Monday, 17 June 2013

It has now been a week or so since I spent my first day in Sheffield

..and I find that my perceptions of life and place in Sheffield are constantly changing and are being challenged. The more I see and experience different areas of the city, spend time in the same parts of the city but during different times of day, the more I feel that I understand the tensions and undercurrents of the city. It just goes to show you, the more time you spend in a place, the more your understanding evolves. For this last week, I have two examples that have helped continue to shape my Sheffield experiences.

Firstly, I went back to the Park Hill estate. Wallie, Adam and I went back to the site to take some photos and footage as part of our group assignment project, hence we had to walk, do some exploring and find the areas of the vast complex that really demonstrated the story of Park Hill as a place of community, decay and now renewal. This walk really changed my views on Park Hill. Last week is said that I felt uncomfortable and confronted by the apparent rampant revamp that the estate is undergoing; in hindsight, and after spending more time there, I came to realise that Park Hill deserves to be given a new face, to have some new light shed on it. Wandering around the now abandoned courts, rusted play grounds and smashed interiors, I came to understand that Park Hill is no longer a community, a place where people feel at home. It’s now is perhaps even a blight on the city’s landscape. As a place that has impacted immensely on Sheffield’s sense of place and identity, the good bad and the ugly, Park Hill needs to be given a new standing in Sheffield. Hence, turning it into a new community, with a variety of uses, new activities, and improved physical links to the city may help in recapturing some of the hope that was originally envisaged for the site. Notably, the site today is being marketed as a chic and urbane place, upmarket and trendy; which calls for the question ‘where did the old residents go?’.

Secondly, a day or so later after a morning class, we had an afternoon self-guided walking tour of the city. I decided to head off on my own and take some notes and find appropriate sites for my individual research assignment. Unfortunately I couldn’t read the map and it turned out my sense of direction around the central area of the city was quite poor. I ended up in some areas of the central city where I did not feel safe nor welcome as a visitor. Un- or under-employed people, minorities and all of the other dangerous and bad stereotypes one would imagine wandering an old industrial city in Northern England looking for trouble seemed to follow me, look at me, wonder why I was there and what I was doing. I soon found myself back at Fargate and relieved to feel comfortable amongst the shoppers, tourists and familiar sights such as Starbucks and the University campus. However, the whole experience left me wondering if the only parts of the city we had seen are the ‘good’ parts; that is places where revitalisation has occurred, where students frequent, visitors take photos and people shop and relax. Not the neighbourhoods of disadvantage in the east of the city, the council housing flats or crime hot-spots. Consequently, it is true of all cities that they had their ‘good’ and ‘bad’ locales, and the urban experience is often on a knife-edge between excitement and danger. However, for me, that moment of feeling lost, disorientated and out-of-depth in an unfamiliar and un-inviting urban environment did remind me that there is more to Sheffield than the Starbucks that I frequent, the grand city square, the attractive shopping areas and bohemian areas undergoing renewal.

Sheffield is a city of social and physical contrasts; literally divided by the wealthy west and the poorer east, the main street having an under-privileged end located around the Castle Markets, to the wealthy shopping strips at Fargate or the Moor at the other end. Two respected universities straddle the outskirts of the central area, whilst trams, buses, protesters and emergency vehicles add to the cacophony of noise of the place. Accordingly, Sheffield can be a city on the edge; a depressed national economy and a decades-long local renewal effort add to this sense of unease and time of adjustment.
- James McLean (Bachelor of Urban, Rural and Environmental Planning)




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