(Un)Urban: Space, Politics and the Olympic Legacy 6/6/16

Continue reading (Un)Urban: Space, Politics and the Olympic Legacy 6/6/16


Day 6: When Group 5 became guinea pigs for the IGP

Today was the day. The long dreamt, bitterly fought for (by Tony) dream of Group 5 to take on the challenge set by the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity was to be realised in sweltering Hackney Wick.

The morning commenced as usual with a beaming grin from Tony, our group navigator, in Stour Space, Hackney Wick. Aside from his wide smile, we were also welcomed by a set of questions to determine our VAK learning style. This models allows you to discover your preferred learning method: visual (seeing and reading), auditory (speaking and listening) and kinesthetic (touching and doing).

Many of our group members were mostly a blend of two different styles, and we even had members who were an even balance of all three. It was especially interesting to complete this test given our next task for the morning: meeting our challenge setters and receiving a brief on the task ahead.  We basked ourselves on the Stour Space terrace alongside the canal while Connie and Saffron walked us through the IGP Sensory Notation Tool and the way in which they are aiming to refine it to better understand human wellbeing in green spaces. The process of learning the procedure of our challenge enabled us to experience our learning styles in a conscious manner: with some reading through the pack to themselves, some listening intently to the instruction and others focused on giving it a go straight away.

Following the briefing we headed out into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to transform ourselves into true sensory experimental guinea pigs for the IGP. At three different locations across the site – Timber Lodge, Tallow Bridge Park and Victory Park – we attempted the seven sections of the Sensory Notation Tool. These included detailing our initial impressions of the green space; ranking each sensory experience for impact, considering the links between different senses; ascribing words to our overall sense of each place, and taking note of aspects of each space that spoke to us as photographs, sound recordings or in any form we saw fit. Each site will be visited twice in total by the end of the week, allowing for varying times and weather conditions to be experienced, with hopefully some interesting results emerging to aid Connie and Saffron’s research.

The process was akin to a lesson in mindfulness. It felt almost novel to take around 45 minutes in each space to sit and acknowledge each incoming sense, trying to notice everything, from the directional nature of the sound of people walking past to the intensity of textures in our field of vision. This process of sensory analysis also followed a few of us home, as we heard a thunderclap and almost immediately labelled it as aural- locational! To then reflect on the individual impact these experiences have on our opinions and perceptions of public places was a very different process to go through while sitting in a park to normal, one that I am fairly sure will stick with us as we experience public green spaces outside the Global Citizenship Project.

Overall we have had another intriguing day in east London, with more intrigue (and some rain) to follow tomorrow!


Investigating our senses

We all possess 5 senses. We smell, we hear, we taste, we touch, we see and – as yesterday’s VAK test showed – we all experience these in varying intensities. Today group 5 ventured out for another day of sensory exploration in the green spaces of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

With our Sensory Notation Tool booklets in hands, group 5 visited a total of three different green spaces in the park: Timber Lodge cafe, Victory park and Tallow Bridge green space. Although seemingly everyday spaces that one probably wouldn’t think twice about when visiting, the activity we completed was fascinating in its ability to reveal just how powerful our senses can be.

For example, it became clear that external influences such as simply the time of day or the weather conditions can have a huge impact on a person’s response to a space. In Victory Park, for example, some of us discussed how (compared the the dreary drain and afternoon emptiness of the day before) the mid-morning sun and presence of mothers and baby’s brought a whole new life to the space, and a new personal response to it as a result.

The task also brought to the forefront different individualities amongst the group in terms of the way we experience spaces through our senses, as well as common likes and dislikes. For example, some amongst the group adored the visual saturation that the mirror maze in Victory Park provided, whilst for others this was more creepy and overwhelming. Common themes that everyone shared however included the sounds of birds, and the smell that hot rain created.

The highlight to the day was of course all sharing a picnic under a tree in the grass by Tallow Bridge, followed by a game. To me this was the epitome of a pleasant green space sensory experience: warmth from the sun, the sight of smiles (see below!), moving around for the game, the sound of birds, and of course the taste of nice food! It has been a good day.

 image1                             image2

Group 5&6: It’s identity.

As we did our reflection for today, I said something that apparently surprised Will. I thought of today to be ‘unexpected’.

I’ll be honest, I kind of dreaded today actually. On the previous day, we talked about the process of Discovery and Ideation and had loads of fun in thinking what could be and what we could make that would make our ‘persona’ happier in travelling in London.

Today was the Prototype Phase and I legitimately thought of all the possible things that were going to happen that would make today a really unproductive and well… bad experience.

From the first paragraph, you can well assume that I was misled.

Here are some of the prototypes that we made out of the short span of 1 hour:


And in the end, all of the ideas seem surprisingly feasible. But the most important thing, the prototypes felt that it could be very well be heavily used in society.

I think one of the advantages of using human-centred design is that you can actually see people using the products (which is essentially what we want in the first place!) instead of being just another product that is created for the sake of creation.

Okay, now you may be asking: How does this relate to identity?

Our decisions on how we use space, how we see space and how we live it in is all tied to the idea of identity.

One of the speakers, Judy (I’m so sorry but I’m really bad with names but she was super energetic for a 66-year-old) spoke something that resonated with me really well:

We love what we enjoy, we protect what we love

This sums up a lot of the things that was said from Day One up until now (at least that’s how I feel it). It explains what it means to be prosperous, it explains the actions that increases our wellbeing and it explains why it is important to use human-centred designs to develop ideas that improve wellbeing.

Your identity is tied to what you like doing or how comfortable you are in being the person that you are. It is based on what we view on ourselves and also (I think) our reactions on the views that were imposed on us.

How we choose to live is related with our identity which is essentially a social construct that determines really big issues in our life sometimes. It also determines on how we interact with the spaces whether to embrace it as our own or reject it as a threat to our livelihood. Ultimately, how we choose to live affects our wellbeing.

In short, I have made this little connection:


That’s one way of seeing it I guess. I could be wrong (I hope not) but so far this helped me in explaining the successes of policies, ideas and intervention. And I realised how important it is to have more interdisciplinary ventures especially in improving wellbeing and prosperity. I wouldn’t have thought of thinking like this stuck in the confines of my own paradigm.

I was brought up to think that having too many people in an issue complicates things and we get nothing done; as the saying goes “too many cooks spoil the broth”.  But that’s the wrong way of seeing it. Problems are complicated to begin with and every part of it should be a concern in the Discovery, Ideation and Prototyping process. Closing an ear or a view does not actually solve anything. The solution process begins by the act of coming together from different perspectives. The better or the best solutions don’t come easy although we would like that to be. But I would put in one requirement though for having conducive discussions:

– Everyone is orientated to achieve the common goal –

How fortunate it is for me to be surrounded by people who are as passionate if not more  in this programme. It matters not on whether we would fail or succeed, but the irony of setting that aside and attacking the problem in a creative and holistic way, more often than none, is actually bringing us closer to the solution that we dream of.  And that’s just simply mind-boggling for me! In the words of Emily Dickinson:

Madness is divinest sense

Again, I stand by with the word that describes my experience in the (Un)Urban strand; unexpected. In all the best possible ways.

(Un)Urban Day 2- Human Centred Design

To start the second day of the (Un)Urban challenge we had discussions centred around the themes of urban wellbeing and public health. This discussion was led by Oliver Dawkins (a PhD researcher from CASA) and Neil McElduff (part of the London Office of Clinical Commissioning Groups). Oliver Dawkins opened the discussion concerning issues about the current usage of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Neil brought very interesting insights to urban wellbeing through the ideas of integrative public health and seeing developments as communal rather than separated. These ideas allowed the group to look at the greater impact of community schemes, which we could link to the four ‘growth boroughs’, pointed out by the London Legacy Development Corporation. One of the main ideas that stemmed from Olivers talk was that locals needed to be engaged with the parks developments in order to view the park as ‘theirs’. To understand how the park was being used spatially, wifi was used to detect areas of high and low demand. However, this does not show who the people using the park are. Even though it remains popular, these occupiers of the park do not show a representation of how the surrounding boroughs use the park, but instead how it engages with tourists. This allowed us to move on to our first challenge of the day which was: How can a creative agency best utilise community networks in order to perform at its best?

After this discussion, we broke off into our smaller groups to try and tackle this question.  Creative Wick was at the centre of our challenge which is a creative regeneration agency, established in 2013. Our group came up with the idea of making art more accessible to the local communities, in order to allow them to engage with the park. We felt that this could be done through street art, allowing it to be much more inclusive but also through free exhibitions, reducing the attached ‘high culture’ associated with the arts. At these exhibitions there could be extras, which would attract many different demographics. For example, face painting, food and drink, and live art. Urban art could have greater funding to allow those who wish to engage with it to do so, rather than being pushed away by the unpredictability of the work. Expanding community networks through art could could allow Hackney Wick to perform very efficiently because art can be engaged with at all ages, genders and statuses, when made accessible.

After our lunch break, we then moved on to the concept of ‘human centred design’. First of all we were given the challenge of building the highest possible tower to hold a marshmallow for at least ten seconds. Initially seeming rather easy, 20 pieces of spaghetti, some sting and masking tape later, the task proved rather difficult. This task allowed us to understand the first stage of the design process, where divergent thinking is crucial. This exercise was probably the best part of the day, as it involved lots of teamwork and new ideas. The task showed us that no idea is stupid, but rather every idea is crucial in order to succeed. Unfortunately, 15 minutes was not long enough for my team to build a successful tower, as it collapsed as soon as it held a marshmallow. Never the less, we had fun.

Following on from this, we grew on the concept of human centred design through looking at the specifics and needs of individuals daily commutes. The emphasis of this task was to move towards desirability in the design process. In pairs we discussed our own personal commutes and what we like/dislike about them and why we do what we do. Everyone had very distinctive routes, which were personalised by our own desires. For example, many liked getting the tube in the morning rather than cycling because they don’t like early mornings! In our Groups we then came up with an imaginary person, with a very distinctive persona, ours was called Carla.

A little bit about Carla:

  • Lived in Finsbury Park
  • Had 9ams every morning
  • Was Claustrophobic
  • Lived next to the park
  • Late Sleeper

Here we could identify Carla’s commuting needs and then came up with solutions in order to meet her needs greater. We filled the wall with post-it-note ideas, ranging from: abolishing 9ams to double decker tubes to hovercrafts. Other groups had very bizarre and rather entertaining ideas, giving us a better understanding into divergent and then convergent thinking. By putting our solutions into long and medium term groupings but also spatial groupings, it demonstrated that the design process has many different cycles as it becomes more and more defined. Who knows, the double decker tube may make an appearance one day.

Overall, after sharing our thoughts and feelings of the day it was clear that the group had a lot of fun and really enjoyed being able to be more creative in a team setting.

Un(Urban) Day 1 – Discovering Neighbourhood

The first day of (Un)Urban: Investigating green spaces in East London has already finished, but it left us excited for the next two weeks and the challenges we will have to face. The day did not start promising, as we were welcomed by the sky covered in clouds and the heavy rain, but the bad weather did not stop Global Citizenship team from motivating us to give our best while we are here.

Global Citizenship Programme aims at giving us an opportunity to collaborate with people from different educational backgrounds and degrees, people who we might not encounter on a regular day at UCL, people who are willing to communicate and work together towards building better future. From beginning, (Un)Urban strand presents the issues concerning our well-being and behaviour in the city, things that surround us, but we usually don’t pay attention to, such as the impact of green spaces on our everyday life.

Whereas we started our day indoors, accompanied by rain outside, the afternoon brought change in location and weather, as after a great introductory lecture given by Professor Henrietta Moore and Dr Tuukka Toivonnen about what it means to be a global citizen and how important our eagerness to work together towards building better, more sustainable future is, we were put into smaller groups. After we introduced ourselves, we were given a simple, yet interesting task – we had to investigate the green spaces around UCL and become aware of their influences on us and other people. The walk enabled us to not only get to know each other a little better, but also discuss the impact of green spaces in London. We talked about architecture, urban planning, the universal need to get away from the concrete jungle, the usage of parks and gardens by people from different walks of life. We observed people who used the park despite the bad weather and discussed how different people utilise green spaces under different weather conditions.

My group decided not to follow our colleagues to Gordon Square Garden and Tavistock Square Garden, and went to Fitzroy Square Garden and Regent’s Park. Even though they are located in the same area, they serve different purposes. Fitzroy Square Garden is open to public only on particular days, normally being used only by residents of the nearby buildings. The area is important in terms of history, as George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and Francisco de Miranda are among its notable residents. The square is largely pedestrianised and the garden is fairly small, especially in comparison with Regent’s Park that is one of the biggest parks in Central London. Regent’s Park offers a wide range of outdoor activities for everyone, from playing sports to watching a play in an open-air theatre or walking a dog. It’s a great place to socialise with friends and family. These two places are great examples how the usage of green spaces differs in the big city.

Overall, the observations we made during our field trips in groups show the range of perspectives and definitely contribute to the better understanding of the need for dialogue between people to be able to create better solutions and improve our lives in urban areas. What we also learned today is that no matter how complex global challenges may seem, we must remember that it is we who have created them and we are capable of resolving them if we communicate and work together. Concentrating on the areas we walk past on our way to UCL helped us understand the ideas that (Un)Urban programme wants us to tackle.

(Un)Urban Day 1: Into the wild

Hello and welcome to our blog documenting our experience of the (Un)Urban strand of the Global Citizenship Programme.

We started off the day together with the rest of the participants of the Programme at the opening plenary which included some introductory talks regarding what we could expect over the next two weeks. We heard from three students who had participated in various strands last year who were very positive and encouraged us to make the most of this opportunity.

Afterwards we split off into our strands and we were welcomed by Professor Henrietta Moore who gave an interesting talk which considered prosperity, well-being and cities. I was struck particularly by her emphasis on how prosperity encompasses more than just wealth and income but health, education, and ‘feeling and knowing that life is worthwhile’.  She also extended well-being to an issue greater than just how an individual feels, but how they experience community. Dr Tuukka Toivonen then spoke about the definition of global citizenship, which expanded what we had previously heard from Dr Tim Beasley-Murray about a (passive) recognition of our inter-connectedness with the whole of humanity, to a problem-solving activity in human-centered way, with the implication that ‘being a global citizen’ is something that can be learned by taking empathetic action.


A purpose of the garden- a place to relax and enjoy food and drink? Does the chain indicate crime in the area? A juxtaposition between a safe oasis and crime?
A purpose of the garden- a place to relax and enjoy food and drink?
Does the chain indicate crime in the area?
A juxtaposition between a safe oasis and crime?
Looking into the history of the area which surrounds the green spaces- a transition from residential to professional?
Looking into the history of the area which surrounds the green spaces- a transition from residential to professional?

In the afternoon we split off into smaller groups and met our Navigators, Tony McKenzie and Will Churchill, who will be leading and working with us over the next two weeks. To get us familiar with other team members and thinking about green spaces and wellbeing, we spent some time in the green spaces near to UCL, observing who they were used by and how they were used. We were encouraged to be creative in how we collected this information, including voice memos, photos, sketches, plans tallying the number of people walking through vs sitting down etc. We then presented our findings to the group and reflected on our experience. The group generated interesting ideas about the green spaces we had experienced- how were they limited by rules or enclosed by buildings, how much of an emphasis was placed on aesthetic versus function? We ended the day with encouraging words about our initial experiences, excitement for the project ahead and hopes for good weather.