Sensing the city; artists, embodiment and urban space #4

This is my final post on the Sensing the City Salon.

My colleague, artist and academic researcher Dani Abulhawa spoke about her recent performance work ‘Feint Lines’ as well as earlier performance work. These pieces focus on issues of play in public urban space and gendered-performance and also include ‘Alices(s)’ and ‘Unknowable’, where she performs improvised play alone in public spaces throughout the UK. Dani also makes work that references her experiences of being a female skate-boarder, which she describes ‘as a persistent backdrop to the range of things I do’. ‘Feint Lines’ in particular sees Dani performing on a skateboard, occupying a whole floor of a car park in Salford (as part of a ‘Lone women in not quite light night’ event 2018).

I find Dani’s work very evocative – when I’ve heard her speak about it, it always resonates strongly and makes a multiplicity of connections in my mind to a range of urban space issues; from the issue of whether women are allowed in public space at all (‘Occupy the night streets’ India), the controlling and prescribing of women’s actions in public space, how men choose to interact with a lone woman in public space (#MeToo movement), or simply whether or not it’s acceptable for women to skateboard (or free-running, parkour etc).

Dani Unknowable 2014

But at this salon, it resonated most around ideas of adults playing in public space, what this consists of, where and how it can take place, and the question of whether its only acceptable when formalised. For me the potential for play in public space intersects strongly with the issues raised by Dani’s work for women.

Given the issues of ‘death of the high street’ dilemmas face by all our town and cities today, where there is much planning and development-based discussion about reinventing the high street/town centres for not only shopping, but also residential and leisure. Could we open out the ‘leisure’ part of this equation and really think about what we mean by leisure. Artists are already working to redefine, re-imagine and develop our collective understanding of urban space differently. I’m keen to help make the practical real-world connections between the planning, development and regeneration sectors and the arts and artists, especially those working around dance and performance and to foster more cross-sector dialogue around all the issues raised in the last four blog posts on sensing the city; embodiment and urban space.

Image credit: Dani Abulhawa

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Sensing the city; artists, embodiment and urban space #3

This is third post from the Sensing the City Salon is based on Sara Wookey’s presentation. Sara presented a series of works she undertook whilst living in Los Angeles between 2010 and 2014. A core theme was walking, which people experience very differently in LA, a city designed for the car and its driver. She had recently moved from Amsterdam a very different city, excellent for walkers and cyclists. Sara was commissioned by the municipality and also noted urbanist Edward Soja during this period.

I was particularly interested in her walking practices and her use of what known in dance practice as  ‘pedestrian movement’ and how these expand perceptions of how people occupy and move around urban space.

Sara described one work ‘Being Pedestrian’, a collaboration with visual artist Sara Daleiden which was about encouraging people to walk in Los Angeles, via tours, walking workshops with community groups and included a pamphlet publication which helped people ‘warm-up’ for being a pedestrian, which included asking people to become more bodily aware in order to venture out into the city.

Sara Wookey #1

I was particularly interested in a performance workshop project which linked directly to how LA had been designed, such as the particularly tricky ‘mid-block’ crossing. Which revealed the issues pedestrians have crossing certain junctions, by performing on masse, across and around the junction.

One of my recent projects has included working with a community group in Wigan, who are thinking about how one of their public spaces has been designed. As part of the workshop we identified a range of urban design issues relating to access and connections to, from and through their community green. We discussed urban design terms such as ‘permeability’, or how easy a space is to move through and around, we asked – is this a walkable space?

Sara’s work connects strongly to such UK urban design questions, especially in terms of finding creative and engaging ways to enable community groups to understand in depth why their neighbourhood has been designed and laid out as it has. I believe that by working with community groups in such engaging ways, they will develop more agency, enabling them to engage more fully with planners, the planning system and developers in the ongoing regeneration of our urban spaces.

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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

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Sensing the city; artists, embodiment and urban space #1

I recently attended an event entitled Sensing the City Salon, at Coventry University, part of the research programme which is ‘Documenting and mapping the tempers of urban place (a practice-based case study of the city of Coventry)’, jointly led Warwick and Coventry universities. This event brought together academics, dance and movement artists with an interest in ideas around a place-based, embodied experience of towns and cities. There were five presentations (including one from me) intended as food for thought, to stimulate and inform the ongoing action research being undertaken by a range of dance, theatre and visual arts researchers.

For me, each presentation brought up strong thoughts and ideas, connecting to my ongoing thought process around how artists can make closer links to, and be more valued by, the fields of planning, regeneration and economic development, on their own terms. As well as thinking about how artists can have more agency to engage in the development of urban spaces.

My next four posts will be about the four presentations from artists and academic researchers, Annette Arlander, Victoria Hunter, Dani Abulhawa and Sara Wookey.

Annette Arlander described her work ‘Stockhom Tree Calendar’. A fascinating time-lapse video work, in which Annette, positions herself within a tree (facing away from the camera), monthly, over a year, selecting trees based on the Celtic tree calendar. One direction my thoughts took in relation to this serene work, was to issues raised in recent social media of the new UK phenomena of developers netting trees and hedges to prevent birds nesting, prior to cutting them down and building on land.

In her presentation Annette described how trees are also inhabitants of cities, how they belong to cities. How a tree in a specific place, is are part of understanding of cultural history and identity in that place – and if it’s an old tree, how it can be a locus for local place-based memories across multiple generations. Thinking about what the trees themselves remember, could be an alternative way of understanding our towns and cities.

It was Annette’s comment that we are co-dependent with ‘nature’ and other species including trees (and other plants), that made the strong link for me, to the new way of thinking about green, open and blue spaces in planning and development, that of Green Infrastructure (see my posts in Oct and Nov 17). Especially that trees, plants and the quality of our green urban spaces have multiple values across social, environmental and economic arenas – and that the natural environment has the same status as water, energy and transport infrastructure. Thus clarifying that the netting of trees and hedges to expedite development, especially at this crisis point in terms of climate change is extremely counter-productive in human, social and environmental terms.

Image credit: Annette Arlander

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Making a difference: Bradford and Plymouth

I’ve been excited to meet and talk to individuals working against the odds in their towns to make a positive difference to their towns and small cities.

Artists Jean McEwan and Chemaine Cooke of Wur Bradford (see June 18 blog post) are seeking to bring local shoppers and traders together to discuss issues around the decline of the high street in the centre of Bradford.

At a Power 2 Change Learning Camp recently I met entrepreneurs and creatives based in Plymouth working with RIO (which stand for Real Ideas Organisation) whose mission is ‘to deliver real and lasting change through social enterprise’. One of which was Martyn Ellison who is co-running a micro-brewery called Billy Ruffian’s Brewing Co (in partnership with RIO), where some of the beer is made out of left-over bread. I’m very interested in how their business is part of a co-ordinated effort to work towards a strong local economy in Plymouth, by making use of under-used resources to prevent money from leaking out of the area.

Billy Ruffian's Beer

Image credit: Billy Ruffian’s Brewing Co

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Making a difference: Newcastle under Lyme and the 6 Potteries Towns

Following on from October’s blog, I’ve recently been listening to a couple of podcasts addressing issues relating to towns:

Weekly Economics Podcast (from New Economics Foundation): Is it the end of the Road for the High Street?

& Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd’s Reason to be Cheerful Podcast: Won’t you take me to Funky Town: power and prosperity in towns, featuring Lisa Nandy (Wigan MP).

Both of these raise some interesting questions around how people living and working in a neighbourhood can take greater control over designing and building their local economy. I’ve been meeting with people who are testing out ways to tackle the challenges face by local communities trying to do this. Including the social and economic regeneration company Hometown Plus, who are working in partnership with a strong team of collaborators in Newcastle under Lyme and the 6 potteries towns of Stoke on Trent, Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longley, Stoke on Trent and Tunstall.

Its fascinating to watch the great progress of their innovative CounterCoin programme – a volunteer and business reward scheme, which is inspiring individuals, community groups, arts organisations and independent businesses to work together to bring life back to their high streets.2nd Edition CC

Image credit: CounterCoin –


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Making a difference in Plymouth, Newcastle Under Lyme, Bradford

This next couple of blog posts are some very early musings on the current relationship between towns and cities and highlights some learning and thinking I’ve been doing about this. As an adult I’ve always lived in big cities (Sheffield, Leeds and now Manchester – sometimes considered the Core Cities ). But increasingly I’ve become interested in and aware of, issues arising out of the relationship between the UK’s big cities and its smaller cities and towns.

Economic development in the UK has focused on, gathering resources around these largest 11 cities (Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham,  Sheffield), drawing in highly skilled workers to these places and concentrating energy, ideas and expenditure on for example infrastructure in these places*. This has been backed up by the idea that the prosperity of these cities will trickle down to elsewhere… however, it’s clear that within these 11 cities, that prosperity hasn’t even been trickling down within those cities, let alone beyond to neighbouring smaller cities or towns. There will be more on this in my next posts.

My attention has recently been drawn to a number of community-led, social and economic activities taking place in three smaller cities and towns: Plymouth, Newcastle Under Lyme and Bradford. The following posts will outline some of the people and projects I’ve come across.


Image credit: Sarah Spanton, of Cultural Squatters Cafe, York Place, Newcastle Under Lyme

* – accessed 17.12.14

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Musings on Markets #4: How to find ways to solve issues of gentrification?

Following directly on from my previous post on street food and artisan markets – this post considers their relationship to the traditional market.

These new food halls and artisan markets aren’t delivering what the traditional market does. They are considered by many to be part of a gentrification process, defined by Gonzalez and Swanson as ‘… a concept often used to describe and criticise changes in the social make-up of a neighbourhood. Simply put, it can be seen as the replacement of a working class and/or low income population by middle class as dwellers, consumers, or both.’[1]

Gonzalez and Swanson point out the differences in what they call a gentrified market and a traditional market in this table.


They have strong concerns that affordable, essential goods are no longer available to those who need them and that the strong cultural tradition of markets is being lost, to something that may well be a passing retail trend. ‘This functional shift – from amenity to destination – changes the presentation of the market from a practical, necessary site of affordable goods to a more exclusive, niche and (possibly) temporary place of entertainment and variety.’[2]

I’m interested in finding ways to support the revitalisation of town centres and local neighbourhoods, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. How can different communities of interest work together to support a genuine ‘local’ economy where the money remains circulating locally for longer (and isn’t sucked away at speed through national chains)? How can local independent retailers/businesses continue to be supported in this era of Amazon and other online shopping?

Is there a way that some of the new ideas around food halls and artisan produce can be weaved into a traditional market, making something that brings new people into the market to experience and shop there, whilst retaining the values, affordability and customers who’ve been shopping in the traditional market for generations?

I have visited a couple of markets that are trying to do things differently and trying to resist the gentrification trend. A recent holiday to the town of Lagos in Portugal (the regional main town), I visited two linked local markets. Both were bringing in tourists, and both also had local people shopping at them. The first is a municipal market building featuring fish, fruit and vegetables and local delicacies. And the second Saturday farmers’ market in an open warehouse, where around 30 local farmers sold olives, peppers, fruit, nuts etc (often sitting on a crate, with just one or two crates of produce). Both markets were for local traders to sell their own produce at affordable prices.

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Lagos farmers market

The second is Levenshulme Market (Manchester), which began in 2013, a social enterprise which takes place on Saturday, and on a Friday evening, once a month. It has a mix of basic essential food produce (cheese, fruit and veg, bread, meats), street food, live music, also artisan craft stalls, vintage stalls, occasionally voluntary groups have a stall. Whilst not priced at the lower end of the scale, prices are not set too high. It has supported small businesses to start-up through their presence on the market and is actively seeking to make stronger links with retailers on the local high street (see their recent social value report).

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Anne Findlay and Leigh Sparkes (in Town and Country Planning Journal May/June 2018) have recently commented that ‘… retailing is not independent of economy, society or place, but is rather a reflection of what we value as consumers and society.’ I concur with this statement which strongly links the social and the economy. They also point out that the problems dogging the retail sector of late might be better resolved if a place-based approach is taken; ‘If you conceive the issue as being a retail one, then retail solutions get proposed and are often doomed to fail. If the problem is framed as place or town centre based, then the breadth of the problems is great, but the breadth of potential solutions is greater too. Towns are so much more than retailing.’

As I said at the outset of these last four posts on markets, I don’t have any concrete answers to the issues in relation to markets (yet!). But I do know we need to work together across public, private and social sectors, borrow approaches from other cultures, share ideas with each other and experiment, take risks and try to find ways to do things differently. In so doing we will support the resilience of our town and neighbourhood centres, make our local economies more prosperous, support all parts of our community, including those that need those essential and affordable goods provided by traditional markets and in so doing we can find ways to act to retain all that is valuable and worthwhile in the traditional market.

[1], [2] ‘Traditional Markets Under Threat: why it’s happening and what traders and customers can do’ by Dr Sara Gonzalez & Gloria Dawson 2015.

Image credits:

1 Sara Gonzalez and Gloria Swanson

2 & 3 Sarah Spanton


5 Sarah Spanton

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Musings on Markets #3: markets as destinations and social spaces

Over the last few years a new trend in markets has been very popular; artisan, craft and street food markets have been springing up in cities and towns across the country and in Europe. These are seen by those managing town centres as bringing new people into a town and are part of rebranding areas where retail has been struggling. They are providing desirable places to hang out and socialise, whilst providing quickly turned around food options (often street foods), creating a destination, which enables people to experience a town differently, stay for longer and perhaps do shopping elsewhere.

Like most of us, I’ve visited a few of these ‘new’ markets, including Altrincham Market and Copenhagen Street Food Market. Altrincham Market was a traditional market that was seen as struggling to retain shoppers. The attractive building was conserved and original stall holders moved to an undercover area outside the main hall. It is now a ‘foodie destination’, visitors share large tables in a central area and can choose what to eat from around 10 different food and drink outlets, including sourdough pizzas, artisan chocolates, steak, wine and beer. This market has been curated, the retailers are hand-picked, each offering a different type of fayre. Whilst retailers are in competition, they each provide something different, offering the visitor variety. One group of friends may buy from 5 or 6 of the different stalls, spreading the cash around.

However, my first visit was in 2015, when it had only recently opened, although not cheap, prices were just about what you’d call affordable. By my second visit in 2018 it was noticeably pricier. Also I found that the original market holders (now outside) had dwindled away, replaced by high-end boutique shopping.



Copenhagen Street Food, on PapierØen (Paper Island), was set up in a former paper warehouse on a temporary site, one of the islands forming part of Copenhagen. It became both a local and tourist destination, with a funky, bohemian design and layout,  and around 60 stalls. It’s temporary lease expired in December 2017, and the market has recently been re-opened on a new site.



The final market in this blog post is the Mackie Mayor, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. On my MSc in Urban Regeneration and Development (at UoM in 2015), I was part of a group project tasked with finding a financially-viable solution to repurposing this now-empty building. Opened in 1858, the Mackie Mayor had been constructed and was managed for many years as a market. In more recent years it had been a garden centre and a youth project and was in a state of disrepair. Muse Development were tasked with its redevelopment by Manchester City Council. Our student project recommended its redevelopment as a food and drink-based destination market. And in 2017 it re-opened as such, bohemian in style, retaining some graffitied walls (from its youth project days), taking a similar to Altrincham curated-approach, with large central tables to share food and socialise around.


Mackie M #1



My next post will explore some of the issues arising around the changing nature of markets and issues of gentrification.

Image credits:

Altrincham 1 & 2: Sarah Spanton

Copenhagen Street Food 3 & 4: Sarah Spanton

Mackie Mayor 5 & 6: Manchester Libraries

7 Sarah Spanton &

8 Muse Development (left) and Sarah Spanton (right)

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Musings on markets #2: traditional markets, traders stories & opportunities to explore

In Sara Gonzalez and Gloria Dawson’s report ‘Traditional Markets under threat – why it’s happening and what traders and customers can do[1], which researches and reports on current issues for traditional markets. They define a traditional market as:

‘A traditional retail market can be characterised as one which has a long history in a particular place, low-cost or medium-cost goods, and usually a mixture of food, clothes, and household items.’

I recently met with artist Jean McEwan and Chemaine Cooke of Wur Bradford, discussing their recent work in traditional markets, which began in Kirkgate Market Bradford. They they’ve recently undertaken a 6-month residency in Oastler Market (part of St John’s Centre), culminating in final events in April 2018 – entitled ‘We Are Here’.


The artists saw this as a collaboration with the market’s traders, with the key goals of documenting traders stories and providing opportunities for people to explore the market. The Oastler Market traders were keen to collaborate, perhaps due to the uncertainty induced by the pending closure of their current site and relocation.

The resulting programme of guided walks, performance, a djing programme, a zine of traders stories and an exhibition (at Kala Sangam’s gallery). This was well received by traders and customers alike and increased the positive spirit in the market and traders pride in their trade and the market itself. The residency revealed the valuable role artists can have in facilitating dialogue, building and strengthening  relationships and communicating stories, issues and ideas.

Wb #5 Wb credit

I was particularly interested in the need to invite potential new customers into the market. To introduce traditional markets to those who didn’t feel it was their natural territory (young people, visitors to Bradford etc), who needed support to experience the opportunities there – such as diverse and affordable produce.

wb-3-jenny-ramsden.jpgBearing all this in mind, I’m wondering can the valuable qualities of traditional markets where they ‘… appeal to and attract a huge range of customers… are most important to middle and lower-class shoppers, older people and those from minority backgrounds because of their affordability, accessibility and variety of produce’ [2], be retained whilst developing new approaches to markets?

Image Credits:

1. & 3. Wur Bradford

2. @JennyRamsden1

[1] & [2] ‘Traditional Markets Under Threat: why it’s happening and what traders and customers can do’ by Dr Sara Gonzalez & Gloria Dawson 2015.

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