Sunday, 23 June 2013

Impressions and interpretations of Sheffield

As this will be my final blog post of the study tour, I intend to reflect upon my impressions and interpretations of Sheffield through the roles of government and place, as well as the implications of class and urban renewal. Whilst government, place, class and renewal are all just a few of the elements that make up the fabric of a city, I felt that the four themes listed here were the ones which stood out the most to me here in Sheffield. Subsequently, I feel that Sheffield’s fabric is heavily influenced by such themes.

Firstly, I have found that the role of government, or that of governmentality, has been incredibly significant in Sheffield’s narrative. From my initial reading of Sheffield about Governmentality on the Park Hill estate, to tones of Thatcherism, the role of unions and the Labour Party, as well as the efforts of the local government in urban renewal, it is clear that government and power have been significant themes in Sheffield. Here, governmentality has absolutely dominated. From the economy, such as eras of protectionism to free trade and economic readjustment, to society, where the planning of Park Hill and notions of the ‘Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire’, power and influence has indeed played a role in Sheffield’s development.

Secondly, the role of place has been another central theme of Sheffield. By place, I don’t just mean a physical location such as Sheffield, Abbeyfield or the Castle Markets. I am concerned about people’s connections to the above mentioned sites, and how systems of the economy and class have impacted on such connections. My initial example of this is the Park Hill estate. The estate was a place impacted on many levels; by government, the economy and Sheffield’s society. As such, people’s connections to Park Hill were shaped by issues of the estate’s social and historic location in Sheffield, the economic status of the estate’s residents and today’s renewal efforts. It is worthy to note that the estate’s decline coincided with the decline of Sheffield’s economy; thus highlighting the connection of one place to the entire city. Indeed, other places such as the Castle Markets, which plays an important role as a meeting place and for social gatherings for many residents of Sheffield is being removed and retrofitted; all in the name of urban renewal. This process of renewal is seeing a profound shift in the meaning of places to people in Sheffield. Former factories are now apartments and public housing estates are now privately owned. As a consequence, the question of place in Sheffield is one that encounters elements of socio-economic status, the role of social history, and the legacy of the city’s economy.

Thirdly, the implications of class in Sheffield have been of particular note to me; in particular, the physical implications of class. Sheffield is clearly a city divided, where the city heart at the northern end is dominated by lower-end businesses and people of lower socio-economic status, whilst the southern end is more associated with higher-end retail and as such people with more spending power. Furthermore, as the prevailing winds from the city’s factories blew the smog and pollution to the east, the western suburbs are the traditional homes of the middle-to upper classes of the city, whilst the east housed the manual workers of industrial sector. In addition, as Sheffield transitions from an economy based on manufacturing and production to a new economy based on services and global connections, it is worthwhile noting the transformation this process is having on the city’s social mix and it’s place in Britain. On a side, it is also marked that, as mentioned above, the processes of renewal and gentrification have also caused implications of the economy, society and history of the city, which brings me to my fourth and final point.

The role of urban renewal in Sheffield has been a theme of much interest to me as a planner, and as being a significant part of my individual research. I have been interested in how renewal has changed perceptions of place and space in Sheffield. As an example, the old Kelham Island industrial hub has become a latest place to live in the city, whilst the reception to the revitalisation of Park Hill has been mixed. Indeed, this tale of urban renewal is not unique to Sheffield, but is arguably more striking here.

Notably, I have also focused my interest on the role of heritage in the city’s revitalisation and renewal strategy. As my individual research topic explores this issue, I have enjoyed taking note of the kind of development occurring in the city heart, how new developments have responded, or lack of response in some instances, to the historic atmosphere of the inner-city. Indeed, as Sheffield continues to renew its sense of self through physical transformation, I am interested in developing perspectives on how the city has retained its physical heritage.

On a final note, I will offer some advice to future students on taking this subject. From what I have observed on this international study tour and others previous, those who engage with the material, who make the most of the field trips, study topics which they enjoy and find interesting, and those with positive energy, have the best time. By ensuring that each day you are ready to be involved in as much as you can, your international study tour will be the absolute best you can make of it.
- James McLean (Bachelor of Urban, Rural and Environmental Planning)





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