teaching traditional crafts to young residents of Yungay with the aim of conserving the heritage of their own neighbourhood.

The most recent community project related to the protection of heritage is a Community Museum inaugurated in 2015. The museum is located in an old house that was donated by residents of the neighbourhood to the Yungay Neighbourhood Association. This is the first museum of its kind in Chile. It exhibits the history of the neighbourhood, some 19th century objects that belonged to the original house owners, and other objects and paintings donated by current residents. Thus, it intends to reflect the identity of the neighbours of Yungay.

Community museum mural

Community museum mural

Finally, one of the highlights when visiting Yungay is the French Barbershop that has existed for over a 100 years. Not only has the building been preserved, but it still functions as a barbershop. During the 1990s the building was restored adding a bar and a restaurant that now attracts mainly tourists.

Residents of Yungay have managed to protect its tangible and intangible heritage, gaining the support of local and national authorities that have contributed to its preservation. The neighbourhood is now a place that is highly valued by its cultural activities that reflect its local identity. It has become a neighbourhood that attracts the attention of visitors from other parts of the city and foreign tourists. Thus, the new challenge for residents and authorities is to transform this increasing interest in an opportunity to improve the well-being of residents, avoiding the threats of gentrification and touristification that may end up pushing away those who have always lived there.

 

References:

Bandarin, F. and Van Oers, R (2012). The Historic Urban Landscape: Managing Heritage in and Urban Century. UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Bianchi, R. and Boniface, P. (2002). Editorial: The Politics of World Heritage. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 8 (2), pp.79–80.

Donnachie, I. (2010). World Heritage. In: Harrison, R. Understanding the Politics of Heritage. UK: Manchester University Press. pp. 115-153.

Harrison, R. (2010). What is heritage? In: Harrison, R. Understanding the Politics of Heritage. UK: Manchester University Press. pp. 5-42.

Smith, L. (2006). Uses of Heritage. USA: Routledge.


María Paz Sagredo just completed her MSc Social Development Practice at the DPU. She has experience working in consultancy and NGOs in Chile. She recently started working in community development projects in a Municipality of Santiago. She is also occasionally contributing in cultural heritage conservation initiatives. 

The need for child-orientated play spaces in Addis Ababa

SallyDuncan21 December 2015

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is rapidly expanding and urbanising. Roads, new buildings, car parks and concrete take president and priority over child’s play and recreational space. Evidence, time and time again, has shown that common to all children is a propensity – a natural, innate drive and desire – to play. Children naturally spend most of the day playing if they can – improving their social, physical and cognitive development and wellbeing in the process. But the reality is that play is becoming a luxury for many urban children, while infants are not getting access to adequate and affordable day care which helps ensure they go to school ready and equipped to learn.

Facilitated by a new organisation called Out of The Box, over the next two months a simple yet effective pilot project involving local children, parents, artists and newly graduated Addis-based architects is underway to create a child-centred, community-managed space in the heart of city of Addis Ababa.

The head of the Balderas Resident Association and Sally Duncan, founder of OTB, conducting an initial needs assessments and wish list of play equipment with the children living in Balderas

The head of the Balderas Resident Association and Sally Duncan, founder of OTB, conducting an initial needs assessments and wish list of play equipment with the children living in Balderas

Urbanisation and the place of the child

 Ethiopia is undergoing unprecedented levels of social, economic and urban change. With a population of over 4 million, the rapid urbanisation of its capital city, Addis Ababa, brings increased danger for the child from traffic, pollution, and construction, combined with a decline of public space. Not only does the planning process tend to ignore the needs of the child, but the dramatic shift in housing from low-level forms to high-rise apartments, referred to as condominiums, adds further restrictions to the spaces in which the child is able to interact with his/her surroundings [1]. As across the global south, resource-poor local government is forced to make hard choices – investments in play and play space being seen as a luxury rather than a right, with the economic and social returns from investing in play rarely understood.

Importance of play, interactive learning, and the investment in young people’s spaces

Children are born with a natural hunger for experience, exploration, understanding and desire for passionate engagement with the physical and social world around them. Play is the process by which children achieve this intrinsic quest for learning, enjoyment and adventure[2], while the way in which children play, and what they play with, is determined by the physical and social environment they are brought up in[3]. Play, like childhood, is culturally relative: socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender, physical ability and race impact on the forms of play a child participates in[4].

Children playing football at the site where the playground and multipurpose youth centre will be built in Balderas Condominium

Children playing football at the site where the playground and multipurpose youth centre will be built in Balderas Condominium

Play is essential for the development of both individual identity and the creation of active and responsible membership of society. Play, according to the UN Convention of the Child is a human right, and research on play interventions, particularly during a child’s early years, show that the active participation in play-based activities results in significantly raising IQs, greater levels of education attainment, higher rates of employment, and increased wages in later life[5], whilst investing in playgrounds, sport and recreational spaces and youth centres plays a crucial role in the creation of strong and cohesive communities, directly enabling the child to feel respected and valued within their immediate community.

Bob Hughes, a pioneering adventure play worker in 1970s Britain, states: “Children will always be children and will always find a way to play”. This begs three important questions: 1. Is where children play safe? 2. What play facilities do governments, policy makers, city planners and communities provide for their children? 3. Does the child have any say in this provision?

Out of The Box Project

In 2012 I spent 3 month living in a housing condominium called Balderas. Constructed in 2008, it’s home to 1050 households and 6000 residents, one third of whom are under 16 years old. During this time I saw first hand how there was a distinct lack of designated early years day-care, play and youth space both in Balderas and across Ethiopia. Inspired by the children I met and the openness of the Resident Association to listen to my slightly “out of the box” ideas, we set about developing Out of The Box (OTB) with the aim of building an adventure playground, a children’s permaculture garden, and multipurpose youth and early years day-care centre at Balderas as a pilot for seeding similar developments in condominiums across Addis Ababa.

Grand plan of the playground, sports and youth centre site at Balderas condominium

Grand plan of the playground, sports and youth centre site at Balderas condominium

Based on interactive children’s workshops and consultations with the Balderas Resident Association, newly graduated architects from the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture (EiABC) are currently designing an original, culturally relevant, dynamic space for children to play, socialise and learn. Incorporating 5 key elements of early years learning and play (Physical, Cognitive, Sensory, Social, Imaginative), the playground aims to be inclusive of different ages, genders and abilities, and use local materials such as bamboo and recycled tyres, jerry cans and satellite dishes. In addition, the site will feature a 30 metre art wall featuring collaborative work from local Addis artists, art students and the children themselves. A children’s permaculture garden will ensure the space is green, vibrant and a celebration of the natural environment in this urban setting.

A second phase to the project will build a children’s centre for early years day-care, youth activities, plus library and café – all managed by Balderas Youth Board and community members.

The first phase of the pilot project will start at Balderas in early 2015. This will act as an example which OTB hopes to replicate in other condominiums in Addis and further afield, continuing to work in creative partnership with a diverse range of individuals and organisations based in both Addis and the UK – promoting the importance of play and the opportunity for every child to play within their immediate community, through both active community participation, cultural dialogue, and exchange.

For more information or ways to be become engaged visit www.outoftheboxpartnerships.com or contact Sally directly at sally@outoftheboxpartnerships.com

 

Children sharing their ideas during an Out of The Box playground design day in Balderas Condomium.

Children sharing their ideas during an Out of The Box playground design day in Balderas Condomium.

 

[1] Tiumelissan, A and Pankurst A (2013) Moving to Condominium Housing? Views about the Prospect among Caregivers and Children in Addis Ababa and Hawassa, Ethiopia, Young Lives Working Paper 106 [Online] Available from: http://www.younglives.org.uk/publications/WP/moving-to-condominium-housing/wp106-pankurst-moving-to-condominiums [Assessed 1st August 2015]

 

[2] Bartlett S, Hart R, Satterthwaite D, De La Barra X, Missair A (1999) Cities for Children – Children rights, Poverty and Urban Management, Earthscan Publication Ltd, London.

 

[3] Valsiner, J (1989) Human Development and Culture; The Social Nature of Personality and its Study, Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books.

 

[4] Holloway S and Valentine G (2000) Children’s Geographies: Playing, Living, Learning, Routledge: London and New York

 

[5] Kellock P (2015) The Case for Play, Playground Ideas Report [Online] Available from: http://www.playgroundideas.org/wp-content/uploads/The-case-for-play-V5.pdf [Assessed 09th December 2015]


Sally Duncan has just completed an MSc in Social Development Practice from DPU. She is the CEO and Founder of Out of The Box and also works as a consultant for Oshun Partnerships. Formerly she worked for DFID, as well as for local NGOs in Ethiopia, India, South Africa and Madagascar. Sally is now living in Addis Ababa carrying out her dream to oversee the construction of the adventure playground and youth center in Balderas condominium where she used to live – she hopes this will be the first of many!

Street Messages and Creative Placemaking

ClaireTunnacliffe17 November 2015

“Unfold a street map of London, place a glass, rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw round its edge. Pick up the map, go out into the city, and walk the circle, keeping close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go, in whatever medium you favour: film, photograph, manuscript, tape. Catch the textual run-off of the streets; the graffiti, the branded litter, the snatches of conversation. Cut for sign. Log the data-stream. Be alert to the happenstance of metaphors, watch for visual rhymes, coincidences, analogies, family resemblances, the changing moods of the street. Complete the circle, and the record ends. Walking makes for content; footage for footage”

Robert MacFarlane, a Road of One’s Own

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

 

In July 2015, I received a grant from the Academy of Urbanism to explore street messages and creative placemaking within rapidly changing urban spaces. Broadly, my research has explored the encounter with artistic interventions within the urban environment and how they interact with our everyday lives. Within this project more specifically I wanted to go to the encounter of urban street art in four neighbourhoods of London which were all going through processes of change: Brixton, Peckham, Brockley & Shoreditch. This sought to do three things:

 

  1. Collect images to refer back to and see if themes would become apparent,
  2. Create a working definition of creative place making in terms of street art, and,
  3. Understand where street art fits into narratives of rapidly changing spaces.

 

What is urban street art and/or street messages?

I was about half way through the project that I stopped referring to the art I was encountering in the street as urban street art, but as street messages. I was rather confusingly for others, and myself, either interchangeably using the words or just saying street messages.

Street art is, basically, art in the street.

But, the reason why I decide to move away from calling it street art is because it did not encompass everything I began to encounter in the street. I wanted it to include, yes, what we understand as street art, but also graffiti (from the italian graffiare, to scratch), tagging (writing one’s name or symbol), feel good stuff, retorts, hactivism (to distort the original meaning of something, like road signs, to create new meaning), calligraffiti, portrait pieces, community murals, inspirational quotes, etc.

I’m personally, drawn to seeking out what seems to be the more impulsive act of grabbing a pen or a spray can and writing on the walls or surfaces. It comes from an individualistic desire but connects to others because it comes from a personal place, connecting empathically.

I guess the difference I am trying to make here is that there were some encounters with street art or street messages that can be immediately understood. You do not have to go away and do some research to understand what that particular piece is trying to do, and you do not need to be in the street art or graffiti world to understand it. I understand it because the message is clear, and I connect to it as a person.

Providing context to the images changes how we engage with it, and therefore how we respond to it. This came up during various points of the project. Because the project was taking place in the street and at the point of encounter with urban street art, I could not assume that people who pass by it go or would go home to research. I wanted to understand their view of the art as they saw and understood it in the very real here and now.

 

What about the process?

Walking & Filming

Over the months of July & August I set out on a series of walks with different people. I don’t know how you experience the city, but I’ve walked a lot across it. Walking is something that I think in a place like London that is so busy and stressful and where we all lead these very full lives, slowing down is not something that comes quite as naturally anymore. So part of what I wanted to do to understand different areas was to go out there and get a bit – well – lost. And it was in that process of unknowing, the destination, the people we would meet, the conversations that we would have, without having an agenda, which proved to be very exciting. By slowing down, we were able to tap into the pulse of the place, and at the same time open ourselves up to encounter.

During the course of the project I was lucky to meet Jayni Gudka, a filmmaker who wanted to do a short film around the experience of the project. Creating a film was never something I thought of doing, but is a really lovely way to showcase what and how the project was undertaken.

 

Neighbourhoods & Talking to People.

London is a constantly changing city, but Brixton, Peckham, Brockley & Shoreditch were interesting in the way street art was framed in each context – part of it’s identity, sometimes to raise awareness, part of regeneration projects, and sometimes to argue the appropriation and use of space. When I was doing my background research on the areas, all had the word gentrification as part of their descriptions, and I wanted to explore how street art and messages fit within those processes.

It was during these walks that I had young urbanists, urban planners, academics, artists, photographers, a filmmaker, strangers, coerced friends, an accountant, an art psychotherapist, a wide range of people that responded to the call out for walkers. I was never lonely on my walks. This response I think is indicative of how many people connected to the project aims.

Photography & Mapping.

I wanted to incorporate an element of mapping into the process. While walking in an area, I would take pictures and locate these images onto a map. By creating a virtual map that could be referred to, I wanted to see what themes would immediately jump out.

There were several problematics with this though. Firstly, I realised that I was taking pictures very much from my lived experience, what was making ME stop and making ME think and making ME want to take a picture – it could have been a different interpretation by someone else. Lesson learnt, I need to involve more people at this stage. Secondly, these pictures are not exhaustive and I have simply taken into account a tiny percentage of what’s out there.

Workshop

As the walks came to a close and I now wanted to understand the outcomes of it, I organised a workshop to answer some of the aims I had initially set out with. It was also really important involve others in this process, as I wanted to dilute my interpretation of things from my own experience – and a wide range of people were invited to take part. As a group we set about figuring out themes. This involved using the same map you can see over there, and placing images that were taken on the walks around it. By first separating them into neighbourhoods, and then into categories, themes began to emerge.

 

What happened?

Over the course of the walks, and during a workshop that took place back in September, themes started to become apparent. Such as:

  1.     Against the system/Critiques of Technology.
  2.     Instructions & Street Philosophy.
  3.     Aesthetic – images that possibly needed more of a context and background to them to undertand.
  4.     Animals/Nature.
  5.     Gentrification.
  6.     Love.

But what do these themes mean in the context of these neighbourhoods?

 

BRIXTON

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

 

Brixton is a bustling area, a transportation and market hub. It’s very diverse. It’s also rapidly changing. Earlier this year, network rail began evicting some 30 local independent businesses from within the arches running along Atlantic Road and Station Road, some of which have been in the area for around 40 years. Together with the market, they constitute what is largely considered the heart of Brixton.

The Save the Arches petition began as a response to that, and part of it was also a movement started by local street artist PINS. Initially contacted by a local business to paint their shutters in response to the eviction, PINS then contacted some of his artist friends, spoke to other businesses, and organised more shutters to be painted, helping to raise awareness of the situation. This image is now iconic of the struggle happening in Brixton.

Walking around Brixton was a lot of fun and we met and spoke to many people. The importance of community – through the Save Brixton Arches Campaign shutters, but also to the responses around them – the writings I miss my Brixton, F*%& your new flats, and others – were indicative of feelings around the changes taking place in the area.

We met Phil, Amara & Aleksi from Small World Urbanism, an organisation that uses gardening and art with a community focus. On the day we were walking they were painting bees and planting on beehive place – this small oasis of plants and animals in an urban environment felt like a haven, particularly against the new Brixton Pop structure. Lining the walls were also portraits by James Pearson, an Australian artist who had done the portraits of characters of this particular stretch. We met a few of them, particularly John who spent a long time telling us about growing up in Brixton, the businesses lining the road. There was a great energy about the place, people stopping and chatting and adding their own thoughts to the changes in Brixton.

PECKHAM

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Peckham, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Peckham, London

I don’t really know Peckham. Before the walks, I’d been there once or twice over the last couple of years. Coming out of the station, you’re fed out of small tunnels and into a bustling high street of stalls piled high with yam and cassava, fishmongers and butchers, and music blasting in the street. Peckham is one of the most diverse communities in London, which also plays home to many of its best art schools. It is an area that’s undergone changes in the last few years, with the influx of cafes, wine bars, niche shops and artists studios. One of my favourite pieces that we came across during those walks was a David de Brito (São Paolo) painting that originally read “I love Peckham” and where someone had come by and written over it – I hate the new Peckham.

Just off Rye Lane, walking past vegetable stalls, you come into a parking area with lots of cars, a restaurant, and a lot of graffiti, tags and street art. We also spoke to a man in his fifty’s sitting on a chair. I asked him about the street art and graffiti. He says he started it all. One day a girl came and did it, took a couple of pictures, but the next day he got there and someone had written all over it. He rang her up and she said that was just the way of the street – open to response, to be defaced, to be altered to be hated or loved. I think this touches on how street art, graffiti occupies such a different space in our visual culture. With advertising we aren’t allowed to respond, if we do it is vandalism, but with street art and messages you can. It becomes a really fluid space for dialogue, even if it’s just to swear.

 

BROCKLEY

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brockley, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brockley, London

 

Brockley was an interesting walk as it was so different from Brixton & Peckham. It didn’t have the same activity, hustle and bustle, there were less people milling around, it had a much more suburban feel to it. As an area it deserved more walks at various times during the week. It didn’t quite work as a space to just go and see what happens.

Here, the walks actually followed the Brockley Street Art Festival that took place earlier in the summer. These paintings are legal, having sought the OK of the local council to paint on walls and hoardings. The catalyst for the festival was actually because just outside Brockley Station a Bob Marley Mural was removed to build new flats. The community was upset as it had been around for forty years. So, it set out to recreate it and then some.

The festival itself aimed to improve the appearance of the Brockley Corridor and its surrounding neighbourhood through a showcase of murals by local, national, and international artists. I was personally really interested in some writing on hoardings, actually on the outside of this new building going up which has three white women shopping for cacti (who knew it was a thing?) and someone has taken a pen and responded with “the mortgages are like so affordable” but also “Brockley is on the down turn, like the rest of UK”.

I did speak to a few people, and everyone found them quite beautiful. But it remained at that. So, Brockley primarily seemed more aesthetic in its use of street art, but also had some retort in the form of these scribblings on hoardings. I left feeling like Brockley was at the beginning of certain change.

SHOREDITCH

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Shoreditch, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Shoreditch, London

Shoreditch needs no introduction. Because it’s such a vibrant space for street art, I initially didn’t want to go there as I thought that whatever ‘messages’ I was hoping for wouldn’t be there – too consumeristic, I thought. Intrinsically, this is the space that revealed the most pieces against the system. During the final walk in Shoreditch, the term “post-gentrification” was used, and it came up again in the workshop. Though there are several problematics with using phrases like this, I believe it helped to understand that a change has occurred so fundamentally that it now did not look like anything it once was.

As the last area to go walking in, it was easier to look back on the four neighbourhoods as different moments in a process of change. The themes revealed a narrative around changing spaces, and in Brockley-Brixton-Peckham & Shoreditch street art becomes embroiled in processes of change.

The other neighbourhoods seemed to fit into different stages of change with Brixton, Peckham, Brockley and Shoreditch all sitting on some spectrum of change, and with urban street art framing some of the narratives of that change. I think something to tease out of this project is to focus more on what those phases would be.

What is Creative Placemaking?

I became aware that I hadn’t really given a definition of what this means. That’s predominantly because throughout the project, I’ve been trying to define it. I obviously had some notions of what it did mean to me, but again in the same way with just going for a walk, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t try to shove my preconceived idea of what it had to mean without interacting with it in the first place.

It was during the workshop that we began deconstruct and then reconstruct each word. What this meant was that when we recombined them they revealed new understandings. So for example, creative place making also became: innovative environment building, or; chance transcient curating, or; ephemeral attachment consciousness.

In a nutshell, this is what Creative Placemaking has come to mean to me: the act of creating something that connects you to a physical space for a moment. In that moment, that space is yours and forms your identity.

Is there a single definition? Absolutely not. I believe that Creative Placemaking can be very different things depending on intent of the maker – Indeed, I would argue that creative place making can only be experienced by the maker. Is it a working definition? Yes. Creative place making, is also not a process with an end point, but the constant transforming, defining and re-defining, and curating of public spaces. Street art and street messages exist in an interesting space. By straddling legal and illegal divides, by being driven by different needs – community, individualistic, ego, aesthetic – it is a very active process.

Finally, I believe that street art creates narratives, allowing us to understand changing spaces. In order to understand a community, we should look at its walls.

 


 

Claire is a DPU MSc Environment & Sustainable Development Alumni. Since graduating in 2012, she continues to research the role of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences. She is a PhD student at the Bartlett School of Architecture exploring street messages in West African urbanism. However, her interests are interdisciplinary; community engagement, urban street art, public interest design, sustainable development, town planning, creative cities, art psychotherapy, mental health, the psychodynamics of public spaces, and their impact on place making in the city. Her project Street Messages & Creative Place Making was funded by the Academy of Urbanism Young Urbanist Small Grants Scheme.

 

Doing Participatory Photography: the politics of home-making in Valparaiso

IgnaciaOssul Vermehren14 April 2015

‘No matter how familiar the object or situation may be, a photograph is a restatement of reality; it presents life around us in new, objective, and arresting dimensions, and can stimulate the information to discuss the world about him as if observing it for the first time’  – Collier, 1957: 859 [1]

Ignacia PP1

The use of visual methodologies has been introduced to help expand the efforts of data generation beyond more established avenues such as language-based interviews. Photo-elicitation, specifically participant-driven photography, can capture life experiences, spaces and emotions that may be difficult to grasp through other methodologies.

Although not considered a miracle cure, it is thought to have particular qualities such as:

  1. Producing different type of information – many times more precise and vivid than other techniques
  2. As a primary ‘language’ – it can be used with people of different ages and with different levels of oral or written language
  3. Addressing concerns of power relations between researcher and subject, as well as knowledge production.

Participatory Photography Research Workshop

As part of my PhD fieldwork I have been using participatory photography to explore the meaning of home for residents in informal settlements in Viña del Mar, Chile. Particularly in discussing home-making practices, home aspirations and housing policy. In practice, the workshop develops across 6 sessions, in which participants learn basic photography skills and take cameras home to capture images for the next session.

The workshop starts with an introduction to photography, discussing the different uses, participants’ personal relationship with pictures and basic skills such as how to operate the camera, framing, colour and the use of light.

In an introductory activity Luis chooses a picture of a colonial building in a magazine, he says: 'I chose this picture because I like architecture, looking at old buildings, pictures help maintain them even if there are not there any more'

In an introductory activity Luis chooses a picture of a colonial building in a magazine, he says: ‘I chose this picture because I like architecture, looking at old buildings, pictures help maintain them even if there are not there any more’

Participants practicing how to frame a picture, taking into consideration what to include and what to leave out of the photo

Participants practicing how to frame a picture, taking into consideration what to include and what to leave out of the photo

The first assignment refers to images that represent their home. It was important for the data collection that participants felt free to take any picture they wanted – without been concerned of getting the ‘right answer’.

Some of the pictures taken by participants (Francisco Ahumada, Katerine Montecinos and Mariela Aravena); (top-left) privacy of a single room, (top-right) community centre which was constructed recently by the residents, (bottom-left) house and the dogs as part of the family and (bottom-right) nature, not only their own plants but the surrounding environment

Some of the pictures taken by participants (Francisco Ahumada, Katerine Montecinos and Mariela Aravena); (top-left) privacy of a single room, (top-right) community centre which was constructed recently by the residents, (bottom-left) house and the dogs as part of the family and (bottom-right) nature, not only their own plants but the surrounding environment

Participant looks at her printed pictures for the first time.  Participants were impressed with the results, stating that is was not the same as seeing them on the screen.

A girl looks at her printed pictures for the first time. Participants were impressed with the results, stating that is was not the same as seeing them on the screen.

After revising the pictures individually, the group puts together all the pictures and divides them into categories of what represents home

After revising the pictures individually, the group puts together all the pictures and divides them into categories of what represents home

The second and last assignment was to take pictures of elements that they like and do not like about a house. Participants were encouraged to look for these elements not only in their house, but also in the neighbourhood and city.

Participants exercise the type of pictures they would like to take for the assignment

Participants practise taking the types of pictures they would like to use for the assignment

The pictures from the second assignment were rich in content and included much more elements from the city than the first assignment. Many of them took pictures while they were going to work and in the streets.

Ignacia PP8

Elucidating Everyday Aspirations

Some of the results of the second task are shown in this image (above). These were taken by Nayaret Gajardo, a woman living in the settlement. She took five pictures of elements she would like for her house such as a better kitchen, a big backyard, water tap for the settlement in case of fire, and connection to services. The three elements she does not like refer to the way she is currently connected to services, which she evaluates as dangerous and a poor quality of life.

In brief, the participatory photography workshops facilitated discussion on some elements which could be easily disregarded using other techniques. It has shed light on everyday life, the personal, the collective and the political. The concept of home portrayed is wide and diverse, it does not only refers to the home space but also to multiple places, people and feelings. The challenge now is to do a rigorous analysis moving from images to findings, so that pictures serve not just a nice visual complement for the research but as solid data for the study.

 Notes:

[1] Collier J. Jr. (1957), Photography in anthropology: a report on two experiments. American Anthropologist, New Series, 59 (5), 843-859.


Ignacia Ossul Vermehren is a PhD candidate at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. She previous studied the MSc Social Development Practice at the DPU. She worked for 4 years at Techo, a youth-led organisation that works in informal settlements where she was Director of the office in the region of Valparaiso. Ignacia is currently undertaking her PhD fieldwork in Chile.

Engaging youth in representations of place: more than just an open day

LizaGriffin5 February 2015

This post and the project exploring place in Kilburn has been undertaken in collaboration with Kamna Patel.

Students introduce their representations of their neighbourhood

Students introduce their representations of their neighbourhood

In the old days school level students saw universities as the most mysterious of places – where and what were they, what do they teach and how? They were rarely told anything much in answer – except that it was a very good idea to try and get in. But how did people know where to apply, and what subjects to choose? Little guidance was available.

Today, much has changed. It’s common for prospective university undergraduates, to attend ‘open days’ available throughout the year from all and sundry higher education establishments. At them, potential applicants can hear from academic staff what to expect if they go university, and learn briefly what different subjects have to offer.

All very useful, but now, academics from Development Planing Unit in University College London are going one step further. We are offering some school students the chance to become undergrads for a time and join us in a research project exploring urban citizenship and place-making.

This is what students at St Augustine’s School in Kilburn have recently done. We have collaborated with Helen Allsopp, their teacher, to run a series of workshops on a favourite theme amongst geographers and planners; a ‘sense of place’

First, the workshops explored the students’ own perception of Kilburn, where they live – what is it like for them, and how much have they noticed recent changes in the area. And they explored how the changes going on reflect the broader processes of globalisation that we are constantly hearing about (e.g. big new developments funded by foreign capital, soaring house prices fuelled by demand from people wanting to work in London, changing ethnic mixes, and so forth).

Explanations of the different methodologies used were displayed around the exhibition

Explanations of the different methodologies used were displayed around the exhibition

Then the students used techniques from the social sciences to analyse different portrayals, or ‘representations’ of Kilburn, coming from diverse sources such as websites, films, written texts in books, magazines, music, social media and so on.

Besides these workshops, the students conducted fieldwork in the area. There, intriguingly, they made maps of how people, including themselves, feel about different parts of Kilburn – identifying, for example, ‘spaces of fear’ where it might be dangerous to go at particular times of day or places where they feel more at home. In such exercises they applied different research methods (such as transects walks through their neighbourhood) as used by social scientists and Town Planners amongst others.

In all this, the students were getting much more than just an ‘open day’ afternoon. Theirs was an in-depth experience, sustained over time, of the kinds of things they might expect to be doing at university, including an up to date view of the sorts of research methods and analysis that planners and geographers might apply in their work. And here, the St Augustine’s students were actually sharing in such work.

IMG_3784

The workshops and fieldwork ran over several months, culminating in the students producing their own representations of Kilburn shown at a roving expedition running throughout 2015 – at UCL, at St Augustine’s and at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. The exhibition’s centrepiece is a series of 3D maps of Kilburn produced by the students themselves. These are not a ‘conventional’, accurate-to-scale representations. Instead they incorporate their different perceptions of, and concerns and aspirations for this busy, dynamic and multi-faceted place.

The exhibition opened in January 2015, and at that opening visitors were guided through by some of the students themselves, explaining the maps and models, and recounting how they were produced. They also had to explain to the audience the practical usefulness of such cultural geography work, in developing peoples’ sensitivity to place and encouraging them to think about how they can help to shape places for themselves and help to give them meaning.

The latter was one of our main aims of the project. In our on going action research on this project we plan to reflect upon the extent to which the participating students, through their involvement, were provided with a sense of how they themselves might be able to shape their own urban environment and ask whether this contributed to a nascent sense of citizenship.

IMG_3805

The project is impressive – partly because of the impression which the students make on the visitors as they are guided round. Here is a group of enthusiastic, smart and articulate young people, with a dynamism that will undoubtedly make them an asset to whatever university they eventually choose if they seek to continue their studies. And hopefully they will have a flying start through their experience of doing some university level work with the academics who will teach them.

 

Liza Griffin is a Lecturer and Co-Director of the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU. Kamna Patel is a Lecturer and Co-Director of the MSc Development Administration and Planning. Both have lived in the Kilburn area.