Our Kind of Town

Towards a Citizen’s Atlas of London

London is undergoing rapid change, disrupting communities on a scale unknown for decades. This is happening on the basis of a regeneration model dominated by finance and property capital, with an attenuated role for democratic engagement. In so far as there is participation, it is usually in the context of imagineering and marketing rather than co-design. Moreover local knowledge of how to deal with planning processes is unevenly distributed. The London 2050 infrastructure plan designates 38 opportunity areas as future regeneration hot spots but in many of them there is little tradition of activism around housing or environmental issues, and what there is reactive, trying to stop something happening, rather than envisaging and proposing an alternative.

Livingmaps has developed an interdisciplinary model for mapping patterns of urban stakeholding and civic engagement, based on the concept of place intelligence. This concept, which includes tacit as well as coded knowledge related to public amenity and resource, brings together skills of navigation, narration and negotiation. It is the primary way in which different forms of social, cultural and intellectual capital are mobilised in the arenas of everyday urbanism and it takes many different forms: commuters, skateboarders, dog walkers, children, elderly residents, people with disabilities, taxi drivers, street traders etc all exercise particular kinds of place intelligence, not recognised in one size fits all, top down models of urban planning.,
The Citizen’s Atlas of London will use participatory mapping methods to represent the place intelligence of Londoners marginalised in the current development of urban policy. This cartographic approach will be the basis for enhancing public discussion about London’s future by communities across the city as the basis for intervention in the master planning process. It will offer a critical urban pedagogy to help t people connect personal and political geographies, and uncover the implicit features of master plans. We are especially concerned to work with children and young people who are London’s future and to engage with communities not presently reached by activists

For this purpose we will create a toolkit which can be used for teaching, learning and advocacy in schools, community projects and local campaigns. We will build a multi-layered online Atlas as a sustainable platform for understanding and critiquing London 2050 at a local level, providing a qualitative, close-up data mosaic of local narratives relating to the past, present and future of the city.

For the pilot project we have chosen two opportunity areas, Charlton Riverside and North Woolwich/Silvertown, because they representing contrasting aspects of the accelerated de-industrialisation and gentrification of London. Through a workshop programme lasting six months, participants will produce a series of mappings, using photography, site observation exercises and social network and community asset mapping. Groups will research what their neighbourhood was like in 1950, and create from that a counter-factual planning history. They will work with the Livingmaps team to produce scenarios for how they would like the neighbourhood to be in 2050, and also how they expect it to be, if present trends continue. A final session will bring the different groups together to discuss each other’s neighbourhood scenarios and present them to an invited audience of planners, architects, policy makers, politicians and community activists. A touring exhibition will be created to disseminate the project, and to help set up a network of citizen mappers in opportunity areas across London.

We will also be building some conceptual scaffolding around the community mapping project and seek to widen its scope of influence in a number of ways. We will be working in partnership with a number of organisations involved in housing, planning and environmental issues in London. We hope to establish an international research workshop bringing together architects, planners, community artists and activists from Europe and the Americas to discuss issues of critical cartography, participatory action research, popular planning and do-it-yourself urbanism. There will also be a series of public lectures, starting in June 2017, exploring key aspects of London’s past present and future under the title ‘Our Kind of Town’. Finally as an adjunct to the online Atlas and toolkit, we will be putting together a book of specially commissioned mappings and essays under the title ‘London: Fictitious Capital of the 21st Century?’

For further information please contact Phil Cohen: pcohen763@hotmail.co.uk

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Livingmaps Network in partnership with Building Exploratory, Just Space, Concrete Action, the Urban Lab UCL, the Open Space Centre (Open University), Department of Graphic Design, Central Saint Martins, UAL.

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