Friday, 21 June 2013

Time to reflect

As I have had adequate time to readjust (being a week following on from my last post and arrival) and a more informed outlook on Sheffield, I feel I can now reflect on my interpretations of particular places I have seen in the city in a holistic manner. Moreover, I will draw upon how I comprehended particular topics from places and elucidate a common theme I have recognised to protrude across Sheffield. These places include the following:

Abbeydale: Contains remnants of Sheffield's industrial hamlet dating as far back as the 1600s. This preserved relict serves as a constant reminder of Sheffield's globally dominating past in the steel industry that drove macro-economic movements, which changed the world. Moreover, the city was able to establish a commanding reputation through innovation; such as the crucible pot and stainless steel, which ensured Sheffield's position on the frontier of technological development. Unfortunately, for this steel industry, a series of political and economic events throughout the 20th Century hindered economic stability in the manufacturing field. Consequently, Sheffield needed to adapt and find creative/innovative solutions to support the local economy and provide jobs for local citizens, which to the current date the city has managed to achieve to some degree.

On another note, a lecture revolving around Utopias/Dystopias taught me that whilst imagined and desired outcomes for places are often envisioned, the reality of the systematic steps to achieve such an objective frequently achieve a result somewhere in the middle of the Utopian and Dystopian spectrum. This is an interesting point when I divert my attention to the Park Hill Estate.

The Park Hill Estate: Has attracted an array of opinions, being interpreted from often conflicting and polarised stances. From heritage significance, arguments over “ugly” and “derelict” aesthetic qualities, to stigma directed to socially subordinate tenants and “regeneration” by the Urbansplash developers - who are suddenly marketing the estate to a more upbeat and higher income groups. Conclusively, almost everyone’s comprehension of this place is diverse in comparison and therefore, opinions will vary. Such ambiguous comprehensions could partially be a consequence of the drastic local governmental shifts in stances since the building's erection in 1960; as the building's design incorporated theories revolving around governmentality and biopolitics. How may one expect to understand this structure, when the very principle it was based upon in Sheffield is under constant change? Herein, as the political and governmental movements have been evolving in Sheffield, the purpose of the Park Hill Estate has expired and therefore, has required transformation of its own to withhold and continue to serve a viable purpose in the local community. Once again, Sheffield has needed to adapt to local challenges via innovative solutions, in this case, solve issues affiliated with the deterioration of the Park Hill Estate, in order to ensure an optimistic future. Furthermore, this was a radical change to market this place known as a ‘slum’ to higher income groups, which illustrates a bold utopian vision.

This being said, Sheffield's dependence upon steel manufacturing industries for local employment rates in the 1980s was dismantled due to a string of events; the most profound being the political attention and blame upon the Thatcher Government. Thus, over the last 30 years, another innovative solution involving creative industries and indeed, a radical approach was pursued to compensate for the weakness of economic dependency in a single declining industry. This involves the city centre and Meadowhall Shopping Centre. 

The Central Business District and Meadowhall: As I outlined in my previous post, I expected Sheffield to be far more polluted, run-down with a higher concentration of derelict buildings and well, dirty. This association is a not only false, but it is disparaging to Sheffield's reputation as a resilient and hardworking community that is indeed innovative and determined to overcome degeneration in which, has incorporated creative industries. For once again, Sheffield has embraced innovative change over the last 30 years by turning its attention to leisure and local consumerism to solve local employment and economic challenges. Such change involved the influential transition from Sheffield's administrative body; forfeiting some of it's socialist republic stances to adopt entrepreneurial values to make the city's economy compatible for revitalisation. Furthermore, this move adhered to the requirements to apply for funding and revenue grants with the central government. Herein, the Central Business District had the funding to be transformed and Meadowhall Shopping Centre was developed, in order to boost the local economy and provide jobs in local consumerism and attract external capital to the city. Although, Meadowhall originally withdrew some capital away from the CBD, as a whole this movement has improved employment rates and helped to stabilise the local economy.

Ultimately, the places of Sheffield I have visited are palimpsest sites that tell a story of the city's history and hardworking spirit to overcome local challenges and support the community. Herein, the common protruding theme I have picked up on is that Sheffield appears to be a place of constant innovative change that has frequently and boldly taken steps in the complete opposite direction to past stances. Most intriguingly, these innovative visions appear to have paid off for Sheffield, despite the risks and change of direction against what has frequently been a mix of opinions. Therefore, I have developed the belief that Sheffield may perhaps, be a suitable example of Einstein’s theory that ‘a touch of genius and a courageous step in the opposite direction’ can create a solution. After all, he claims the same level of thinking does not solve the problem it created.

In conclusion, my first week in Sheffield taught me that this is indeed, 'A City In Transition'.
- Isaac Sharp (Bachelor of Urban, Rural and Environmental Planning)



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