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.

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Day 7: A Match Made In Hackney

As we were coming to the last days of the Global Citizenship Programme we knew that it was time to bring our research and ideas to life. The day began with the team further discussing and finalising the potential concepts to use and after heavy brainstorming and poodle-drawing, we were able to narrow down to two brilliant ideas: A ‘speed dating’ app and a wedding.

All of this was displayed in one big story-board

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Prototype 1: A Speed Dating Community Events App

So one of the issues we had was thinking of a way to congregate members of the Hackney Wick area, old+new and develop a tight knit, cohesive community. The answer was that an app can take you very far in this day and age. Without going into too much detail, the app is centred on advertising sporadic featured events funded by Creative Wick to help newer residents as well as old to familiarise with each other and share their wealth of expertise. Essentially, we want this app to be a tool any member of the community can use to organise events and network with their neighbours.

A possible feature in the app is a profiling map:

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Prototype 2: The Wedding Of Hackney Wick

Whaaaaaaaat?! Yes, you’ve seen it all now. But It’s now 2016 so i guess places can get married too…? To themselves? Oh get over it!

This idea here intrigued me the most, I heard in some countries when a influx of new people settle in a neighbourhood they throw a big party to solidify themselves into the community. So we thought why not do the same here in the form of a ‘marriage’ ceremony? Hopefully at this event the residents of Hackney Wick can come down to celebrate a new beginning and eat some cake or whatever wedding-y stuff people do. Everyone’s invited!

After a lot (A LOT) of divergent and convergent thinking our team did a great job to generate two solid and very realistic ideas. All in all it was a very productive day that puts us in a strong position for the final two (L) days so we definitely can be proud of what we have learned and achieved thus far.

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The Wedding Invitation

Day Six: Interviewing and Empathy

Today we focused on interviewing and field research to gain insight into the local community; their demographic, needs, aspirations, thoughts and behaviour.

Responding to the R-urban challenge 2, ‘How can we best engage with the immediate local community alongside a wider global collective working in similar fields?’, we brain stormed the questions we had for our challenge setter, Carlota from Public Works which manages R-Urban. The interviewees practised the skills learned about rapport, engagement, silence and different kinds of questioning. We introduced ourselves and began by asking Carlota about her involvement with the project. Our following questions were semi structured around the following themes: Local Community, Resources, Projects, Ambitions, Organisations/Global community. Through this process, we recognised the controversy within such a project, highlighting the value and tension between history and progress; what should be conserved and how best to develop. The group members who did not interview collected very meaningful data about the local demographic finding the two major religions to be Christianity and Islam, with a high proportion of disabled, elderly and young residents, along with high levels of deprivation.

Splitting into two groups, we went into the field to undertake spatial analysis through photography, video and sound, along with informal interviews of local residents and businesses.

Interview One: Builders

Points: Hadn’t heard of R-urban. Suggested having a garden party or BBQ/music festival to introduce people to the space. Advising across Hackney Wick with flyers is what they believed was the norm to get people keen to participate in events. Lastly, engaging with local businesses could prove fruitful for greater footfall in the MGC.

Interview Two: Management at Hub67

Points: Despite being a part of LLDC and Yard Theatre, they too hadn’t heard of R-urban. Funded by LLDC, the aim of Hub67 is to create cohesion among the three communities: established, artists and new young professionals through yoga and mother and daughter activities as an example.

Interview Three: Florist Owner

Points: Despite commuting to work, the owner has lots of contact with the local community which she believes is too diverse to generalise upon. She did suggest the community is scattered and keep to themselves as a result of leading busy lives and are therefore less integrated. She saw the community as divided between home owners, renters and artists. Working in similar fields, she would be interested in the potential network and collaboration with the Mobile Garden City, and yet is not currently aware of its presence.

Interview Four: Elderly Resident

Points: Lived in Trowbridge Estate for 20 years. Too busy to be involved with R-urban/MGC but passionate about gardening. Believes young people aren’t interested in gardening and the majority of the elderly aren’t mobile enough to be able to engage. Noticed the area has changed over the course of Olympic development with greater noise and re-routed traffic.

We collated our research and impressions of the local community and shared our reflections on the day. What struck me is the lack of communication and outreach of programmes like Hub67 and R-urban/Mobile Garden City to the communities that are most affected and disadvantaged by the development. Overwhelmingly, I feel that funds have been given and infrastructure built that show bias towards the creative class. Through initiatives like R-urban and Hub67, that use art graduates and the like to create social cohesion, I can’t help but think, where are the other local communities? How are they being represented? How are their dreams, needs and challenges being voiced, or even addressed? Through this project, I hope we can begin to re-balance this bias.

 

 

(Un)urban Day 6-Divide and Conquer

Today is what we call THE PRODUCTIVE DAY! Despite the fact that we have only 4 group members today, we completed our task very efficiently. We split up into groups of two- to interview our challenge setter and to walk around Hackney Wick and Fish Island to “prey on” potential interviewee. Both the team completed the task independently then consolidated the information we gathered.

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Our Challenge Setter and “bonus”

We had a good lunch break together, enjoying the view from Stour Space. We talked about food, culture, ducks…(oops, is this part of Unurban? Oh well, joy should be part of this programme isn’t it?)

Back to topic, we all thought that interview is going to be an intimidating task. We were expecting to receive a lot of rejections, that people might not want to be interviewed. BUT, it came to our surprise that people actually want to talk! When we were interviewing our challenge setter from Creative Wick, the artist sitting nearby overheard our discussion which drew his attention and he later joined in the interview. So, that’s a bonus for us 😉

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Our Persona(s) from street interview

We also interviewed people from different background (e.g. our navigator who is also a local residence in HW, the gallery manager in Stour Space, a cyclist we met by the river bank, the programme manager from Hub67 and a day tripper who came all the way from Isle of Dogs JUST FOR THE EVIRONMENT and FOOD/BEER from Crate)

The interview process was very interesting and informative. We received very different views about the development that results from QEOP where some dislike the development that causes increase in housing prices whilst some states the importance of QEOP in providing more job opportunities. A few issues such as gentrification and the need to improve the sense of community seemed to be the main concern for most of the local residence.

After the lunch break, we started the process of divergent-and-convergent thinking to brainstorm ideas for our challenge. Sneak peek to what we have so far:

 

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Want to know what ideas we came up with? Stay tuned!

(Un)Urban-Finally made it to QEOP

Today we were finally able to explore the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (QEOP) and surrounding Hackney Wick area we had heard so much about, which after a week of bad weather at UCL was a nice change. The powerful art community of Hackney Wick is obvious and very visible even in the 3 minute walk from the station to Stour Space, our work base for this week.

Our day began with a talk at Stour Space, followed by a long awaited talk of QEOP. The tour first took us from the Fish Island entrance of the park, along the river and past the Copper Box Arena to the Velodrome. On entering the park, the huge amounts of space became very clear as we were taken through a huge concord area filled with very little people/activity. This immediately got us thinking about our IROKO challenge, and potential open spaces within the park which could be used more actively by the public.

While walking along the river I found it crazy to find out that almost all of the trees in the entire (560 acre) park had been driven in on the back of the truck. This was pointed out as we passed an old dark tree standing alone at the side of the river. This isolated native tree against the young imported vegetation really gives you a sense of the extent to which everything in the park is new, everything is perfect and everything has been put in a place for a purpose. The graduated river banks is just one example of the promotion of green space in the park, encouraging the development of marshlands along the river.

We visited the R-Urban Mobile Garden which sat in the north western part of the park, opposite East village, on a site due to be developed on in December. We were given a tour of the Mobile Garden site and its activities which, in such a new area where people maybe haven’t yet had the chance to meet and interact with their neighbours is a great project and gives people in the surrounding area an opportunity to form a community. The activities of the Mobile Garden give locals an outlet to interact with nature a bit as well as a space to learn new skills and pass on their own skills and history to others, at the Civic University and Wick Common Shop. ***

After lunch the group began to think about how we would organise ourselves this week. We identified that the key areas to focus on in order to tackle the challenge we have been set by IROKO are:

  • Identify activities/facilities which elderly people would like to have in the park
  • Locate an ‘open space’ in the park which could be used more actively
  • Develop an idea for a way in which IROKO’s activities/resources can be beneficial to the elderly people’s wants/needs
  • Specify what is required from LLDC in order for IROKO to implement this idea

Towards the end of the tour, it was felt among the group that the culture of the park was almost ‘missing’. We felt as though there wasn’t much within the park which made you feel like you were in London, that the park could be picked up and dropped in any other urban city and fit right in, that the park isn’t yet delivering the Olympic legacy which was promised. This became evident to me on returning to the Hackney Wick station, and again observing the fierce artistic culture which is present within the community and is so loud, even within the 3 minute walk from Stour Space to the station. Comparing this loud culture to the clean, purposefully placed, new structures within the park, it became slightly more understandable as to why people in the surrounding community may feel that the park ‘isn’t for them’.

(Un)Urban: Day 5 – “Hackney Wick and The Olympic Park”

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We arrived at Stour Space, Fish Island and were given a contextual introduction to the surrounding area by IGP research associate Konrad Miciukiewicz. Konrad spoke of the Olympic park’s unique position as a centre for post-Olympic regeneration for Stratford and the 4 (6) growth boroughs. It became apparent that with Land controlled by the monarch and properties such as the East Village owned by “Qatari Diar” and other developers, the task of helping create a new community would be a challenge for all involved in the work of the LLDC. Currently less than half of the residents in the East Village originate from London postcodes and only half of that contingent lived in East London before moving there. At this stage, it is perhaps too early to judge whether the social legacy of the Olympic park will be one to celebrate as there is much more development that is still underway.

 

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The day continued with a walk around Hackney Wick and then, through the grounds of the Olympic Park. Hackney Wick lies in the far east of the Borough of Hackney and in its post-industrial era has recently become a hub for artists who have taken advantage of the space left over after years of economic decline. There were, however, hints at the existing divisions between working class East-Londoners and the new artistic community. There were a number of these signs such as graffiti stating “Hipsters Out” although it’s possible that the so-called hipsters  are the ones holding the spray-cans. None-the less it was clear that area was becoming more vibrant and diverse, living up to its reputation.

 

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Finally, we visited the complex that was to be the focus of our group challenge. R-Urban Wick is situated at the foot of a sea of semi-high-rise developments which at first glance looked almost out of place in its rapidly developing surroundings; after being shown around the garden by the R-Urban team they informed us about participation in the community garden and how the project was being built around the combination of individual stories and personalities to create a centre inspiring community cohesion between different groups of peoples.

 

Day 5 (Un)Urban: The Winners and Losers of Urban Regeneration

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1-Dr Tim Waterman’s burned-out car at the end of the road?

To kick off the second week of the (Un)Urban Global Citizenship Strand, the groups met in our case study site of Fish Island and The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Our base for the week, Stour Space is a fitting example of the creative regeneration processes engulfing this former industrial part of Hackney Wick and Tower Hamlets. Surrounded by waterways, mid-rise warehouses and parkland – the area offers a welcome juxtaposition to the more inner-city location of UCL’s main campus. Being immersed in the area will inevitably be beneficial to catalysing integration and understanding of our research site and help with putting the theoretical framework from week one into practice with our designated challenges.

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2-Stour Space Top-Trumps

The day consisted largely of a tour of the park and the surrounding Hackney Wick area, as well as a visit to the R-Urban Mobile Garden City – situated adjacent to the former Athlete’s Village complex. As a group, having largely never visited the park previously, what became particularly apparent was the vastness of the open space surrounding the various Olympic venues. Although much of the former event-infrastructure such as concrete concourses, has been ‘re-wilded’, the park still hold an incessant bareness in certain parts of it. What we began to question is whether this seemingly unused space has come about through a lack of people living in its vicinity – or through problematic social engineering which perturbs rather than attracts local residents to it.

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3-#onebigcommunity

The changing face of the Olympic Park area bears resemblance to gentrifying processes felt elsewhere in London – however, it also presents its own complexities and tensions such as between the tidal wave of housing development and the preservation of post-industrial creative warehouses. The challenge that Group 2 in particular face, is how these newer communities can successfully integrate with both the resident creative community and the life-long residents of the area. R-Urban with their mixed-purpose community space offers a solution for creating new, vibrant and cohesive communities within the new high-rise apartment blocks, but it was difficult to see how a project such as this could be used collaboratively to engineer inclusion and assimilation between long-term and new residents. However, in itself the Mobile Garden City presented an interesting model of community engagement for us to observe, explore and learn about. The bottom-up initiative at R-Urban Wick not only displayed the hard work and enjoyment of the developing East Village community but also showed the potential of public-private partnerships when working towards local social-wellbeing projects.

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4-Mobile Garden City

Later we made our way back through the park towards the artistic and more alternative community on Fish Island. Passing through the Trowbridge Estate however reified the fact that Hackney Wick is such a diverse area, home to people from all different backgrounds and with sometimes polarised lifestyles. Upon visiting the old Bath House, we were made aware of the conflict that has arisen through concerns of the estate’s residents for increasing noise levels, anti-social behaviour and visible drug use. Whilst the creative bubble appeared idealistic and desirable at first glance, it was important for us to bear in mind the mixed demographic of the area and understand how opinions towards a changing neighbourhood both visually and socially are highly contested.

All in all, our day of exploring the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and its environs proved to be engaging, diverse and particularly useful for fostering a greater portrait of the area and the communities that live there. After resting tired legs and soothing the first sunburn of the summer, we can look forward to exploring our case study site and work with the people that call this area home, to strive for sustainable strategies that promote well-being, assimilation and a vibrant sense of community in Hackney Wick – ensuring that no-one ‘loses’ out to the community’s changing face.

Day 5: London Legacy

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The well-anticipated first day out in East London in the incredible sunshine, we began the day in Stour space with a talk from Conrad. He discussed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park we would be visiting in the context of other Olympic parks and their many controversies. Despite no human rights issues with the 2012 London Olympics the future of the space that straddles four boroughs including Newham, Waltham Forest, Hackney and Tower Hamlets was a  contentious issue, raising the debate of the long term legacy and what this would mean for the local people long after the games had finished. The project therefore outlined themes that it would measure and aim to improve over the coming years, including tackling issues of obesity, general health and well being and the reduction of the existing poverty gap associated with these areas relative to the rest of London, that leaves its population with fewer opportunities and shorter lifespans. It made us think of the reality of the major consequences of these projects and how shaping spaces can influence the health, education and happiness of the population and the generations that follow and also therefore the huge responsibility of regenerating old spaces in a sensitive and with a human-centered holistic approach.

We then began our rambles in groups through the local neighbourhood by foot having a chance to view the old and new constructions. The most remarkable aspect of our walk through fish island and Hackney wick was the state of flux in some areas and the heavy development occurring seemingly everywhere you looked. The presence of cranes and newly constructed sights sat next to the old factories and industrial estates. We discussed the impact on local communities of the influx of a new generation of people and the possibility that although perhaps disparate in background, both groups were being affected by the same issues of the price of living and working spaces. Both groups needed facilities that catered for their working lives such as schools and good health services ideas that could be further explored in our projects.

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Hackney 2

As we approached the Queen Elizabeth’s Olympic park we found a new environment, more engineered, more green and ecologically more diverse and open. We discussed how these spaces will change over the next decade and whether they will ever create the same local communities that exist in Hackney Wick as in the new homes that are currently being built on the site. With UCL’s own investment in hereEast as well as UCL East their own responsibility to cater for the community and integrate into the wider community was discussed through cheaper courses potentially more vocational in order to give back to the local community and break down the divide between the university and the local neighbourhoods, it will be interesting to see this come to fruition.

Hackney 3

We then congregated at the Mobile Garden on the east side of the park to discuss the R-urban project, we were shown the different plants being grown and the plans to use the biogas created to fuel cooking on site in the new café soon to be built. The gift economy tool library and bike repair service also showed innovative ways at creating ideals of a civic society and underpinned the whole ethos of the space in sharing the resources and individual skills we have with each other in the community in a space that would otherwise be an empty site waiting for construction.

We rounded off a busy day with the cross-strand human rights conference where we got the chance to hear about the other strands activities and come together to produce declaration commitments for UCL to uphold human rights.

Helen Quah

 

 

 

 

 

A Short Interval: Floating like Butterflies…

As we get ready to get to work this week and put a lot of the skills we have learnt in the first week into, it is important to remember that efficiency is key. After a great first week which was rounded off with a green urban initiatives panel, interviews research methods and group selection of preferred challenges, there is a lot to look forward to in this second week. In fact as I’m typing this listening to The Weeknd’s “Beauty Behind the Madness” and still reeling from the live stream of ‘Game of Thrones’ that I just managed to get through, the only thing on my mind is what amazing experiences that the coming week holds in store and how there is a burning desire for us all to come away with tangible skills and solutions at the end.

I was about to round of with one of my quotes but then I thought of someone else’s whose quotes you’ve probably heard at least once over the course of this weekend and so why not one more time…?

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Coincidentally, Forman’s Smokehouse Gallery located on Stour Road, Fish Island, Hackney Wick overlooking The Olympic Stadium, played host to a unique collection of iconic images and artwork celebrating the career of the author of the above quote and will be coming back again. I guess beauty knows how to find itself. Might be worth paying a visit.

East London is a special place, unique in it’s diversity; a beauty that has transcended to a muse. If you don’t know, brace yourself and let it encapsulate and inspire you too.

Hopefully, by the end of this week we’ve all moved a step closer to shaking the world. Good luck everyone!

 

 

Day 4: tough for someone who killed a cactus

The first week rounded off on a green note with a panel on urban initiatives to enhance well-being through the use of green spaces… or dead, weedy, rubble-filled spaces – or even the side of a building.

The first speaker, Joyce Veheary, spoke about her ingenious garden sharing scheme ‘Lend and Tend’ where people who otherwise wouldn’t use their gardens/balconies/rooftops can offer the space to people willing to use and look after them. Almost like an allotment – minus the bureaucracy and the 40 year waiting lists.

Next were two speakers from the Mobile Garden City – a placement project in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park that aims to bring together, as well as create, a community within the developing space of Chobham Manor. It boasts a cafe, non-profit bike repair shop, growing fruits and vegetables, town hall and communal dining table – amongst many other things. And what’s more: it will be picked up and moved completely this December to a new site.

The future ladies and gents:

The last speaker, Gary Grant, moved on to how we can bring back and utilize nature to spaces where it would seem like little could grow. ‘Greening up’ already existing buildings by additions such as roof gardens or plant walls has shown to be beneficial in a number of aspects: from providing insulation in the winter to cooling in the summer, space for insects and reducing excess rainwater in gutter systems.

After lunch (a samosa. It was brilliant) we split into groups to embark on a crash course on interviewing skills. Role playing and interview planning ensued and then it was time to vote on our preferred challenges, narrowing it down to three.

Whilst writing this the results have come through, and although not our first choice (booo Group 2) our allocated challenge is one that I’m sure we’ll all be pretty pleased with and will put our utmost effort into, maybe especially as it’s occurring at the same time as the news coming out of UK lobbying to dilute pollution death proposals. We’ll need all the green space we can get.

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Watching poor policy decisions being made