Saturday, 7 April 2012

A Place To Lay My Head

I'm both nervous and excited about where I'm going to stay if I end up going to America.  Nervous because the Scholarship requires you to spend the majority of time staying with host families (through family, friends, work, university etc connections) and I will need to invest some serious time and energy sorting all that out but also excited because that means that I will truly get to sample American life in the cities that I visit.

The social aspect of this will be fascinating but I'm also really interested to stay in a variety of physical houses too.  My role at Nottingham City Council means that I always want to hear and see more about what sort of houses people want to live in and the types of communities that the built environment of housing can help create.  

There are a couple of great examples close(-ish) to home where the choices made at various points have had profound consequences on the communities that then end up living there.  
  1. The Meadows, Nottingham.  The Wikipedia article I link to isn't great but gives you a sense of the place if you don't know it.  There's a little bit more info here on the history and some old photos here.  It's generally accepted now that whilst the demolitions of the 1970s were necessary given the poor quality of the housing the choice of replacement housing (of the Radburn type) was a mistake.  What's left of the 'Old Meadows' is increasingly being gentrified, including this interesting development whilst the 'New Meadows' was the subject of an (unfortunately cancelled) PFI bid to try to correct some of the mistakes of the original layout.  I often wonder what the Meadows would be like now if all of the 'Old' (Victorian, often 3 storey, terraces) housing had been retained and refurbished.  Something we'll never know but an interesting example of how the built environment fundamentally affects the perceptions and reputations of a neighbourhood.  
  2. Park Hill, Sheffield.   Often known as the "I Love You" estate after a famous piece of graffiti, it was the subject of a documentary on Radio 4 last year which was recently repeated and now appears to be permanently available on iPlayer - have a listen, it's brilliant: The I Love You Bridge.  The development was the origin of the phrase, "Streets in the Sky" that was also the title for one of the episodes of Melvin Bragg's 'Reel History of Britain' which was on TV late last year - the relevant episode is here.  You can't watch it any more but there are some clips.  Again this is the story of an idealistic approach to a problem of overcrowding that didn't quite pan out as hoped.  In this case the Manchester based developer Urban Splash have redeveloped the estate and are now marketing it as "a genuinely vibrant and sustainable community for the 21st Century" - I hope they're right this time... As an aside, the play 'Benefactors' by Michael Frayn is a great exploration of some of these themes and worth a read or seeing it if you get the chance.  
I wonder what sort of houses I will end up staying in if I go to America - perhaps an enormous McMansion?  Or a city-centre flat?  The American equivalent of a suburban "two-up-two-down"?  Whatever it ends up being I'll be interested to see what drives to people to live in the neighbourhood they've chosen and how it affects their perspective on the world. 

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