Derby city center – a walker’s paradise?

For this rather unique assessment, I decided to focus on the idea of ‘’walkability’’. It refers to the idea of how walking-friendly the surrounding, built environment is, how close by are all the commodities that one might need to live a satisfying life. I wanted to focus on this topic in particular because I feel rather strongly about it; I’m from a family of environmentalists. I’ve never experienced the luxury of having a car in my family or having one of my parents to drive me to places. I’ve always walked or biked, it’s my preferred way of transportation (and frankly a very undervalued one). So, walkability, the possibility of achieving my potential to the maximum without a car, is close to my heart. So, I embarked on this interactive lecture knowing that I wanted to focus on detecting how the urban planning process of Derby has been informed by the concept of walkability and its significant implications for the economy, social life and health in today’s society.

I set off on the walk from Friargate Campus. Friargate itself is walker’s heaven; it ends in town center and from one end to the other, each side is filled with vast range of restaurants from Italian to Caribbean, little shops, bars, museums and art galleries, launderettes, B&Bs, churches, nightclubs, historic sights, studios spaces, apartment buildings, realtors – you name it! You wouldn’t have to walk far to find any necessity you might need if you’re lucky enough to live on the Friargate street. ‘’Lucky’’ being the optimum word since as Litman (2003) suggests, high walkability is often also associated with increased property values and rental rates.

Something that caught my eye while I was walking down Friargate, heading to town was the choice of flooring. It’s EXTREMELY slippery in any other weather than sunny and dry. There’s only so many shoe options that can battle this… This made me think about walkability and its relation to the built environment, and how to some this flooring will affect will they walk to town this way or not. (also note the inability of the homo sapiens to hold on to their chewing gums until the next bin…)

As I’ve come to know from living in Derby for little under two years now, the center point of the town is the intu shopping center. Intu is embedded into the town center so well, when I first moved, I didn’t know it existed. I assumed it was built into the infrastructure already previously present there, rather than being a separate shopping entity at the edge of the town center like the Meteor Center, making it effortlessly part of the High Street which itself is an important part of British culture. Intu’s embeddedness into the town center makes it extremely accessible and walkable. As I walked around intu I observed that there are at least 8 entrances, all situated so that if your walking into town from whatever direction you don’t need to go around to find an entrance from the other side.

All of these entrances except one are also accessible with a wheelchair. This is something that not many of us notice but it’s a crucial part for building the self-confidence and capacity of disabled individuals, to be able to access places without help from others. This made me think of Henri Lefebvre’s idea of ‘’the right to the city’’; It’s everyone’s human right to access the services and resources that the town center offers. This was clearly taken into consideration when these entrances were built. And turns out after a quick search, accessibility and inclusivity have been one of the main approaches to urban design since the 1990s, close to the building time of the Intu Centre (Coleman et al., 2016).

Next, I headed to St. Peter’s Street which is the main road that goes through the town center, also known as Derby’s high street. From in front of Costa, which is in the mid-way of St Peter’s Street, you can see everything you might ever need in life, and this spot in town is easily walkable in 15 min from a number of residential areas or the student accommodations.

There’s a big grocery store, little convenient store, multiple bank options, recreational spaces and benches, Gregg’s, multiple options of fast food, gyms, coffee shops, shops of shoes, electronics, clothes cards, places of worship etcetera. There is literally something for everyone. And at both ends of the high street, there are major bus stops and taxi lines so walkability to out-of-town-center-transport is also high. In addition, this spot on the high street also grants you access to each side of town. It made me think how well connected the Derby city center is. Even though the promotion of walkability in urban planning goes back to the emergence of New Urbanism in the 1980s (Varma, 2017) Derby has an extremely long line of history, some of it dating back to the 10th century. So, this makes me wonder can we attribute the aspects of the walkability of Derby city center to modern urban planners or perhaps the Romans, Saxons and Vikings of the past?

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Second Floor Cities

While navigating my way through our walk of Derby I decided to find a new way of viewing Derby or a new aspect I’d never seen before. For a city it’s very compact, the city centre and all the shops are very clustered with little walks in between all the facilities you’d expect in a city.

The roads in Derby centre themselves are interesting in the fact that a large majority are one way, with some exception of only taxis or busses being allowed accessed in both directions. This gave me an idea for my walk, the fact that cars in a city centre for the most part are required to follow a one-way route; Yet while on foot you’re free to walk where you want and in any direction. However, has this one-way route concept positioned itself in our mind a one-way view point? It came to my realisation that people follow their own routes on auto pilot, they tunnel vision their walks and keep to the same routines as it’s just natural and the walkability of a city is made so simplistic. What came to my mind was, does anyone ever look up? We stick to our regular routes and even most commonly stick to the same side of the road every journey we make presenting us the same repetitive view.

Have cities become a product to gentrification and lost all identity or are people becoming more ignorant to look up and around? People stay in their technological worlds that’s available right at their fingertips so there is no thought process to change routine. People’s loss is there ability to take everything for face value, no one looks for a new perspective because it’s all the same in a city and their phones can supply 24/7 entertainment and aesthetics that are constantly changing. Shop fronts become generic, gentrification brings shop fronts in town centres to look the same and all present a commercialised presence that we’ve all seen before.

Phil Smith talks about experiencing walks for more than a walk, he believes walking is like acting and your surroundings become a partner in the performance. He suggests we should look beyond the literal; our feelings are ambiguous as an imagist poetry so you should interpret accordingly. Smith refers to the concept of varying the height of your head from the ground or even lying down to witness the perspective of a rough sleeper. He also makes mention in his work “carry a light plinth for looking over walls. In shopping areas check out the storeys above the generic ground floor shop fronts”. An understanding of what a city really has to offer, when you look for a new perspective and became very present to me.

Looking up in any city presents you with an entirely new city, as I found walking through Derby. The ironic thing is it presents an entirely new city which in actual fact it presents you with the old city, the history of Derby and all found new character to the buildings around you. I found the old Post Office building entirely due to looking up, if I didn’t, I’d still be under the impression that the building was just an over priced club I’d been into once in my life.

Above shop fronts you could see real definition in designs, like old style architecture houses displayed above generic, dull shop fronts. More surprises unfolded the further I walked into the centre, I found myself at a Costa coffee, a shop you’re never to far away from in any town or city. What surprised me was above the one placed in Derby City centre displays statues of historic Derby figures like, John Lombe and William Hutton each being from or having an impact upon Derby’s industrial history.

I once again found myself amazed and coincidentally it was due to another café, above The Book Café in Derby another piece of history left untouched by time which was where once the Derby and Derbyshire’s Banking Company stood. A building once so important and essential in the running of the county becoming a simple café with everyone oblivious to the fact of the building’s original role in the history of Derby. To uncover this and learn something new all that is needed from people is to look up and out of their tunnel vision lives.

While walking along people even looked at me funny for looking up and taking photos of the tops of buildings. It was clearly weird for locals to see someone looking at the top of a building in Derby and especially to the extent of taking photos. This only confirmed to me even more that people don’t look up and around, they stick to there routes of the city and never see anything new. My concept became even more apparent when a fellow student, who had lived in Derby all his life said from just looking up even he saw and learnt new things; Just from seeing through a new perspective and observing the second floor of his city.

Our cities are made to be structured horizontally, it’s seen as what’s best for a city layout and is why everyone orientates around the ground floor levels and pays little interest or thought to look any higher. Le Corbusier imagined a vertical concentration of urban population, rather than horizontal. I wondered as I walked along, if our cities were based more around Le Corbusier’s concept of a vertical city would people still not take note of what’s above face value?

Derby Ditches Dowry for Dough

Walking; a popular enough activity most of us mortals engage with. However sometimes, stepping through space is simply not stimulating enough. For some, the traversal of time is a far more tantalising concept. One may even release a loud exhale of anguish in remembrance that they will never be able to see the technological majesty of Tenochtitlan or the wonders contained within the Great Library of Alexandria. Unfortunately, I am here to inform you that time machines do not currently exist, and even if they did – you could not travel back in time at the risk of creating a paradox! But fear not, time-traveler-in-training, although I do not have a time machine, I do have an alternative, albeit a slightly disappointing one; the ability to imagine the past!

My hypothetical time trek began at One FriarGate Square, denoted by the University of Derby logo on the map, and I headed towards my first destination, the nearby Friargate Bridge. I had previously analysed old ordinance maps and collected a number of old photos of Derby prior to creating my route. This route made use of streets that had existed a century ago in order to navigate through the city and visit the spaces that were in the old photos.

As I made my way past the unique and old looking house on the corner of Friar Gate with the hanging lanterns, I felt as if I had already been whisked away to the Victorian era and as I turned right onto Friar Gate I half expected to see Sherlock Holmes or Oliver Twist on one of their own walks. But alas, it was nought but a stream of modern shiny automobiles humming along. And as I reached my first outdoor photo studio, It became apparent that the once busy FriarGate Bridge had be demoted to an ornament. At one time trams had travelled under its embellished columns and trains over it’s weighty girders. Now, concealed in nets and dust from years of car fumes it was barely recognizable. At least the trees had made progress.

Then I travelled onto Curzon Street, via Stafford Street and Friary Street, and as I came up to my next photo opportunity I waited patiently at the side of the road. I was waiting for a large enough gap in the traffic to take a picture of St Werburgh’s Church, an issue, I’m guessing, the photographer of the original photo did not have to contend with fewer cars existing.

The next stop was Beckett Street, via Bramble Street. The old photos portrayed the Wardwick area to be an affluent-looking inner city with numerous beautiful buildings. To my dismay Wardwick Library was no longer visible from the street – it was concealed behind a large looming lump of mundanity called Burdett house; home to an employment agency. Even the old registry office was reduced to mediocrity with such surroundings imposing themselves on the eyes. The horse and carriage in the original photo was replaced with a new white Land Rover, which in front of that particular building, more closely resembled some kind of tacky space shuttle from 2050. Yet despite its appearance, and rumours that it might be shut down due to ‘violence and disorder’ – the Hairy Dog adds some much needed personality to the street.

From the corner of Beckett street I photographed Wardwick Library. I was unsure about the library. It looked almost identical to the photograph, yet sadder. If a building can be sad. It looked old and worn, but still dignified. I imagine the of sense of sadness I felt emanating from the building had something to do with it’s literary contents being moved out – essentially rendering Wardwick library, a library no longer.

I slipped through the ‘library’ courtyard and down the side of the  Derby Museum and Art Gallery to be greeted by Sarry’s Takeaway – the twelfth best takeaway in Derby, according to Yelp users – yet a one-star rating for hygiene by Derby City Council. From there I headed down Cheapside, past Sarry’s, and towards Bold Lane. There I spotted what appeared to be some kind of mid-century modernist style three-storey carpark, which after corroborating with the original photo seemed to have replaced a gated park. I wondered: is a carpark a park? It has the word ‘park’ in it. I pondered why the action of purposefully stopping your car is known as parking. At this point, I felt as if I had said the word park so many times it had lost its meaning and had become nonsensical gibberish. So I decided to cut my losses regarding the philosophy of the park of cars, when I noticed the giant metal arm hanging above Derby College. It appeared to be that yet more student accommodation was being erected. Looking at the skeletal frame of the building, I could already see the hundreds of tiny rooms, soon to be filled with young minds who will be charged upwards of £115 per week. It would have been like a feverish dream of Le Corbusier’s, if not for the inevitable plastic cladding which also adorns the student accommodation next to One Friargate Square. Because if Derby needs more of anything; it’s students!

Next, on my travels I travelled down Sadler Gate to take a picture of Derby’s 212-foot Cathedral. I noted the unique thinness of Sadler Gate, which interestingly did not appear on the old ordinance map. Perhaps, it was Derbys very own ‘Rat Alley’ at some time, and the ordinance map creator didn’t feel it was even worth denoting on the map. Whatever the reason, Sadler Gate is now one of the most architecturally interesting streets in Derby, in my opinion. Between the grand arch of The Strand Arcade, the narrow winding alley leading to Vines, or the Tudor-style black wooden beams and white plaster walls of the Old Bell Hotel, it’s hard to decide which is the most enchanting. But as I turned left out of Sadler gate, and the space opened up for the town square, the enormous Derby cathedral dominated my attention. It really is quite large – it also had a presence in some of the other locations I’d visited.

The next subject of my photographic endeavours was the town hall, residing in the town square. Again, I found that a number of the buildings had been replaced by garish blocks of concrete, plastic, and glass. However, it was the waterless water fountain in the centre of the square that truly imposed mediocrity on the space. Luckily, for the ‘water’ fountain on this particular day, it was being out-performed by an enormous pink tent belonging to ‘The Ladyboys of Bangkok’. I was thankful that these travellers from a distant land had erected their tent where they did – it provided temporary respite from DerbyLive’s Assembly rooms.

I left the aesthetic disaster, of the collective architectural medley which included the Assembly rooms, the Quad, and the town hall in the same space, behind me and headed down the Corn Market towards St.Peters Street – the metaphorical backbone of Derby’s shopping scene. At one time trams travelled from the town square all the way up to the top of St. Peters Street and beyond. Now the only thing that flowed was a steady stream of shoppers passing between Primark, and Tesco and then into the Intu Centre. This was a space automobile had not yet infiltrated, besides the occasional police van to ensure that the shopping continued without disturbance.

As I progressed up the hill I reached ‘The Spot’, the final destination of my route. I’d recently read a Derby Telegraph article about the lack of public toilets in Derby city centre, which contained an image of The Spot’s prior toilet facilities when the shopping centre was still owned by Westfields. As my route came to an end, at the top of the hill, I, a lowly citizen of Derby, could not comprehend the scale and potency of the council’s deliberations regarding this space when it appeared that they had replaced vital hygiene facilities with 4 chrome rings, which I later discovered cost £50,000. This art was the proverbial cherry on the top my excursion, both the final destination and a ludicrous demonstration of the modern function of a city. Not an environment designed for humans – but rather giant wall-less shopping centres.

After travelling around Derby, specifically to sites that had aspects that have remained the same for a century. The most glaring differences were generally pertaining to the architecture. Derby has retained much of its traditional 19th-century architecture like Wardwick Library, Derby Technical College, and Derby Town Hall. However, the advent of the ring road at the expense of houses and churches, and the removal of trams at the expense of automobiles has also had a dramatic affect on the city landscape.

Despite these ornate historical vestiges protruding intermittently, they are predominantly surrounded by shops, signs and other markers of how the city’s spaces have seemingly been produced for the benefit of business rather than the human creature. At first glances it would appear that Derby has ditched it’s historical dowry for the purpose of producing dough.

A drift into (one of) Derby’s Other Realm(s)

Having provided the class with embarking on this walk witha number of ideas on how to walk with the intention of seeing another city, of taking a new approach to the familiar, of renewing space I found myself without a clear idea of the scripts my own walk was going to draw on for inspiration. I trusted in serendipity and spontaneity. They didn’t disappoint.

As I set off, a woman passed and was talking about fairy lights into her phone and this began to frame a number of encounters that would suggest my theme. I started taking photos of buildings and objects that might contribute to a story of this part of Derby. Next to our University building is a newly built block of student residences. I watched them being built over wasteland that, during the building process was stripped of a layer of resurgent green to reveal the cobbles and tracks of old railway lines. These included the ones featured at the start of this film:

https://youtu.be/aXJ4HkXCxrM

We currently teach and learn roughly on the site of the Friargate Station. Fairies and the hidden past. I felt like I was onto something. Quickly, one after the other, an angel, and then a haunted house.

angel

I’m going to be talking about the new religious movement, Heaven’s Gate on the day after our walk and I’m very conscious of Christopher Partridge’s observation (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1016/j.religion.2004.04.014) that in their beliefs,

Western demonological ideas are conspicuous here. Space aliens are fallen technological angels seeking to tempt humans away from the truth.

Angels, a distraction from… well, there’s another blog post in that but then, almost immediately I saw the entrance to Derby Gaol.

gaol01

This is run by local popular historian Richard Felix and its tales are to some degree interwoven with tales of the supernatural. No doubt this stems from his participation in the television programme Most Haunted. Here I thought of Mikel Koven’s article ‘Most Haunted and the Convergence of Traditional Belief and Popular Television’. In this he suggests that Most Haunted is typical of a very particular convergence of cultural forms. In its case, folkloric ghost legends and populist television programmes. He draws on the use of the term ostentation as it is used in folklore studies,

‘This is where individuals, after hearing certain stories, decide to engage in legend-like activities themselves,’ (Koven 2008, 184).

It was becoming obvious, I should look for the folkloric, the legendary and the mythical. I’d already talked to students about Phil Smith’s mythogeography so this had the happy effect that happenstance had presented something that would be familiar to students.  More particularly, it suggested what I was doing, searching for legends; seeking to confirm – or uncover – the hidden surfaces of local landscapes. (If, at any point, you wonder what I am going on about here – tying together fiction, folklore, academia, instinct, and more – then visiting his site is strongly advised.)

I passed an abandoned tax office. The underground car park reminded me of 1970s Dr Who. A misdirected scientist, perhaps in thrall to The Master, conducting an experiment that would see a malevolent alien in the guise of a figure from folklore return to bring terror once more. Or, in the hands of the less subtle 1980s and the modern reboot, a more direct evocation of (the banality of) evil, The Bureaucrats.

drWho01

Another clue (a demonic-angelic misdirection?) seemed to be this drain cover. I tried, and failed, to find symmetry in its pattern of wholes. I still do. In the the upper half is symmetry is evident but it’s elusive in the lower half.

lovedrain

I was hoping that this walk would offer a route away from my usual academic concerns: the resurgence of fascism and the far right and their use of current cultures of conspiracy and apocalyptic thought. But in this drain cover, I could sense those particular shadows once again. I tried to distract myself and thought of Charles Rangeley-Wilson’s account of getting down on his hands and knees to listen at a drain cover for the lost river Fleet under the street of central London in The Accidental Angler. I tried it. I heard nothing, an absence of sound. The refusal of symmetry instead made me think of the cosmic horrors of H.P. Lovecraft, unfolding themselves through impossible angles, ‘non-Euclidean geometries’, which brought me back to this portal. It looks like it should have symmetry but refuses it. But I didn’t want to enter a Lovecraftian world of unfathomable terror in the face of the cults and beliefs of the seaborne Other. Apparently, the current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has a love of manhole covers; and, yes, I know I shouldn’t have but I thought of accounts of Lovecraft’s anti-Semitism and the very public reckoning with its evils that the Labour party are currently undergoing. I moved on, away from the unsettling cover.

On the corner of the street leading to our destination, the long abandoned Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, serendipity redirected me once more. On someone’s bin there was a box of unwanted items. I took a couple of saucers and a couple of books: Jamaica Inn and a novelisation of an old BBC radio serial, Waggoner’s Walk.

found

The generous householder lived at the corner opening on to a cul-de-sac. Waggoner’s Walk was set, yes, on a cul-de-sac. Happy at this coincidence I felt that the walk’s narrative was emerging once more. The title nagged at me for a while. There was something more to it, I felt.

I ascended the steps to the abandoned Warehouse, set on a large patch of open ground, wasteland in all fairness. Since getting home from the walk it dawned me how suggestive it is of the Parthenon when viewed from the roundabout where Uttoxeter New Road meets Stafford Street. The warehouse and its gardens provide a shortcut to the City Centre from the mostly residential areas clustered around Uttoxeter Old Street. Its spaces also provide temporary refuge for sections of the city’s population of substance users, and a multiple canvasses for graffiti artists. We met a trio of final year undergraduate urban planning students from the University of Sheffield. It’s fitting that they were there. The Warehouse and the surrounding spaces are good examples of the Future Voids that Rob Roggema described,

Future voids are defined here as ‘any empty space in an urban system, that can enable local agents to respond to adverse events (disasters, disorder) or promising opportunities (new technologies) at any time in the future’ (Roggema 2018, 353)

Part of the surroundings are a large area of concrete and plans exist to build a school there. But what of the people who currently use it? The ‘void’ is still a place for them; none were there when as I walked around but they had left behind signs, signifiers and material reminders of their lives random detritus among the beer cans, fire sites and the paraphernalia of dependencies: burnt spoons and sharps.

The first thing that struck me were the lines of site that connected the location to the University’s One Friar Gate Square, ‘the copper building’, our starting point. Below, the platforms on either side of the railway line that once led towards can be seen; they would have crossed the railway bridge that still spans Friar Gate; itself now walled and fenced off. Also the subject of ‘plans’ – a railway carriage restaurant. Derby continually turns to its past to seek to reinvent itself. This is the reimaging of a city as a spur to planned gentrification that Deborah Stevenson describes in The City,

What is being sold in city reimaging and promotion strategies is not simply the physical (often redeveloped) spaces of the city, but also its symbolic spaces, including how the city feels, what it means and what it looks like (Stevenson 2013, location 0426)

This is the aim of, ‘Marketing Derby [which] promotes Derby and Derbyshire in order to attract and support investment.’ A promotional video (‘Imagine a City’) they’ve made starts with the copper building and then speaks of Derby’s industrial past and the history of innovation associated with the city and its environs. Exploring the abandoned shell of that history, I found other phantasms besides those Jebediah Strutt, Richard Arkwright, Joseph Wright, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce.

ghost

The past is always with us in human spaces; from field patterns to street names and the archeosemiotics of building forms. In can be celebrated in plaques, it can be a shameful burden in the form of memorials to colonial nightmares (within sight of the Warehouse is Curzon Street – named after the Viceroy of India during the famine of 1899-1900), it can also become buried under new layers of meaning and the rhythms and patterns of fresh usage. But it is always there.

The rail lines that directed vision across to the copper building mark a linear passage from the abandoned past to the inhabited present; from a railway heritage to an expanding university quarter. In pondering these things it hit me: it was these lines of connection that could be drawn onto the city that offered me the connective tissue of meaning that drew my walk together. The Waggoner’s Walk book was a clearer clue than I’d realised. It was, of course, strongly suggestive of Alfred Watkins’ The Old Straight Track, the classic mythopoetic study that gave rise to the idea of ley lines – Billy Mills gave a good account in The Guardian. Among Watkins’ claims is the idea that these lines of ancient power were trade routes – flows of capital designed by wise folk, sensitive to the landscape and beguiling to those without their sight; prehistoric counterparts to the phantasmagoric shopfronts that lured Benjamin back to the city again and again and the phantasmagoria influenced by Benjamin‘s channelling. Mills refers to John Michell’s new age enchantment of Watkins’ idea in his 1969 work, The View Over Atlantis. In this the leylines become conduits of intense magical power, radiating spiritual power through and within Britain’s ancient sites.

Again, my day job swerves into view at this point and warns me of ideas associated with sacralized landscapes and how these are redolent with ideas of national destinies and purity. Amy Hale has written about these themes in relation to John Michell’s politics and the evolving appropriation and use of his ideas. She warns us,

In addition to the more Pagan friendly topics within Michell’s corpus such as the emphasis on small, rural, decentered polities, crafts, anti-capitalism, and conservation, Michell also embraced traditional hierarchical and gender divisions and elitist theocracies. All of these positions of are consonant with anarcho-fascism or anarcho-monarchism, which are two potential political frameworks supported by New Right philosophy. (Hale 2011, 95)

But, whilst enchanted lands and the notion of ‘their people’ are available for appopriation by nationalists and especially the far right, there is a value in recalling the uses of looseknit intensifications of beliefs and spiritual practices that happen in ad hoc gatherings of people. Marion Bowman uses the powerful idea of ‘vernacular religion’ to describe religion as it is understood and used ‘on the ground’ and it seems particularly appropriate here because the Warehouse is enmeshed in symbolic forms that speak of religious practices.

Bearing echoes of the phallus of the Cerne Abbas giant, the Warehouse has a white paint phallus pointing outward. K.T. in Notes and Queries of September 13, 1930 provides accounts of the giant that describe it as being used as a site of fertility rituals in living memory. In this century, it is described by the ‘Slimbridge Dowsers’ as being part of a ley line connecting it to (where else?) Stonehenge. The Warehouse phallus has its own lines of sight. It points along Mercian Way – named after the ancient kingdom – toward the spire of Christ Church, now secularised on Normanton Road. The Mercian Way becomes Lara Croft Way.

phallus

In addition to the railway line linking the Warehouse to the copper building a further line, ancient and modern, Mercia and Lara Croft. On another walk I might look for other lines radiating outward from the Warehouse, like the radial lines of vision spreading out from l’Arc de Triomphe.

This is very much my own layer of vernacular religion but the surfaces of the Warehouse are marked with the vernacular religious speech of its visitors. Recalling the angel at the start of the walk, a UFO landing is painted on the wall, shrines to dead celebrities promising their return mingle with one of the slogans of arch conspiracy theorist David Icke.

triptych

UFOs, conspirituality? The Warehouse had led me back to familiar ground once again; I’ve also written about the dreamed of return of iconic national celebrities. I felt that this solipsism was another trap, another misdirection. I hadn’t come here to find my own work and the intellectual obsessions that drive me but for the city to reveal itself to me; or, at least, for one of the versions of Derby that I hadn’t yet experienced to show itself. I pressed on.

I’ve mentioned the concrete space that is currently due to become a school. With one or two missing sections it is entirely enclosed by a concrete wall; the wall is 7-8 feet high and it stretches round a perimeter of roughly half a mile. Every inch of the surface is painted on. Some figurative work but mostly huge blocky tags or abstract patterns. Between the tags are occasional memorial spaces, the one below being simply to ‘Mum’.

mum

On concrete plinths other makeshift commemorative works are painted; one being simply a personal message and a blue-edged bleeding heart shedding blue-edged tears.

heart

As the cost of dying continues to rise this multipurpose space provides an opportunity to record lives passing, to remember and to grieve. Amy Winehouse, sacralised national darling, substance user, chanteuse of the demi-monde promises a return, ‘Back soon…not finished’. Amidst the memorials she offers hope of the life eternal; hope amidst the chaos, a vernacular Mary Christ.

The void space is filled with meanings. On this walk I’ve been drawn to the vernacular religious interactions with space; more suggested themselves – a grove with a shamanic space; a bed of needles for a smack swami; concealed, illuminated interior worlds; pathways into the unknown; and an icon of a postmodern Anubis: technicolour pug doggo. Credo!

barneyFb02

I should make clear I’m not seeking to romanticise nor diminish the everyday challenges faced by the people who congregate round the Warehouse. They are not homogeneous and should not be thought of as such. Certainly, the substance users whose addictions leave material reminders all around the site have lives blighted by austerity and a lack of public will to address their convergent and interrelated needs. But whilst their substance use patterns their social networks and the stigma that they – and the places associated with them – experience it does not negate what they share with all of us. Instead, what I hope to suggest is that amidst lives and lifestyles that are depicted as problematic or, indeed, a threat to public order there are strands of meaning that are shared across the fields of the social.

It may be that this feels like a somewhat weighty place to end a walk in which the city I saw was pieced together from shreds of contingent meaning that I encountered along the way but it was this narrowing down of my vision – this happenstance hyperopia – that allowed some of the meanings apparent in this place to become apparent. It permitted me to see afresh some of the culture that allows this space, blighted by territorial stigmatization, to unburden it and its users of their shared stigma. This is part of the culture of the city, no more and no less than that of the creative class so desired by the planners and managers of postindustrial cities reimaging themselves. The temporary residents and visitors to the postindustrial wastelands of modern cities are always already engaged in the process of reimaging and remaking the spaces around them, making them theirs: places of meaning derived from the organic, the vernacular and resistant to the imposed structures of ordered renewal. A final reminder, borrowed from Phil Smith, ‘Our enemies are not each other. But the homogensation, policing and reduction of multiplicity.’

chillout

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining us! The heading of this first post is WordPress’ default choice. It’s probaly best to tailor blog content to our particular needs but here the default fits this blog, though. The blog reflects the experiences of staff and students taking part in the University of Derby Sociology module 5SL520 Urban Sociology. The module links the lives of urban dwellers and wider social processes: globalisation, migration, gentrification, urban planning, architecture, utopias and dystopias, governance, and the right to the city. Our engagements with urban spaces are defined by journeys – to, from, and through – and this blog is dedicted to providing everyone contributing to the module with a space to record our multiple journeys

The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered – Michael de Certau tr. Steven Rendall The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press 1984, 97)

 

 

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