At the end of April 2014, Wards Corner Community Coalition (WCC) announced that the Planning Department of Haringey Council has been granted planning permission for the Community Plan proposing the restoration of the Wards Corner building. This has been a contested site and host of a vibrant, indoor, Latin American Market above Seven Sister’s Tube in Tottenham, North London. The announcement has been hailed by WCC and an array of local civic organisations – and is being discussed across hyperlocal forums and local media as an important step in shaping the pathway for a community-led regeneration of the area. WCC is currently engaging with local traders and civic organisations as well as variety of stakeholders to develop ideas & raise funds for making the proposals a reality.
The plan was prepared by local Architectural Designer, Abigail Stevenson following the lead of WCC in the campaign against demolition plans for the site was submitted by the West Green Road and Seven Sisters Development Trust along with Wards Corner Community Coalition (WCC) in October 2013. It has received a total of 400 expressions of support — delivered to planning department of Haringey Council, online or through the door. More than 220 comments were received via WCC’s Room on the StickyWorld website – an immersive and visual consultation platform that researchers at the Open University, used and re-appropriated together with Abigail Stevenson and James Skinner from WCC to host virtual tours of the market and 3D computer generated images that would feature in the plan and engage others into a visual conversation. The plan – through its official form, submitted to the council, and via it’s immersive, interactive iteration on StickyWorld – has put forward years of work of local community input for an inclusive vision about Tottenham’s regeneration. More so, by putting the public at the heart of place-making, the plan, may have also shaken up the distribution of symbolic power (Bourdieu, 1991) in Tottenham (for a discussion of these aspects see the this open democracy blog by Chloe Peacock).
Placemaking is an increasingly popular term in urban studies. Sharing commonalities with community-led design and participatory design, the term often refers to the ways in which communities can be transformed by citizens’ creative agency in informing about and redefining open, public – and sometimes – contested spaces or neighbourhoods (e.g. Silberbergh et. al., 2013). Some highlight the relationship of civic creativity and social capital, pointing to the interlocking and complex networks of groups, individuals and alliances which can be formed across different and diverse stakeholders. Others also stress the centrality of the public realm of communication and mediation – marked assumingly – by an era of instant communication, alternative, community media and social networking. The emphasis here is that by representing community voices and creative narratives, may play a significant role in shaping more democratic visions in urban planning.
Writing in a series of blog posts, I aim to highlight some of the moments in engaging with WCC and offer some insights from the journey for communicating the community plan within StickyWorld and beyond. In doing so, I aim to unravel some of the varieties that constitute a complex mix of socio-political, spatial, technical, cultural and temporal relationships in which place-making is embedded in.
In presenting some of our creative processes and analytical insights in collaborating with WCC, I aim to highlight some ideas that will constitute a canvas for reflection both for the group and the research team – inspiration for policy briefings, further analysis and action!
I begin the first blog by recounting some of the earlier stages in our involvement with WCC. In approaching this community group we were interested in understanding the media practices, communicative infrastructures and communal aspirations that condition the circuits of civic engagement in community-led planning, but also to unravel some of the dimensions of cultural value surrounding place-making and civic design in the city. We also have been having a normative and prescriptive role. We wanted to work together with WCC in thinking more broadly about media technologies and tools for engaging – something that emerged from the group throughout our ongoing discussions – and to co-create media platforms and outputs, that would play a role in putting forward creative practices, diverse visions and cultural awareness about shaping the future of this particular part of Tottenham (see Carvalho, 2011).
As part of our engagement with WCC, we used asset mapping, a creative methodology deployed to help unearth the aspects they value about their area, and the resources they can be mobilised to help achieving collective visions surrounding their place-making projects. I will be recounting the role of WCC in helping devise the development of this methodology – and offering some analytical insights from the Group’s processes of mapping people and skills, building and organisations, ideas, media and even relationships in Tottenham.
Working with WCC to explore communicative practices
The Open University team of Creative Citizens, Giota Alevizou (the writer), Katerina Alexiou and Theo Zamenopoulos first engaged with WCC in July 2012, as part of Valuing Community-led Design, a project, which among other things, aimed at exploring how civic groups with an interest in participatory design and planning, engage with others and media and communications practices to find out what they need for the projects, shape their visions and materialise their projects.
Creative media practices and the value of community-led design
The engagement with WCC and other groups generated important insights for the intersection of media, community and citizenship: insights about the ways in which urban citizens involved in platemaking projects, engage with ICTs and understand the role of wider communicative ecologies – as I have discussed elsewhere, finding out information about how to pursue, and become engaged in, local projects involves both familiar internet search practices and stumbling across appeals in social and hyperlocal media or online community forums, but also through word-of-mouth. Likewise engaging others to express purpose of projects and achievements involves a combination of communicative and media practices: mailing lists, SMS messaging are as important as creating DIY citizenship tools (Ratto and Boler, 2014) and ‘small media’ (Srerberny and Mohammadi, 1994), such as pamphlets, posters, leaflets; participation in local festivals and other social events also play a key role in engaging people who want to have a voice in redefining their localities (see more details, Alevizou et al., 2013).
Creative Methodologies: asset mapping, social capital and unlocking the practice of collectivity
Our collaboration with members of WCC continued throughout 2012 – mainly through events that coalesced the Creative Citizen and Valuing CLD projects. We had aimed to identify the dimensions that constitute the value the of community led design and the types of methods that can be used for engaging people, for learning about, and co-developing tools that put forward collective visions and the instruments for redefining and ‘making’ place.
By this time we had started looking at action research approaches which used asset mapping methodologies to explore the principle of community capacity development: the principle is based on the premise that community groups may be better equipped to develop a project, if they can identify and mobilise the assets they already have.
The assumption here is that by recognising such resources, a community can then focus on positive development, responding to, building and expanding upon existing their capabilities (which often go un-recognised) (Mathie and Cunningham 2002, McKnight and Kretzmann 1996).
We discussed several aspects of this approach together with academics, community groups (including members of WCC) and practitioners interested in participatory planning and community-led design, exchanged experiences and shared practices, in this event we discussed different approaches to asset mapping that led to formalising a methodological approach which could be closer linked with place-making projects. In a previous post, we explain in more detail the steps we took to develop the methodological approach, and the instruments used in this and other workshops.
Asset mapping with WCC
Stemming from our initial discussions with WCC (and their participation in workshops), the next stage of our engagement with the wider WCC group, involved several discussions about emerging priorities of the camp gain at the time, tied around the development of a community plan and the types of media that could be deployed to unleash the group’s creative experimentation, to ‘talk’ to others in engaging, yet simple ways.
In developing the asset mapping methodology, the main focus was around the core of the group’s aim at the time (e.g. the actions and campaign to save the building). But participants were also invited to express what they considered valuable or important in the locality. By placing a sheet with three concentric circles, we asked individuals within the group to map what they consider as asset (current and potential), for both the campaign, and in relation to the wider area.
We used six categories of assets each represented by a different prop.
- Spaces (that they use including open spaces, public space, built environment and physical spaces [e.g. parks) – prop: wooden blocks
- Infrastructures (e.g. transport, wifi, social services, etc) – prop: puzzle pieces
- Media (that they use to tell people about something or find out about something from) – prop: Pawns with printed labels for type of medium/communicative tool/practice]
- Groups, & associations, including organizations and businesses (that they work with, are members of, or receive advice from) – prop: Place-holders [people could write on them]
- People (someone key to the project or someone with a particular skill); prop: plastic people with labels for writing
- Other (incorporates anything that does not fit in the other categories e.g. festivals, stories, history, skills, emotions) – prop: Flags (people could write)
We run the first event around asset mapping with WCC in March 2013 at Tottenham Chances. More than 12 participants took place. It produced two group maps which identified a range of resources and things that were deemed important to the WCC campaign, and as part of the wider community in Tottenham. The ‘mapping’ process on a board of concentric circles invited participants to organise these assets and resources by priority or importance.
Visualisations and Analytical insights
We attempted to map the network of relationships between assets and participants to ‘explore’ notions of value, using visual representations as well as thematic analysis and social network analysis techniques.
Are assets more connected at the group and individual level more important or valuable? Connecting with local groups and and engaging a variety of stakeholders in the development of the community plan was were deemed as important priorities by a number of participants, who also reflected on requirements and the need to mobilise additional resources when prompted during 1-2-1 discussions.
Crucially, what the asset mapping workshops helped us ‘capture’ is the group’s story-telling; it unearthed locative narratives, and creative thinking around plans and priorities. It also elicited the expression of voice and collective thinking, which has given important insights into the ways that the group (and individuals within it) associate specific local resources (tangible and in-intangible) as valuable or useful about the place about their role within it; this gives an idea about what what some can call ‘community economies’, and unearth the ‘unwitting involvement in the practice of collectivity’ – the practice of everyday and vernacular sociality around place (e.g. Martin et al., 2007; Semenza and Krishnasamy, 2007; Gibson-Graham 2003, 2006). These stories – about individual and group perceptions – instill meaning to the ‘local environment’ , but also point to tensions and friction about the politics of locality and connection.
What’s more, the discussions during the asset mapping workshop elicited participants’ values, and perceptions of value in relation to the particular space and the wider area. They also created a sense of what is of ‘value’ about specific services, formal and civic groups, media & community infrastructures and one another.
Understanding of the place was embedded in the purpose of the campaign, and the development of the community plan; it was also linked to questions of connection and representation, which remained significant: a) how to connect better with those affected, b) how to elicit creative input and meaningful participation and c) how to connect with organisations that engage in wider policy debates.
Our link (WCC) with traders must be very important. They are a source that will want traders on this site because it is very important that they have got some sort of representation. They also provide us channels into other trader organisations, wider groups such as Federations, small businesses, but also to the council and other groups and they give us a bit of credibility and it important that we maintain that relationship.
[JUST SPACE] networks with other organisations and engage us in the kind of wider policy debates that have the potential to influence future and other troubles in the area
There are a number of groups we have worked with…I think they have been crucial with advice. … Sue: There are the national ones, like The Glass-House, and the local ones, near us… CAAP, Sustainable Haringey, HCG, Tottenham Civic Society”
There are 5, 6, 7 Residents Associations with representatives actively involved in the Coalition…Tara, Cara, there are people from Page Green who support …. And I was going to say it also goes the other way because I think Wards Corner also provides a focus for residents associations and it gives something for people to aspire to within the larger community.
It is interesting to note the role of ‘social capital’ expressed through several relationships was central in defining the dynamics of co-existence of several and diverse and migrant groups that define the social make-up of Tottenham. Crucial also was what participants perceived to be of central in shaping relations around place – cultural, social and emotional. The discussion about the meaning of social capital followed on from the relationship of people within the Tottenham Green Ward of Haringey Council, and the aspiration of WCC to influence decisions about the future of the building. But social capital was connecting to notions of diversity, the multi-cultural draw and the importance of valuing cultural heritage locally. In other words, it offers a conception of space as place of physicality and social relations:
Are you going to have it on one level because physical buildings are made up of bricks that could be… different communities could value that building in a different way and one group might be more interested… and then it is the attitude towards the building maybe. Lets value that….… because it is not like having an old brick building that makes interesting in London. It is not directly an asset, it is only an asset when people take an attitude towards it.” In other words, both the building and it’s adjacent market are seen as important spaces of agency within this particular part of the city.
Participants within the workshop made reference to resources of explicit and tacit knowledge about the coalition’s governance and the practice of creativity which is embedded in processes of informal information exchange, learning and networking and fundraising. It is connected to articulations about belonging which was also evoked in valuing heritage – expressed through aesthetic references and cultural associations, but also via social relationships. The conception & materialisation of the alternative plan presents an idea for preserving those relationships and highlights their importance in regenerating the economic and social livelihoods of the area.
Media practices and communicative infrastructures
Earlier, I alluded to some insights about WCC’s media practices as being part of what constitutes a wider ecology of communication in placemaking. The synergies between media and place reveal some of the ways in which community is built and is represented, operational, associative and transitional, but also grounded on in particular local and individual experiences. This is mediated and communicated through both public and private spheres, local and global infrastructures for connectivity.
Within this context, the WCC websites hold a central position of value. It has served as an important resource as it accommodates tools for ‘representing the building as a hotspot of belonging for local people: represented by image galleries linking the building’s heritage value and social value, to three-dimensional, computer generated images, from the WCC blog, that would feature centrally in the community plan submitted to the planning department.
The importance of the building and the market for local identity and economy is expressed through a Vox Pop and public meeting videos which document several voices and aspirations from the area. These visual and filmic practices are far more than individuals’ experimentation with representing local identity and belonging through space – ‘creative people’ hold a central position in the asset map. The photographs, historical and 3Dimensional sketches in the WCC sites, are instruments that constitute a wider ecology of media around place-making, showcasing ‘pockets of vernacular creativity’ for unravelling the historical and social anatomy of place; they represent a relationship of media the city which is expressed in communal expressions for public connection — evoking very clearly what Georgiou (2013) refers to as ‘urban placeness’.
Social media are also crucial, but not exclusionary. As one member put it:
‘Twitter is important because it connects us with a different network, but also a wider network of people and not always locally. Especially like a lot of local journalists that don’t come to the meetings.”
Facebook also serves a purpose for spreading messages, sharing information and celebrating achievements, alongside the Website and the Community Plan blog.
For some within the group, online and social media would play an important role in raising the profile of the Coalition and into connecting with others – mostly in the wider area and nationally:
‘I have put down your profile of relevance. It is almost like online …. we would have Twitter and community groups they often survive on Twitter, I don’t know, in local organisations would it work? but normally if you want to keep your followers on Twitter you have to tweet about relevant stuff, the same logic probably applies here…raise profile of relevance in whatever way it takes.”
So while Internal mailing lists and participation in local media and local online forums hold a core value in the group’s practices in organizing and information sharing, the aspiration for visibility in mainstream national media are part of what the Group considers important for visibility and for exert influence either by engaging with local groups and/or by more direct participation in planning.
Internal electronic communication is important for co-ordinating, organising and sharing knowledge and for linking others in discussion and plans about events, wider discussions & plans about consultations and local civic actions: The group considers the mailing lists as crucial in facilitating this and the largest list has more than 600 members. Relationship with local newspapers and hyperlocal forums and blogs is important also contributory ‘ raising awareness and also creating the culture for the WCC actions at several moments’ of the campaign.
But word-of-mouth and informational or opinion exchanges in local events – organised by WCC and local groups – are crucial: they too form the territory of communicative practices to form relationships, build connections, learn about the place and invite to civic creativity. And here’ I’d like to connect to Raymond Williams (1961) suggestion of communication itself being a process of community. Alluding to this, Georgiou eloquently argues that : [it] is precisely why communication practices reveal the possibilities and constraints of togetherness, of dialogue and of understanding between differences in and across cities‘ (2013: 98).
Potential resources and regrouping priorities
In discussing (and mapping) the potential assets ideas that would shape WCC priorities a number creative insights were offered last year: some connecting physical assets and tangible associations and institutions; other’s but also a reflection about the Coalition’s priorities into submitting the second version of the plan, improving it’s profile and engagement with wider groups. Some expressed understandings about both personal and more public spheres defined by informal skills, knowledge sharing and learning. Here notions of solidarity and trust, social clusters and networks of weak and strong relationships of support that individuals within the group had the desire or the need to cultivate further, also featured as important and avenues were proposed about enhancing participation in existing and emerging networks of practice, interest and policy.
Several relationships have been forged since, the plan was submitted and approved. The OU research team – through a year-long engagement – has offer a small contribution to WCC’s amazing energy, by helping towards shaping a vision for the use an interactive digital platform that would help visualise the community plan that were developing and engage those closely affected or interested in a simple and immersive way.
The ideas and practice of place-making and, of participatory design, have a long-standing tradition, especially in the context of urban design, planning and architecture. Over the last 50 years, such ideas influenced the practice of design and planning professionals who sought to develop new methods for participation. In this blog post I shed some light on approaches that can celebrate civic participation to generate more democratic outcomes, to create a strong sense of community and to strengthen people’s attachment to their place and to each other. I presented in the role of media, communal and communicative practices deployed by WCC – as well as priorities – to approach design as a political action; an action that would put forward an aspiration to facilitate direct engagement of the end-users in design decision making.
On Monday 16th June, we will work again with WCC to reflect on the maps they’ve made together us and the discussions that emerged at the previous asset mapping event, deconstructing the WCC’s achievements over the last year, and exploring the directions we might take in the future.
In the next few blog posts, I will outline the steps that led to the co-creation of StickyWorld – it’s communicative modalities and materiality – the process of engagement and dialogue it generated about the vision of the future.
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