InspiralLondon – re-imagining the built environment #3

Several artists spoke at InspiralLondon’s Friday event, including Alberto Duman and Claire Qualmann.

Artist Alberto Duman described his recent Leverhulme Trust Funded project ‘Music for Master planning’. It focusses on the area of Newham, London – which he described as having a ‘marketing pitch’, where it is being promoted in a homogenous way internationally by the local authority to attract inward investment. The area is described as an ‘Arc of opportunity’ and a ‘London regen supernova’ in a promotional video Alberto recovered via a Freedom of Information request.

The project takes this promotion for inward investment as a starting point – it seeks to identify music made locally in the area, this ‘Arc of opportunity’; Stratford, Canning Town, London Docks – and to create an alternative narrative. The project aims to research, collect and record a compilation of soundtracks all produced within the boundaries of Newham’s Arc of Opportunity, compiling this place-based music online, creating a publication and a public event. On a personal note, I found this interesting, as one of my grandfathers was born and brought up in Canning Town.Alberto Duman 1

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Images from ‘Music for Masterplanning’ website –

Another artist talking at the festival was Claire Qualman. She described some of her projects including her initiation of the Walking Artist Network (alongside artists Gail Burton and Serena Hoarder) in 2004.

Other work also linked to walking the city, included East End Jam – inspired by walking around Stratford and finding many edible fruit trees and bushes (plums, sloes, apples) –  foraging then making jam and holding a public feast (Jamboree) to celebrate and eat what was made. Again, as in post #2, this artist project links to the CPUL approach which highlights the value of a productive cityscape.

Image credits: Alberto Duman

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InspiralLondon re-imagining the built environment #2

This second post unpacks some of Rebeka Clark’s presentation at InspiralLondon Festival in September 2016. Rebecca is the site manager of Stave Hill Ecological Park in Rotherhithe, London, where the Friday events for the festival took place. The park has been in existence for just over 30 years and was built in this former dockland area of South London, on what was Stave Dock. I have written briefly on Stave Hill before.

Rebeka described how the park has been about re-landscaping, that it is a made landscape, elements created have included a chalk bank and a chalk stream. The whole project has been made possible by volunteers, local people who’ve made the ecological park what it is – meaning children can come and make dens and catch stickle-backs in a jar in the middle of London. I was very interested her description of the area having had human settlement for over 2000 years, how before the docks, the area had cherry orchards and market gardens. The project has created hop gardens, to reflect the experience of local people travelling to Kent to pick hops, which is still in living memory and went on for generations. She described the importance of connecting people to the landscape, to place.

This made me reflect on the concept of CPUL (continuous productive urban landscape – Bohn and Viljoen), which I first introduced to by Chiara Tornaghi, research lead on the Urban Food Justice project (University of Leeds) in 2011-2013.

Continuous Productive Urban Landscape (CPUL) is a design concept advocating the coherent introduction of interlinked productive landscapes into cities as an essential element of sustainable urban infrastructure. Central to the CPUL concept is the creation of multi-functional open urban space networks, including urban agriculture, that complement and support the built environment’.[1]

This approach where networks of green spaces of all sorts (parks, brownfield, verges, allotments) are all valued as food growing spaces and wildlife habitats is significant in seeking to achieve resilient and prosperous, sustainable communities in cities and towns. A CPULs approach could see much more locally produced healthy food grown in urban areas in the UK (see Steady State Manchester, for a recent Café Conversation on this topic).


Stave Hill Ecological Park, InspiralLondon Festival

Rebeka also described the project’s ongoing efforts to increase biodiversity in Stave Hill Ecological Park. They have increased plant species from 40 to hundreds in 30 years, and have new knowledge about how to do this. And now have 100 species of micro-moth in their meadows. However, the park is in danger of being ‘loved to death’ by local people, through the constant walking over it (compacting the soil and accidental killing of insect species for example) – so reluctantly some areas have recently been fenced off to protect them. With the wider area being a key site for ongoing housing development, there are plans for a massive 70% increase in population, with high density tower blocks planned. Interestingly the park is being seen as a valued selling point for new development, recognising the importance of green space for wellbeing. However, this obviously creates a strong tension where many more people will want to use the park.

[1] – Accessed 28.3.17

Image credits: Sarah Spanton


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InspiralLondon Festival: re-imagining the built environment #1

This post kicks of a short series about InspiralLondon. This is an urban trail developed and led by artists, spiraling out from Kings Cross and ends at Gravesend, it enables the public to experience the city as one vast art space in which to re-imagine the built environment.

My colleague Richard Sobey and I attended InspiralLondon’s Festival last September. Attending  events over this long weekend, in Bloomsbury, Greenwich and Stave Hill.


Discussion at Stave Hill, Clare Qualmann speaking


Rachel Gomme performance at Greenwich

Image credits: Sarah Spanton

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Visual activism in the urban landscape #3 – questioning how women’s bodies are displayed

The third post on visual activism in the urban landscape, I found this one day in September outside Marks and Spencer’s on St Mary’s Gate in the city centre of Manchester.

This Pussy Riot-styled and carefully placed translucent sticker (I presume intentionally positioned), is both seen and not seen. I have no idea how long it had been there, or how long it stayed in place. I thought it was great: how the image really interrupted the shop’s branding and asked questions about how women’s bodies are looked at and displayed as part of our consumerist culture.





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Visual activism in the urban landscape #2 – Cities of Hope

This second post on visual activism in the urban landscape, shows an image from Manchester’s Northern Quarter Cities of Hope Festival. One of a series of images where international Street Artists championed social and environmental justice and highlighted the need for hope in May 2016.

This image is by Martin Whatson, on the corner of Faraday Street and Lever Street.



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Visual activism in the urban landscape #1 – how immigrants have made Britain what it is today

These next three posts focus on visual activism – encompassing a variety of forms of street art, guerrilla campaigning, using posters, stickers, paintings and drawing placed in the urban landscape. These images were all taken whilst going about my daily activities in Manchester, this Summer and Autumn.

Found on the street (in the Cambridge Street area), very soon after the UK’s referendum vote to leave the European Union. I think this poster makes a very strong point about the vital and productive role ‘immigrants’ have had for centuries in the UK, helping produce the very nature of what it is to British today. #postreflove



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Thinking about networks, nodes, lines and junctions

I’ve been strangely fascinated with the St Peter’s Square tram development in Manchester city centre this summer. For several months the tram system hasn’t been operating through the centre of the city, due to the laying of new track, in order to bring a new route through the city in the autumn.

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I feel excited by the nodal nature of the new tram exchange. It previously had just one line running through the square, it will now have two. The new branch leads towards Victoria station, and affords the tram network more connectivity and flexibility. For some, as yet unclear reason, I am highly excited by this new development in Greater Manchester’s public transport/mass transit network.

My interest could be to do with the idea of the network and with the possibilities being expanded – allowing people to travel via more routes to their destinations. These lines of thought have been arising since the workshop I held at Edge Hill station in Liverpool – which has many railway lines travelling through it. I hope these thoughts will develop further when I work in Crewe in the autumn, as it’s a town renowned for its extensive railway junction.

Image credits: Sarah Spanton

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