Tag Archive for community

History of Castle Vale

Castle Vale is a modern housing area on the north-eastern edge of Birmingham (UK). It is unique in many ways and has gone through distinct sets of changes. The things that most people noticed on their first visit to the area, when it was first built as a housing estate, was the flat and open landscape and the very distinct boundaries which seemed to almost cut Castle Vale off from the rest of the city to make a little island of people. These features have recently been changed, and will continue to change into the future, but each change is dictated by past developments. To understand what an area is like now, it is important to understand its history. The history of the Castle Vale area can be traced backwards, layer by layer and then built up again as a sequential record of those things that made the place what it was at each stage of its development.

The history follows the changing fortunes of this one relatively small area of land from its beginnings as a swampy forest, through the feudal times of battling barons, through the growing industrialisation of Birmingham to the First World War, on through its life as an airfield, finally to the construction of the modern housing estate and the very recent improvements to that area. From time to time little excursions are taken into the wider history of the region but only in order to set the very local events within their wider setting and make them even more interesting than they already are.

The full history can be downloaded as a PDF here: History of Castle Vale

Sides and Edges: Tales from another place

Cultures and structures interplay to shape our lives, our politics, our expectations and so on but, at the same time, we remain unique identities operating as interacting sets of thoughts and feelings, constructing the worlds we operate in. Within a context that is already partly made for us, we rub up against each other’s lives as thoughts, feelings, words and actions. For better or for worse.

This may require us to show different sides of ourselves at different times. Some of us slip into these various roles as easily as slipping on a new coat. For others negotiating a way forward that retains an integrity of self whilst meeting the varying expectations of others can be an overbearing and difficult task, with gaps showing as edges that no longer quite match together.

The interplay between structure and agency (whether put forward as economic/social; genetic/environmental; determinism/free will or any other such bipolarities) has fascinated thinkers and researchers throughout history. Much of what has passed for social research boiled down at its core to considerations of basics such as these.

People evolve and so do ways of thinking about, and describing, the world. At the personal level, the emergence of my own theorising about social issues has shifted under the influence of number of conceptual inputs from a range of sources. An early one was a passion for the notions gathered under the banner of Symbolic Interactionism[1]. This emphasised micro-scale social interactions and brought together thinking from urban sociology and social psychology, exploring how people act towards situations based on the meanings that things have for them. Within such frameworks, people derive meanings from their definitions of the situation, their social interactions being modified through interpretations and impression management. Their identities are thus fluid things that are constantly being constructed.

Key amongst other influences on my own thinking were views linked to notions of social ecology and systems thinking. One aspect of my unfolding understandings of social relations drew on the work of Bateson[2] who argued that there is neither individual nor society as distinctly separate units but a system that connects both organism and its environment, that puts agency and structural contexts in the same framework. Not ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’.

Going through the required adaptations and accommodations to the influences of structuralist and post-structuralist thinking led me on to a much stronger emphasis on notions of social construction. For a summary of this approach see Burr (2003)[3]. This then offered a framework within which knowledge, language, social processes, power and identity could be seen as interweaving in ways that were quite fragmentary, contingent and shifting.

‘Individual action’ in these terms became possible when people were able to understand the various discourses that define their lives and were able to act upon, or act against, such shared definitions.

Whilst language and power had a crucial place within all of this, there was always the danger that theory could outstrip people’s lived experiences. There was a view that people’s actions had become so theorised about by others that their own voice had been lost (Krippendorff,1998)[4].

On the broader scale, social research has constantly shifted its focus in ongoing attempts at explaining the complexities of shifting social ideas and interrelationships – sometimes with factions taking sides for and against emerging notions, sometimes blurring previously well-defined edges. Social theory is itself transient and dependent.

At the practical level social research themes have, recently, been shaped by the mix of funding availability and the current policy concerns of national bodies. There are arguments that research has become limited in scope by these restrictions and that there is little opportunity for serendipity or for researchers to simply follow their own lines of thought just to see where it all leads.

In the first few years of the twenty-first century I was a lead researcher on one national substantial piece of such research. The main focus of that research programme need not concern us here. What it opened up, for me, however, was a number of additional opportunities that , as research director, I could ignore as irrelevancies or could follow up as an additional line of personal interest research. In addition to the main prescribed research I could do additional work on the side, just for fun.

Being fixed in that particular place, over a three year period in the first decade of the millennium, engaged in the main research activity, opened up the possibility for me to be an active participant[5] in the daily life of that one small town somewhere in England. I won’t be any more precise than that as to its location because there are compulsive problem-solvers out there who will use such clues as there may be to track the place down and to leave the people, who acted as my research base, open to personal identification.

Suffice it to say that the area was not a large city; nor a rural village; that it had a large enough population to be able to be described as mixed in terms of class, ethnicity and housing types. It had, in common with other areas, undergone changes in population; had had streets renovated as part of redevelopment schemes. It had its share of fast food outlets, retail units, and charity shops. It had students, old people, shopkeepers, manufacturers, unemployed people and ill people.

It had its fair share of people who might be defined as criminal or odd or obscure. These slightly ‘off-normal’ people were far from being the subjects of my main research drive but increasingly became the focus of my attention as an observant resident of the places and activities that were their social context.

It was these people who were talked to, with the initial intention of possibly writing a novel at some stage in the future. Many people had interesting accounts to give of their lives and these people began providing character clues that were jotted down. The idea of using this material as the research for a novel was rapidly overtaken by an overwhelming interest in what these people had to say for themselves, and what this meant in terms of their views of what was happening in their community – which then spread from there to become a research activity to explore the interconnected richness of their varied accounts rather than to simply document specific individual eccentricities or extremes.

The bulk of the accounts came from people who could, on the surface, be described as ‘seemingly quite ordinary’ but who, in their own descriptions of their lives, had interesting facets to their lives. The examples that have been included in the research accounts represented only 20% of the total conversations held and were selected simply on the basis of being ‘interesting’ [6]. There were no clear criteria for defining this but it was usually only too clear when conversations fell well into the other 80%. The bulk of these other conversations were soul-destroyingly empty and uninteresting. These haven’t been totally discarded as, in themselves, they do provide some insights into small-town interactions, and may yet come to feature in some future account of what forms the bulk of English time-passing talk about weather, transport, TV, illnesses, relationships and so on.

There was an early decision to be made about the identification of the accounts that were selected. Simply issuing each with a reference number seemed to detract from the humanity of it all. What was needed was a phrase that captured something of the context of the person and which also reflected the fact that these situations were not fixed and static but were part of a journey that each person was in the middle of. Initially these were referenced as stories, to reflect this sense of narrative, but in English culture the term stories can also carry the meaning of falsehoods/inventions. These accounts were, so far as could be told, genuine reportings of residents’ perceptions of themselves at one particular time. ‘Stories’ thus seemed an inappropriate label.

At the start of this research I was reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and it seemed appropriate for each of the research accounts to be seen as a tale told by one of a loosely-bound band of people who, whilst geographically relatively fixed by this specific small town location, were collectively journeying their way through lives that intersected or were in broad parallels. There was also a semantic fondness for the notion of the journey, with its connections back to the French ‘jour’ and the feeling that many of the respondents telling me their tales were taking things day by day; giving daily accounts of their existences with an insecure sense of what the next day might hold for them. Ultimately each account was given a title that reflected the person or their situation and referred to it as their tale, as told to me.

The tales arose out of conversations rather than structured questionnaires of guided interview schedules. These however, were not simply conversations on any topic just to pass the time. They were deeply personal, often quite revealing, conversations about the person’s view of themselves and their place in the world. The accounts were sometimes consolidated from more fragmentary excerpts gathered through recurrent, fairly extensive conversations across a range of topics. In these cases, in compiling the accounts, attempts have been made to capture the respondent’s own voice but at the end of the day the accounts have had to exist mediated through my own editing across several somewhat disjointed or rambling conversations, with the danger that some of my own phraseology may have been unintentionally inserted in the process. More often, what is presented here resulted from single, short, intense conversations which provided their own very memorable phrases and imagery.

On no occasions were the conversations recorded (ie were not interviews, in the popular sense) but were always written down immediately after the interaction, reliant on a memory that proved fairly reliable and which improved with use. Where natural breaks in the conversation occurred (visits to the toilet, going to the bar to order drinks etc), full use was made of these to discreetly scribble down rough notes, significant phrases, key facts etc in a pocket notebook. Certainly I became adept at spotting and recording significant constructions and killer phrases. The words recorded in the accounts (in The Tales) are as faithful as possible, under these circumstances, to the ones used at the time but are not guaranteed as exact quotations. What this research made use of, then, were less than fully worked up case studies of people but were more than simple snapshots of isolated passing casual interactions.

Some tales carry the names of the respondents. Mostly, however, names were omitted, or changed, to further protect the identities of people who had agreed to give information about themselves only on condition of anonymity. Sometimes, and it will be obvious where this is the case, the content revealed things that bordered on criminal or illegal activities. The respondents did not offer this information immediately but reached this level of revelation only after a number of less exposing conversations. They were often clearly nervous about what they were saying or, alternatively, showed a guarded bravado about the whole thing. In either case they ultimately ended up, quite rightly, demanding anonymity. Often, a reluctance to be identified was because people were consciously offering up details of only one aspect of themselves and did not wish to be overdefined by these particular fragments.

At the whole-report level the title ‘Sides and Edges’ was selected. This was a relatively simplistic device for capturing the feeling that here was a set of people who were living at the edges/on the margins; who were constantly on edge; who were edgy/had edgy personalities. There was also, emerging from the accounts, a sense that they were unintentionally taking sides/being on different sides. There was, additionally, a more oblique sense in which a proportion of the residents were slowly toppling over onto their sides ie not totally upright, not securely standing tall. All of this may seem a bit speculative (or even far-fetched) but the title still appears to encapsulate the overall outcomes from the range of accounts.

As it progressed, this offshoot of my main studies increasingly connected across to the thinking from my main research – drawing, as this did, on systems thinking, the work of Bateson, links to theories of complexity[7] and psychogeography[8], and linkages to thinking I was doing at the time on pseudorealia ie things that are treated as objects/facets of everyday existence’s realities but which in reality are imaginary constructs of the person (and the role that words/language play in these processes of social construction). In light of this there may have been some unintentional bias in an attraction to respondents’ accounts simply if they contained such linguistic aspects or linkages to other current thought processes.

This research had, for me at least, clear links back to the Mass Observation[9] movement at its peak throughout the 1940s. The recorded fragments from that work were initially seen as an important way of getting a sense of the state of the nation at a difficult time, from provided accounts of everyday activities; were later discounted as a disjointed jumble of relatively valueless subjective jottings; and finally came to be regarded as a valuable social history archive of academic interest. It is quite possible that this collection of tales and their subsequent analysis may be similarly viewed as being substantial or trivial.

The accounts were collected as simple tales but an initial deeper exploration of the texts was immediately possible. A selected group of readers scanned several of the accounts and were able to easily identify a number of recurring issues which they listed as emerging puzzles or questions. The outline questions, emerging from these reflections on these accounts, began as relatively obvious ones:

  • Can we ever fully understand what drives other people’s everyday lives?
  • Can one really know the extent of someone else’s crankiness, phobias, prejudices, passions, levers etc – or do these things only exist in a distributed form throughout the personality of the other person and can only be merely glimpsed partially, from particular angles?
  • Is it possible to get inside another person’s viewpoint and, if so, would this be healthy ie can one interact intensively with another and not be changed oneself? Do we have hard edges as individuals or do we have fuzzy edges that get exchanged with others as we interact?
  • To what extent do individuals’ senses of self arise from internal, psychological factors and to what extent do they arise from within the social constructions that occur via interactions with others and with structures of power?

Repeated readings of the accounts allowed a greater number of such recurring issues to consistently emerge. These then formed the beginnings of a number of possible analytical frameworks against which the accounts are currently being further explored and tentative conclusions reached.

From my initial analyses, one possible framework that emerged links together the following notions, in a web of overlapping interconnectivities:

  • multiplicity, simplicity, complexity
  • structure, agency, determination
  • self, identity, relationships, interactions with other people
  • power, authority, dominance, status
  • fragmentation, consistency, unevenness, change, difference
  • pattern, interconnections, linkages between things and events
  • structurings, financial and social systems
  • interactions with things or places, reference points
  • evidence, conjecture, invention, imagination, what counts
  • time, sequence, space
  • appearances, representation, imagery
  • realities, authenticity, truth
  • belief, prejudice, ideology
  • language, meaning, metaphor, codes
  • social construction, discourse
  • essence, nature
  • causality, linearity, circularity, oscillation

This was one of a number of possible such analytical webs which provided opportunities to position, and draw understandings from, the various accounts told as tales by the various people encountered.

There is a sense in which each tale made little sense on its own and that it was only when the tales were reflected upon as an interacting set that they began to make more sense – paralleling the notion that it is only when individuals interact, using language as a powerful tool, that patterns of meanings get constructed and reinforced.

Any framework of meanings, drawn from reflecting on the accounts, became an accounting system through which it was possible to begin to glimpse the collective perspectives of the community of respondents. Connections were then made between individual tales, interpersonal understandings and collective definitions of realities. This kind of ongoing analysis, through sifting over and over to uncover the interconnections, is a process similar to knowledge-archaeology. Similar constructions and reconstructions of common understandings of community have been researched elsewhere[10].

The outcome of this will, hopefully, be a better understanding of how a range of influences can emerge into prominence, inhibitions or encouragements within the varying structuring of people’s understandings of themselves, their perceptions of others and their abilities to operate in non-linear webs of emerging potentials.

A sample of the data tales from this on-the-side strand of research is simply presented elsewhere on this site. They are offered here, however, as raw accounts with no attempt at this stage to describe the wider conclusions or undertake further substantial analysis.

Since the analysis has not been fully worked through, this interim publication is not easy to classify. It is not a research paper, in the traditional sense, written within the constraints of refining it down to a set of conclusions as a published piece of research. At the other extreme, however, nor is it a simple journalistic reporting of a set of ‘a day in the life of …’¬† accounts meant to be read once and discarded.

The research recordings are presented here as accounts to be reflected upon appropriately by each individual reader. This opportunity is offered in a spirit of joint exploration, offering an invitation to readers: Make of it all what you will. In this way readers of the accounts are drawn in as co-researchers.

I shall, of course, continue with my own analyses and refinement of the web/framework outlined earlier and shall, in time, publish my own insights. Others may begin to do their own thinking and draw their own conclusions after a sustained reading of the accounts.

Others may end up reading these reports, knowing that others will also have read them, which opens up the potential for discussions out there in the real world (however we choose to define that). Through those real-world conversations and discussions further analysis may be possible through ongoing reflections, attempting to see patterns of patterns. The way forward in all of this is far from clear.

It is also possible to imagine someone (albeit maybe with little else to do) setting up activities dedicated to discussing and analysing these Tales. It is also possible to imagine such reflections finding their way into seminars and content of various courses. In a number of ways the ongoing analysis could spread itself as a distributed activity, done day by day, with no certain ways forward.

This kind of ongoing interconnectedness of reflection on the tales, through linked systems of systems, gives a somewhat unique edge to the work. It is offered here in a spirit of adventure. Make of it what you will.


[1] Blumer, H. (1969) Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method, Berkley: University of California Press

[2] Bateson, G. (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mind, New York: Chandler; (1980) Mind and Nature, Bantam Books; (1991) A Sacred Unity, Harper Collins

[3] Burr, V. (2003) Social Constructionism .London: Routledge

[4] Krippendorff, K. (1998) Ecological Narratives:Reclaiming the Voice of the Other, at www.asc.upenn.edu/usr/krippendorff/ECONOLOGY

[5] For a discussion of the issues associated with participant observer research methodology see Robson, C. (2002) Real World Research, Oxford: Blackwell

[6] ‘Interesting’ here is purely a subjective judgment, but one made in the light of what might count as really-useful research knowledge.

[7] Goldreich, O. Complexity theory at www.wisdom.weizmann.ac.il/~oded/cc.html; Bovet, DP and Crescenzi, ,P (1994) Introduction to the Theory of Complexity. London ;Prentice Hall: Taylor, M.C. (2001) The Moment of Complexity. Chicago: Univ ofChicago Press

[8] Coverley, M. (2006) Psychogeography, Pocket Essentials; Stein, H. F .(1987) Developmental Time, Cultural Space: Studies in Psychogeography. Univ of Oklahoma Press

[9] Hubble, N (2006) Mass Observation and Everyday Life, PalgraveMacmillan; See www.massobs.org.uk; see also wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass-Observation

[10] Bateson G. (1996) The Social Construction and reconstruction of Community, PhD Thesis, University of Central England (Now UCB). Birmingham

Place: Some initial thoughts

The term place has been defined and used in a number of different ways by a range of writers. Some geographic locations are judged to possess a sense of place, a characteristic that other locations may be judged as lacking. Within this view, place is a perception of the location held by people (rather than being solely a function of the location) and is associated with characteristics that contribute a uniqueness, a specialness, an attachment, a belonging and so on.

On this basis, space is often taken to refer to structural aspects of a physical setting whilst place refers to the use of the space by interacting people. (An example is Eva Hornecker: Space and Place – setting the stage for social interaction. Department of informatics, University of Sussex).

Some writers make the same distinction but using the alternate labels ie place = functional, organised, mapped; space = personal, used, practised, open to interpretation.

Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan (Space and Place: The perspective of Experience) has outlined a spectrum of different interpretations. He added ideas of time and outlined how place, space and time interact through different understandings of them. He suggests that space can be associated with freedom and that place can be associated with safety. At the same time he suggests that place does not necessarily always have a positive set of associations; a sense of fear might also go with a sense of place.

His definition of place derives from the idea that a place comes into existence only if people give it meaning and differentiate it from wider, un-special space. Once a locality is named, described, mapped, identified etc it becomes separated from other localities and takes on characteristics and values of its own. If these characteristics then get built upon/built up by social processes then the locality gains a stronger sense of place.

The view that space (as an environment of objects) merely represents a located set of opportunities whilst place arises from sets of mutually-held cultural understandings about behaviour and action, is also put forward by a range of other writers (eg Re-Place-ing Space, Steve Harrison and Paul Dourish, Xerox Paulo Alto Research Centre and Cambridge Lab). For them place is a location that has been invested with understandings about cultural expectations, behavioural appropriateness etc.. They are spaces that hold some form of value – in the way that a house may also be regarded as a home. A place overlays a space but has had something added, whether this be a social meaning, a set of conventions, or some cultural belief or understanding.

Residential differentiation, for many people in modern societies, creates such collective identities and sense of place. These help to reinforce and protect (from change/deviation) the locality’s key cultural heritages through transmission of cultural awarenesses and residential ties. There are links from ideas of place to ideas of community, although both are concepts open to variable interpretations (The Social Construction and Reconstruction of Community, G Bateson, PhD 1996, University of Central England¬† now Birmingham City University).

Some writers reverse the distinction above and see place as the geographical location which is transformed into space by people walking/talking across it. Others distinguish geometrical space from anthropological space – the first being given/existential and the second being constructed/produced in realities or in dreams etc.

Whichever ways round we wish to use the terms, the sense of a place may represent a strong identity felt by residents, visitors, or people studying the locality. Such an identity goes well beyond the opinions of single individuals and is the outcome of collective social processes (which, admittedly, depend on the interactions of individuals). It can be added to by being written about, painted, photographed or captured in music – any of which may be in response to natural, geographical features of the local landscape or in response to human activity across that landscape.

Writing about places takes a number of forms. Where these go beyond mere factual descriptions, in which the reader is given a tour or is presented with a map/layout, the more evocative writings about places invite the use of metaphor: sayings/stories/images that organise the ideas about a place. There is a belief that space is transformed into the place by the application of stories, beliefs, interpreted practices and so on. These are not discrete things: Stories, for example, act as one way in which relationships can be interpreted and reinforced or changed within a broader culture. The ways that places (localities or organisations) rely on stories is a fruitful area for analysis.

Whilst space and place have been described as distinct things, in reality they are much more interrelated. Space is not an abstract set of geometrical arrangements but a setting for people to act out their everyday lived experiences. Phenomenological approaches, such as those of Merleau-Ponty, (eg Phenomenology of Perception, New York Humanities Press, 2002) make use of the idea of situated space. Dourish sees social actions as embedded in settings that are cultural and historical as well as physical (P Dourish, Where the action is: the foundations of embodied interaction, MIT Press 2001). Hornecker points out that people cannot escape spatiality. Space surrounds us, we operate within it. Through this people appropriate space, interpret space and imbue it with meaning. Interacting with space brings psychological meaning for people.

The distinction between space and place may be further extended when considering cultural activity via social electronic media; although maybe this simply requires the space to be defined as some form of an electronic location and a sense of place developed through electronic social interactions of various kinds.

There are different views of the extent to which the people using spaces can be regarded as active, creative artists or as passive, consuming, users of space. Michel de Certeau (The Practice of Everyday Life, translated by Steven Rendall, 1984, University of California Press, Berkeley) points out that although social research methods can study language, tradition, symbolism etc it has difficulty explaining how people accommodate these things in their everyday life practices. He sets out the tactics available for these people to reclaim a sense of autonomy in the face of commerce, culture and politics; and argues that the study of everyday life practices is one way of penetrating the obscurities that these things bring. Amongst the everyday practices are the inhabiting of spaces – walking in cities and so on. As people walk through cities they weave spaces together in particular subjective ways. These cannot always be satisfactorily captured objectively (eg through drawing maps to trace routes taken, as maps try to fix too rigidly the flow of life) since it is the experience of walking, of passing through spaces, that counts.

Understanding place thus implies attempting to understand how and why people interact with specific kinds of environment in particular kinds of ways. People may not come entirely fresh to an environment. Childhood experiences of a primal landscape may be one key influencer of how they might respond, as may significant later experiences that carry strong emotional values for the person. Such experiences are often ones mediated through family, community, culture, nationality and so on. Where childhood experiences are strong influences, the particular landscape can form part of the structuring of the individual’s personality – acting as reference points against which other places may be later evaluated.

Place is thus associated with personal dimensions, psychological dimensions, cultural dimensions and so on. Yan Xu (Sense of Place and Sense of Identity; East St Louis Action Research Project, 1995, University of Illinois) sees sense of place as a factor that is able to make an environment psychologically comfortable or uncomfortable, and able to be analysed through variables such as legibility/readability; perceptions of and preferences for the visual environment; and the compatibility of the setting with the human purposes in action there.

Part of developing a sense of place is defining oneself in terms of a particular locality. (Topophilia: Yan Xu 1974). Understanding why people hold the views that they do has been a rich strand of exploration in sociology, human geography, anthropology and urban planning. Analysts of social action have often been additionally interested in the ways that place or setting might influence individual and collective actions.

Ervin Goffman (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1959, Penguin, New York) uses a theatrical metaphor within which different modes of behaviour and interactions can occur ‘frontstage’ or ‘backstage’. Anthony Giddens (The Constitution of Society, 1984, Polity Press, Cambridge) used the notion of locales which go well beyond being simply spaces to incorporate the ways in which such settings are routinely used to constitute meaning within interactions. William Whyte (City: Rediscovering the Centre, 1988, Doubleday, New York) provided detailed descriptions of how streets were used for social interactions within a changing city.

Placeless spaces are often associated with landscapes that have no special relationship with their specific location (eg ‘This hotel room could be in any city in the world and you wouldn’t be able to tell’). The link is often that such spaces are mass-produced to standardised formats, mass-designed or over-commercialised. It has been described as there being no sense of ‘There’ in that place.

Again Yan Xu, analysing people’s remembrances for significant places, identifies the potential for feelings of loss of place (a humiliating loss of a sense of past, present and even future), placelessness (the distress at not having or being able to attain a sense of place) and rootlessness (an alienation brought about through lack of continuity or an overwhelming sense of change in the place).

On another tack: If places are socially constructed through the social uses of localities, does this just happen or can it be made to happen, ie can places be made? Placemaking as a term began to be used in the 1960s/70s by people interested in the role of landscape in the design and development processes. These built on the work of people such as Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1963, Random House, New York) and William Whyte (The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, 1980, Conservation Society, Washington DC), both of whom offered fresh ideas about designing cities for people to live in.

At the same time writers such as Henri Levebre (The Production of Space, 1974.) was looking at how cultural spaces were made, used and reproduced through continued practices. Social space came to be seen as being constructed around everyday lived spatial practices, conceived ideas of what is meant by terms such as space, and perceptions about what spaces represent for people. Places were spaces that could be remembered: could bring emotions, recollections and memories to mind. It became feasible to think more in terms of emergence, of produced possibilities. (Elizabeth Ellsworth: Pedagogies and Place: Design, 2005)

The architects and planners influenced by these writers were concerned with the ways that constructed forms might influence the daily experiences of people interacting with those plazas, buildings, waterfronts etc.. Architects and planners became concerned with producing spaces that act as places. One aim was to design places that connected into the rest of the locality through a sense of sameness yet retained a distinctiveness, a difference, about them.

Particular cases have been argued for engaging residents in placemaking eg within regeneration activities (an example is the 2010 publication by the Scottish Government: Partners in Regeneration – Participation in Placemaking) and for the place of public art in cultural placemaking through fostering social and psychological relationships between individuals, communities and localities.

At a time of proposed shifts towards a bigger society there have been proposals for more open-source approaches to placemaking, using digital/social media to get collective views on the development of cities and other places. The open calls for views, the crowdsourcing of attitudes, and the broad electronic exchange of information are all aspects of this.

This piece of place-based writing has intended to begin an exploration of some of the various approaches to ideas of place and space, how one may be related to (or built upon) the other, the emphases that might be available for residents, planners and writers/artists to use in relation to the determining of a sense of place for any locality, and how this might rely on the use of storytelling/interpretation-making. Hopefully some of this will be developed further.