Ballymena placemaking

I was recently invited to participate by PLACE Built Environment Centre, Belfast, in ‘Space: a social agenda’ symposium, held and organised by The Braid arts centre in Ballymena, Co Antrim this October. I was honoured to join an impressive line-up that included arts practitioners, creative placemakers, architects and the local authority and government, the kind of mixed professional bag that I believe is essential to successful built environment working. Highlights of the day for me included those that I shared my panel, ‘A New Way of Working in Northern Ireland: the UK and international perspectives’, with former Architecture Centre Network colleagues Micheal Corr, from PLACE and Tom Keeley, (knowing him from his Architecture Foundation days), and also Torange Khonsari from Public Works.

Micheal spoke eloquently on streets as a democratic space where the public has rights and where a meanwhile use of space can open up new possibilities of permanent use. In this regard, I was reminded of Urban Prototyping Festival by Gray Area Foundation  for the Arts in San Francisco and its 30% base rate for converting prototyped projects into permanent ones. Tom introduced us to Learning from Kilburn, an experimental space for uncovering the area and planning forward from this, and New City Reader, a billboard posted urban commentary publication. These are two great mechanisms for community engagement and I’d be keen to see this applied to some projects in Brighton and Hove, this city going through a period of quite substantial master-planned change. Torange called for the continued and deeper crossing of (perceived) boundaries between art and architecture, an approach I couldn’t advocate more.

The afternoon went on to feature Ricky Harris from Granby Park, Dublin. This is a place I spent some time in when over in Dublin over the summer on research (photos can be found here) and its outputs for a temporary pop-up park are quite considerable:

Granby Park 04


Ones to watch are PartII architecture students and artists Tara Kennedy and Jo Anne Butler, that together work as Culturstruction. Its ‘Glittery Embrace’ pontoon lingering space for teenagers in Callan, Co Kilkenny, seemed to strike a chord with the audience. The duo went on to list numerous other projects that showed an intuitive understanding of and insight into the built environment and its users, this work is of an incredibly high calibre.

It was the creative placemaking approach of James Hennessey from Paul Hogarth Company, though that lingers with me the most since the symposium. James was leading the practice’s placemaking work in Ballymena and instead of a presentation of off-the-peg and token community consultation schemes, as can so often be experienced at conferences of architects, we were shown a scheme of community engagement work that had depth, breadth and creative flair. James detailed the 12-step approach they had taken to genuinely engaged community design:

  1. Survey
  2. Stakeholder Meetings
  3. Public Display
  4. School Event
  5. Street Performers
  6. River Braid
  7. Band At The Stand
  8. Street Olympics
  9. Urban Farm
  10. Dress the Street
  11. Shop Interviews
  12. Workshops a,b and c

Some of these elements will be recognisable in the standard public consultation process, no bad thing at the right time if you know they will work. Some won’t mean anything without the context of Ballymena, which is as it should be as each placemaking is bespoke to that place. It was refreshing to hear James advocate for this approach and I look forward to seeing how Ballymena develops – with The Braid taking the lead too in creating this event – and I hope it’s the first of many - it should be exciting times for the people and town of Ballymena as well as its architectural and design communities.

Cara courage 1 (Copy)

cara courage 3 (Copy)


Photos courtesy of The Braid.

Art Tunnel Smithfield

I visited Dublin this week, to meet with Sophie von Maltzan of Fieldwork and Strategies, and the founder of Art Tunnel Smithfield. I will write a longer blog about the project soon, but here to begin with is a photo essay of the Art Tunnel, a very special place in the heart of the Smithfield area of north Dublin. East and westward views.

eastward view 01 (Copy)


westward view 01 (Copy)

Art Tunnel Smithfield in-situ.

Dice Bar (Copy)

Glass House 01 (Copy)

houses opposite (Copy)

McGettigans (Copy)


Situated opposite Dice Bar (a sponsor too) and McGettingans, next to the Glass House, and opposite houses akin to what would have been on the site, cleared for the Luas line. The Luas itself sits right next to the garden and whilst pedestrians aren’t meant to walk it, they do.

east end 02 (Copy)

Luas 01 (Copy)

Various signs sit along the barrier walling to signpost people to the garden and how to get involved, and here’s an example too of a poster, as seen in the nearby Smithfield Third Space café.

barrier sign 01 (Copy)

barrier sign 03 (Copy)

barrier sign 06 (Copy)

barrier sign 07 (Copy)

barrier sign 09 (Copy)

open sign (Copy)

poster in third space (Copy)

billboard 01 (Copy)

The Art Tunnel itself is a long strip of garden, artwork and social space, used for community meetings and hanging out. Entrance is via a code and a padlock – around 60 have the code with a core group of 20 using it most.

believe 03 (Copy)

birds 01 (Copy)

garden 01 (Copy)

garden 02 (Copy)

garden 03 (Copy)

iron work 01 (Copy)

iron work 02 (Copy)

iron work 03 (Copy)

pathway 01 (Copy)

pathway 02 (Copy)

pathway 03 (Copy)

wish tree 01 (Copy)

you should (Copy)


know what 02 (Copy)

The artwork changes on a three-monthly basis, the current commission is by by Paul Terry, Fiona Gannon and Sorcha Murphy.

art work 01 (Copy)

art work 03 (Copy)

seat 01 (Copy)


Tactical urbanism and citizenship

I have had a paper published in 'engage', the journal of the National Association for Gallery Education (no32, London, edited by Karen Raney), entitled 'The Global Phenomenon of Tactical Urbanism as an Indicator of New Forms of Citizenship'. The paper can be found via this link (subscription only though I am afraid) and the opening paragraph of it can be found below as a taster:

Tactical urbanism is the term given to the global phenomenon of informal interventions in the urban fabric – both cultural and physical. It is an umbrella term for many sub-genres of activity, including hacktivism, guerrilla, DIY, acupuncture, opensource, subversive, stealth or wiki urbanism that share common modus operandi, aims and objectives. Tactical urbanism tends to be grassroots and bottom-up, has anti-authoritarian characteristics and aims to enhance the urban lived experience through  ncremental strategies of improvement. It is often temporary, low cost, quick to install and dismantle, informal, spontaneous, participatory and driven by community issues, and often initiated by emerging architects, artists and creative urbanists working outside of professional boundaries.

engage32coverlarge (Copy)

Degenerate Art GONG Show

I was recently a 'judge', along with Jon Pratty from Arts Council England, and Chris T-T, for the Degenerate Art GONG Show. A Fortunecat Production event, this was held as part of Brighton £5 Fringe in May. The third in a series of Art GONG Shows, it aimed to draw a new line in the sand between modern concepts of decency in art on one side, and the degenerates on the other, work that showed evidence of, or dealt directly with, physical, mental or moral decline.

A mix of artforms and work were shown, the artist introducing the work and the voted on - winner got a cash prize of £25 and the artist with the fewest votes was be banned from showing such work for one year.

A film of the event can be found here, and a shorter version will appear soon.

Threshold at myhotel 2013

Architecture, built environment and arts collective Threshold will be taking over the space at myhotel, Brighton, for the second year as part of Love Architecture festival. The space has been curated to include work and activity inspired by the theme of ‘future city working’, with exhibitions and installations, and a daily programme of workshops, film, talks and events.

The 2012 myhotel, Brighton, event attracted over 500 members of the public and arts and architecture community over four days, attracted media coverage and further collaborations and commissions for the participating artists.

The event is free, and open daily from 12 pm to 9 pm, until 10 pm on the closing Friday night party. There will be a café open in the day and bar in the evening.

All programme and installation information can be found via the links, as can details of our funders, sponsors and volunteers, without whom this event would not be possible.

Highlights of events include:

  • a film night on Wednesday 25th, a playlist from BDonline;
  • two lunchtime talks, from DMH Stallard on Wednesday 26th, and from Duncan Baker-Brown, director, BBM Sustainable Design and Cat Fletcher, Freegle co-founder on Thursday 27th;
  • pecha kucha on Thursday 27th, a standing room only event last year, this line up is just as compelling, including Abigail Freeman, Ben Hollands, Claire Potter, Elly Ward, Grant Shepherd, Paul Nicholson, Richard Rowland…and more to be added;
  • panel debate on the the post consumerist city – how our urban centres are evolving with keynote from Empty Shops Network and Revolutionary Arts founder and High Street expert, Dan Thompson, ‘What if the high street isn’t dead?’ and  three 3 short presentations followed by a cross discipline panel discussion, chaired by Oliver Heath, with an open question & debate session;
  • which will lead into a closing party until 10 pm.





Threshold Love Architecture 2013 poster A3

BrightonLookUp - teaching resource

I found out recently that BrightonLookUp has been used as a teaching resource with a local youth organisation, which made me very happy as its just this kind of public reach that I wanted the project to achieve. the youth leader, Natalie Kane, kindly wrote about the work for me: I am a Support Art Trainer at Nacro in Brighton, a crime prevention charity that teaches 16-19 year olds with challenging circumstances and particular learning requirements. Many of our students are ex-offenders or at risk, so their education is focused very much on getting them back into education. Our students are working towards their BTEC Level One Art and Design Qualification, and have the opportunity to complete the Bronze Art Award as a supplementary qualification. 

Over the course of our units, we do a series of observational drawings in preparation for their final assessment. This year we decided to look at architecture and the urban environment as a basis for their Exploring Drawing and Printmaking Units. I found Brighton Look Up a particularly interesting and useful resource to base our group walks on as it allowed an alternative view of Brighton, which encouraged a lot of conversation on how urban environments develop as cities change. We've previously based work on Brighton landmarks which students have found boring as they've spent so much time around them, or have used them for other work. BLU gave them a chance to rediscover the city they live in. I have to admit, I had to do a few quick google searches to see if I could find historical facts about certain places!

Several students have used sketches of buildings and details found on Brighton Look Up based 'routes' as a basis for their linocuts, and several noted their own points of interest when we were walking. I'd love to use this again as a much more structured part of our activities.

Detroit days

Its taken a while to write this, as Detroit gave me so much to think on, but here it is, a blog on my time in Detroit last month at the Placemaking Leadership Council: Detroit was host to 300 placemakers from ten countries this April with the inaugural meeting of the Placemaking Leadership Council (PLC), an initiative formed by Project for Public Spaces (PPS). A diversity of practice and process was brought together over three days of key note speakers, workshops and project visits, with an overarching aim to knowledge exchange and to both consolidate and strengthen placemaking as a community of practice and global movement.

Detroit was chosen as the host for this first meeting for the thought-provoking setting it offered the subject matter and the fact that it is, from the grassroots and from top down, using placemaking as a strategy for its revitalisation. Delegates got to see and talk to those involved at the grassroots of Detroit place revitalisations such as downtown Detroit’s storefront ‘welcome centre’, D:Hive and the volunteer group Belle Isle Conservancy, that saved and now manages the city aquarium, with a visit to the infamous Heidelberg Project amongst others.

In creating the PLC, it is PPS’s founder, Fred Kent’s mission to bring ‘the do-ers and deep thinkers’ together, people he called ‘zealous nuts’. This term was given in jest but meant in earnest: Fred sees placemaking as the reserve of the most passionate and a threat to those outside of its practice, led by ‘visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them’. The PLC is about bringing people together that understand and are active in transforming the urban realm through placemaking, as well as setting an agenda for change and policy and research. Fred also understood that placemaking is viewed by those in the urban sector as a credible mechanism to creating a sense of place, this sense based on economics, social fabric and health and the one overarching practice that can ‘help us grapple with the complex challenges we face in a globalised society’.

From this scene-setting, the action demanded of the PLC meeting in Detroit was to shape a five-year placemaking campaign to position placemaking as strategic practice. The PLC is part of that strategy itself, aiming to create a community of placemaking leaders to advance the placemaking movement  and to grow the isolated impact of placemaking into a collective impact. Five conditions of this collective success were advanced; a common agenda; shared measurement systems; mutually reinforcing activities; continuous communication; and for PPS to form a backbone of support to other placemaking organisations.

The definition of placemaking given at the start of the meeting was one advanced by Gadwa: ‘public, private and not-for-profit and community sectors partner to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighbourhood town, city or region around arts and cultural activities’. Delegates were also formed into groups along themes, the delineation of which gave insight into the understanding of placemaking from the PPS perspective: ‘building community through transportation’; ‘creating multi-use public destinations’; ‘entrepreneurial places’; ‘place capital’; ‘architecture of place’; ‘place governance’; and ‘healthy communities’. PPS’s placemaking model of ‘Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper’ (LQC) was also referenced by speakers and projects showcased in the conference timetable. LQC is an approach to placemaking that is ‘lower risk and lower cost’ and that capitalises ‘on the creative energy of the community to efficiently generate new uses and revenue for places in transition’.

There was much talk of ‘arts as entertainment’ as placemaking and the revenue benefits this can bring. Placemaking that used the arts as a mechanism in regeneration projects were shown where big name artists were brought into an area to work on specific projects; whilst these projects achieved their own success, many were left questioning where the self-determining community was in this. Community participation was lauded as a, if not the, key component in successful placemaking, but the community’s articulation of need in these examples seemed missing. The ‘arts as regeneration’ practice has become its own trope, its own brand, for the economic bottom line but this overtly commercial focus was at odds with what many identified as their own placemaking practice.

An additional thematic group self-formed and demanded its own place in the agenda to talk of a creative placemaking practice that is focused on grassroots, iterative and marginalised placemaking activities, a triangulation of artists, the community and place in co-production and for social gain. This was where the power of arts as a social and placemaking process was most evident, a placemaking that does not commoditise art or have fiscally-orientated aims, where an increase in land, rental or retail value is not the start or end point of activity. Members of this group used arts and empowerment to transform place for and with communities in a collaborative creative process. A quote from Margaret Mead had also been given in the conference scene setting, which in essence, felt closer to what this group was active in: ‘Never forget that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has’.

This grassroots creative placemaking was seen in Detroit. Rip Rapson, president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation and pump-primers of much of the city’s rejuvenation, stated that Detroit, like any other city, needs to both ‘absorb and adapt’ to succeed as well as retain ‘city cultural integrity’ and placemaking is seen as the tactic to achieve this with. Rip stated that there are 4000 artists in Detroit that are progressing the city’s revitalisation and contributing to its new thinking. He saw placemaking best kept as a community vision, with the arts fully integrated with a broad array of urban practitioners, to have benefits along political, cultural and social lines.

If this reporting gives the impression that the meeting was divisive it is not meant to; what this debate focused minds on was the question of what placemaking is and whom it is for. As a global movement, common language and practice needs to be found and communicated but the nuances of placemaking practice across culture and social and geographical context cannot be lost in this pursuit. It is in fact to placemaking’s strength that it is so adaptable to diverse situations. Whilst a prêt-à-porter approach will work in some situations and times and not in others, delegates actively searched for the commonalties between their work.

The next PLC meeting will be held in Stockholm in June at the Future of Places conference where the agendas for a global placemaking movement, as formed by the working groups in Detroit and developed by PPS with further research, will be presented back to the group. With a perhaps more European delegate demographic enabled by its Swedish hosting, how will this community react to and progress the agendas created in the Stateside setting? What definitions of placemaking will emerge from this meeting and how will the formation of a global placemaking movement progress? The PLC meeting represents a step change in placemaking practice and a meaningful first step in creating a truly global movement. From the wealth and depth of experience of PPS was added the diverse placemaking of the PLC, practices of all sizes, scales, contexts, aims and outcomes. Definitions of placemaking were played with, deconstructed and reformed. Processes were shared, practices extended. Placemaking as a global movement felt tangible and within our grasp.

Fred Kent’s report on the PLC meeting can be found here.



New York days

I covered a lot of ground in my States trip last week – the idea of course, it was a funded trip and I set out to make the money work hard, and me. I’ll talk about my New York days in this blog. The Detroit one might take much more time as there is so much to absorb from that experience! The main purpose of my visit to NYC was to meet potential PhD case study No Longer Empty. NLE works in empty spaces, programming art and education based around contemporary at commissions. It started in reaction to the economic collapse and the resulting fiscal uncertainty and the moral effect this was having at a social level. From a drive to do something out of the system, NLE’s mantra is to welcome people into a site through art, to make both accessible. NLE is working from borough to borough; the theme of each show will come from the local area, will commission local, national and international artists, and work with local community organisations. It aims to increase participation in art and culture and in civic participation and leave a legacy of a template for the community to continue to self-organise. New projects will follow in the autumn, in the meantime a book of the last four years is in the planning.

  Highline seating 01 [320x200]

Predictably packed with tourists (and if you want to see expensive cameras in use, this is where you should be), the High Line was a treat. This grassroots-started project has become a destination green urban space, affording great views of the city and harbour, a place to sit, relax and socialise, and acts as an example of what a community of volunteers can achieve. I can see why other cities are wanting their own High Line; debates about the logic of copying one idea into another context and the deliberate rather than organic planning and agency of such a copy-cat project, this is an oasis in the city. The success is so much that on the one side of the High Line, expensive accommodation is popping up, testament to the increase in land values surround the track as well as the increase in place capital the area has ‘enjoyed’. On the other side of the High Line through, the side of the harbour, look down and you’ll see perhaps a more authentic image of what the place was like – these streets are holding off from gentrification. So far.

My photos of the High Line can be found here.

AIA 01 [320x200]

I popped in to see the American Institute of Architects centre off Washington Square – a pilgrimage from my time working with architecture centres in the UK. A large part of my work then was working in built environment education in schools and the now-cased Building Schools for the Future programme. Imagine my delight then when I see the focus of the exhibition was on the importance of school design.

My photos from AIA can be found here.

MORUS 02 [320x200]

Despite the two volunteers blocking the doorway of Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (sat outside in the sun having lunch, fair enough…) once in, this was a charming place. Fittingly modest in its décor, this space is dedicated to the more underground or informal urban movements of NYC – from cycling to squatting, community gardening to art spaces. I can see potential for this place to become a valuable resource and archive of all things relocal and tactical urban.

My photos of the exhibition and space can be found here.

The 11th Street Community Garden was one of my most enjoyable meets in NYC. Its in Alphabet, where there are a number of similar spaces (MoRUS has a map of them for $5). 11th Street has been going for 23 years, has seen of an aggressive developer and in winning that battle secured land tenure (its now owned in trust by Bette Midler and part of Manhattan Land Trust), 30K worth of plants and free electricity for the space. At the time I visited the main team of Al and Kris (below) were waiting on the delivery of plants for the summer and looking forward to more days of gardening and evenings of social community events – a screen is often put up for film nights, with BBQ’s. The commitment Al and Kris have for the garden was evident, their enthusiasm infectious. I’d love to see the garden in full bloom and full swing. 

11th St CG 09 Kris [320x200]

My photos from the garden can be seen here.

I stayed in Buskwick in Brooklyn. Hipster central in one regard, with Roberta’s and the hipster shops around it; super friendly in the other, the chatty guy at the corner shop, the kids that stopped to talk to me about liquorice Rizlas, and my wonderful host, Toby from Kayo Dot who made me feel home from home; and scary on the other, getting a taxi to the airport in the morning rather than risk the walk to Myrtle for fear of being jumped. A place that I loved though – human, vital, industrial, a great mix.

USA research trip

My time in the States of course went too quickly but it was a packed week and a very useful one too for my PhD. I started the week in New York, meeting with No Longer Empty, visiting Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, 11th Street community garden, American Institute of Architects; and then had an explore of the city, starting with the High Line.

My photos of the exhibition on MoRUS can be found here; of 11th Street here; and the High Line here; and more generally of NYC here.

In this time, I got to see a variety of practice, from the contemporary art approach of NLE, to the community-building of 11th Street, to the urban occupation of MoRUS and the focus on the key significance of built environment education of AIA.

Most of my visit was spent in Detroit – a city notorious for ruin porn, ‘white flight’, deindustrialisation and depopulation. Ruined, collapsed, vacant and burnt out buildings from the domestic to the skyscraper scale are a feature of practically every street in the city but I soon realised that its not what this city is about nor will it be defined by.

I encountered Detroit as a city that is used to being resilient and this current time is no larger or more insurmountable challenge than others it has faced. ‘Nothing Stops Detroit’ as the sign says. I met people here that have picked up their lives and moved to the city to be a meaningful part of its revitalisation, such as my hosts from the visit, Alyssa and Matt at The Detroit Homestead; people that have returned after many years away, drawn back by the creative, cultural and economic opportunities that it offers, such as a woman who lost her urban famers shop in the NYC hurricane and has now moved back to start the same in Detroit; to cabbies that blog for the city newspaper; to a host of artists and arts organisations that are at the heart of the city’s turn around; and self-made born and bred Detroit developers putting their money where their mouth is with epic scale placemaking and future ambition to match, which I have no doubt will be realised.

I was in Detroit to attend the inaugural meeting of the Placemaking Leadership Council. It was a packed and intense two days but a rare opportunity to meet people from around the world (over 300 attendees from 10 countries) involved in creative placemaking, learn from their practice, collaborate and be inspired by. I also visited ArtxDetriot, an arts festival any city could be proud of and that had at its heart a clear and dedicated love for the city and its future. Photos of my visit here.

I will be writing about the conference and the themes and issues that arose from my visit for the arts and urban press and will post links to those pieces when published, as well as starting a relocalism online photo essay, starting with this research trip.


Threshold back at myhotel, Brighton

Yet again, I will be spending a week in the myhotel, Brighton, car park with the architecture group I am part of, Threshold, for Love Architecture in June. Last year was not only great fun - yes, a week running a series of installations, talks and events in a hotel car park was great fun - but it also made an impact on the architecture community of the city and the public that came along too.

The call for expressions of interest for the event this year is now open and all info can be found here.

CDMS Architect's interactive map "Residual Brighton" at the Threshold Hub.

Oli Hester speaking at the Threshold Hub. Architecture and Interior Photography by Jim Stephenson

Threshold Hub by Jim Stephenson WebRes-10


Photos by Jim Stephenson.

Placemaking Leadership Council

I am very pleased to announce that I will be attending the inaugural meeting of the Placemaking Leadership Council in Detroit this April. Founded by Project for Public Spaces, the Placemaking Leadership Council is an international group of those involved in all aspects of placemaking, with the aim being to strengthen placemaking as a movement and this first meeting will be agenda setting.

This is a great honour and opportunity for me and my PhD research and to meet those that I have cited in essays and followed their work and I also hope to meet with potential PhD case studies in New York and Detroit when I am there.

I'll blog about my trip here and share my funding report too - this trip would not have been possible without the generous funding from University of Brighton and the Centre for Research and Development, and a donation from colleague (also a member of the Placemaking Leadership Council), Richard Wolfstrome.

Image by Jim Stephenson.

Relocalism poster

I have been working with artist, writer, designer, educator and MRes student Rachel K Gillies in the design of a poster for submission to the University of Brighton research poster competition. Rachel has done an amazing job of translating my text and ideas into visual form and it’s been a reflexive and informative process for me to think about my research in this way. It’s quite something to see it as a visual map like this and I hope that it succeeds in explaining my research in a clear and concise way, as well as bring it alive and communicate the real human story behind the case studies.

The poster won the Peoples Prize and third prize in the Student Award in the University of Brighton poster competition.


Visual artists – your universities need you

With all the talk of cuts and fees it’s easy to get disheartened about the future health of creative industries in higher education – whether this is the number of students choosing arts courses, the breadth of courses being offered or the support that universities can give the arts. To capture the current offering and get a picture of what both visual artists and universities want in the future from a collaborative relationship with its students and with partners, as part of my Creative Campus Initiative project, which I am working on with Tania Holland Williams, we have been asked by ACE to report back to them on the state of visual arts and higher education to help to set a bench mark for the future.

Focusing on the sector in the south east, we will scope the level, impact and breadth of support offered by universities to visual artists and arts organisations and we need your help to build a picture of the support that universities across the region provide to the visual arts sector.

We would ask any visual artist or visual arts organisation who has benefitted from their links with a University to complete a short survey that can be found at:

The survey takes about 20 minutes and gives you the opportunity to tell us how you think partnership with universities might better serve your arts practice. The level and type of support you receive from an HEI might be varied and include resource, space, networking opportunities or something else. We are keen to capture current or recent activity so that in 12 months’ time the commissioning bodies might be able to see how funding decisions are affecting provision for visual arts.

The survey will remain open until the 10th May 2011.

Blogs for Arts Professional

I blog on an occasional basis for sector magazine ArtsProfessional and links to my blogs can be found below: Universal culture:

Its not what you say, it’s the way that you say it:

New year for freelancers: