UCL Cities Methodologies 2012

February 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Hello everyone,

I saw this call for participants (pasted below) on an email list and thought it might be interesting for some of us – I initally thought I would submit some work but they want you to propose an event as well…….

I’m forwarding UCL Urban Lab’s call for participants for their annual Cities Methodologies themed showcase – not just for contributors from UCL but for ‘the wider community of urban researchers from any discipline’.

It’s usually quite an eye-catching mini festival. They are asking for proposals for exhibits and events which engage with the topic and which could range ‘from archival studies to statistical analyses, practice-led art and design work, oral history, writing, walking, film-making and photography’.


They mention one of the themes as ‘housing and dehousing‘ and while I don’t know what dehousing means, I guess at things like eviction, exclusion from housing, deprivation of rights to housing, lack of control over housing or the home environment perhaps (which I suppose could include things like noise nuisance and conflict, deprivation of peace in the home, which would also include violence in the home, but that might be getting further away from their point).  This prompted me to recall my sketchy seriesHome that some of you might remember I presented about ages ago.  (Note for the avoidance of confusion my name was Claire Haslam then and so is still on the blog as that – I am the same person!)  Part of the point of that project was overlaying the text of a Neil Kinnock speech onto images of my then home as a way of trying out how to add text to an image, but also how to add text (or meaning itself) to a place.
Which connects to the canary wharf walk that Alex, Christian and I did, where I put some of Alex’s text onto combinations of my pictures.  This was again a way of trying to bring out some richer sort of meaning than the pictures alone would do.  When wriitng it as a post for the Crossing Lines blog I wanted to add epigraphs as another layer of added meaning and reference to other imagined places, something I do often, eg:
Like English life as a whole, nothing in Brooklands could be taken at face value.

JG Ballard, Kingdom Come

There still is life, however.  Birds chirp; sparrows, they must be.  Their small voices are clear and sharp, nails on glass: there’s no longer any sound of traffic to drown them out.

Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

Connecting these is now making me wonder about the possibility of organising a walking event along so-called High Street 2012, or Whitechapel High Street, Whitechapel Road, Mile End Road, Bow Road and Stratford High Street, as the ‘locals’ know them.  I’d like to propose a way of choosing particular locations along this 4-5 mile stretch of road and holding a walk with stopping points at which a group of participants would gather and read out some texts that relate in some way to the significance of that site, changes it has undergone, histories of that place that are uncelebrated, or I’m also thinking of things like Ballard or extracts from novels or oral histories or plays or political speeches that would bring out something about the place that counters the hegemonic triumphalist narrative of High Street 2012.  I despise the politics of this project which repeats yet again (or reinscribes, in the jargon) the diminishment and non-importance of the local people who live in extreme poverty and social exclusion just steps away from the ‘high street’, as well as living alongside well off folk like me, and who also always get excluded from middle-class arty projects like this one, so I would have to find a way of working on that angle too.
Kinder Low, on the Pennine Way, by Claire Reddleman

Kinder Low, on the Pennine Way, by Claire Reddleman

I’m also thinking about the Pennine Way which is a 270-mile long-distance walking path going north (or south) from the Peak District to the Scottish Borders.  I’m thinking about this because that’s where I’ll be while the Olympics are happening, partly in order to avoid seeing the military in the city which I am so horrified by that my only response is to leave while it’s happening. I’m thinking about using text of the Pennine Way guide as a structuring theme for the Hight Street 2012 walk, perhaps reading a small section at each stopping point before hearing other readings.  This relates to the Situationist International using maps of another city to navigate the city they’re actually in (or was that Andre Breton? Can’t find it online). So the idea is not new in that sense, but I think the doing of it might set up an interesting alternate experience of the street.
So, please do have a look at the link and let me know if this interests you at all (even just to take part rather than be involved in making a proposal).  I am disregarding their thing about urban research methods being ‘innovative’ because I think it’s ridiculous – going for a walk and having a think about stuff with other people does not have to be innovative to be worth doing.  Don’t believe the hype and all that (but we all fall into using it sometimes!)
Sorry I can’t be at the next meet-up so maybe we can discuss over email if you’re interested.
All the best

Deadline 1st May…


‘Sketches’ by Claire Haslam from May meeting

May 6, 2011 § Leave a comment


Canary Wharf: prose by Alex McIlhiney

March 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

From a distance, the tower and its neighbours looked little different than when I was a child, glass monoliths framed in steel, a dwarf Manhattan. It was only as I came closer that telling details revealed themselves; cracked window panes, once angular patches of lawn overgrown, smashed cars abandoned along the double red lines of private roads.

The central station had still kept much of its grandeur. The intricate arched roof was still intact, and the marble surfaces of the walls seemed to be impervious to vandalism. I walked down a stopped escalator into a large shopping precinct that had once been filled with restaurants and designer shops for the enjoyment of the district’s workers. Was this where the restaurant was? I couldn’t be sure.  Much of it was now an indoor market of small stalls selling everything from household goods to cheap jewellery. There were a few chain stores remaining in the precinct, a supermarket and several shoe shops. Most of the outlets were in disuse, shutters permanently pulled down and bolted, the empty stores shrouded in shadows. A loop of classical music played quietly over the tannoy system, the piano notes blank and almost indistinguishable from each other.

A large group of schoolchildren were running through the halls, screaming and laughing then suddenly erupting into a massive play fight. On a bench a man in a leather jacket was showing a trick to a group of other men, hiding a ball under a cup then swiftly sliding it between two others. Money was changing hands.

I climbed another stopped staircase to exit onto the square at the centre of the district. My memory proved true and I remembered well the day I had met my father there. I had been here after that day, in my adult life, but no memories had been attached to those visits; why I had gone or who had I met.  Around me the towers dominated everything, still impressive in their scale and construction. Most of them had boards and coverings over the panes cracked and shattered by youths from opposing neighbourhoods.

There was a small park here, a piece of lawn where a boy was training a dog by getting it to pull at a piece of rope. The dog would shake and tear at it vigorously. The boy saw me looking and stared back at me, half hostile, half front.

At the end of the path, underneath the tree, a shopping trolley sat upturned, empty, unexplained.

Everywhere there are CCTV cameras, perched at the top of poles or bolted to the sides of the towers. Most are broken; perhaps a few others feed blurred footage to blank monitors.

They are old and heavy, the metal rusted, the glass eye blinded by well-aimed stones. A few, knocked from their perches hang by their spinal cords. Others sleeker, modern, hidden, twist and turn on their axis relaying footage of their ancestors being assaulted to a remote control room, in a station behind closed shutters or to a drone circling overhead.

The water features at the centre of the square have been deactivated for reasons of ‘safety and cost’. The central fountain was choked at its opening by a knot of weeds that spread out across the granite in the small dents and cracks that had appeared over decades. On the green surrounding it a group of children were playing football. From photographs of its heyday I knew there were several sculptures around the estate, abstract figures symbolising freedom or prosperity, arms outstretched to the sky or chaste lovers sitting side by side. Most had gone now, although there were a few survivors covered in graffiti, being used as climbing frames by the younger children. Sold for scrap or hidden in storage, the symbols of a deposed regime removed but not replaced.