Sensing the city; artists, embodiment and urban space #2

My second post from the Sensing the City Salon focusses on Victoria Hunter’s presentation about her dance research work in the area of Raval in Barcelona, Spain. Where with a colleague Ana Moya Pellitero, she worked with a group of participants, mainly older women, who were residents of the city, asking ‘How do you know Raval through your body?’

This series of workshops saw the women explore the physical surfaces, streets, public spaces using embodied movement practices – giving the participants an opportunity to have a conversation between their body and the urban space they live in, as a new way to understand and think about the place they live. Victoria reported that some participants felt profoundly moved by experiencing their city in this way and that simultaneously the project created an incidental audience, which witnessed older women playing and enjoying their cityscape.

There is a key agenda in UK urbanism, that of making our urban spaces age-friendly. Here where I live in Manchester, an action research project has been researching, through the development of age-friendly neighbourhood boards, how older people (people over fifty) can have agency in their area, and get involved in making their neighbourhoods more age-friendly. I have been involved in two projects with one of these boards, Mile Platting Age-Friendly Neighbourhoods Board. However, it is clear that spatial exclusion can prevent headway being made, i.e. the challenges that some communities face in having any agency at all in relation to the planning system and development activity going on in their areas, are often insurmountable.

The recent TCPA’s Raynsford Review of the planning system comments on the inequalities in the system, where disadvantaged communities and many different groups (such as older people) are excluded from engaging in the planning system (p.78).

Victoria’s presentation made the connection for me between this issue of spatial exclusion and the potential of her research as an alternative, joyful, embodied and thorough way for older people (and others) to connect their lived experience to their urban place and understand it in a different way. Perhaps the world of planning and development could learn much from this, could it be a valuable stepping stone towards supporting older people to engage in issues around planning and development in their areas?

Image credits: Ana Moya Pellitero and Victoria Hunter

About waymarkingthesketchbook

Sarah Spanton is director of arts organisation Waymarking -
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