Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stepping out

Snow has fallen and the shortest day, December 21st, is coming up.

The temptation to summarise 2009 is everywhere being given in to, in the newspapers, on television and radio. Should I join in?

As the year ends Battlefield survives for now. The long anticipated development of the old paint factory site is proceeding but for present being out paced by the building going up like a Meccano toy further into Shieldfield. All around the district suddenly developments are under way. Huge new accommodation blocks for students are coming to join those already here. These developments will take time to settle down. The impacts will be great and the character of the area will change again.

Looking out wider than the stretch of grass and copses of trees which sit astride the tunnel over the Ouseburn, requires more than just eyes; this corner of the city has a story imprinted upon it, a story set down in layers. If we use our mind as well as eyes we will find that a couple of centuries worth of transformation have produced a complex urban landscape, parts of which that have survived successive waves of activity. Like civilisations of old, sometimes the only trace of their occupation left is a wall or a cornerstone integrated into the present, often to be casually overlooked. Uniformity only comes about through vigour and single mindedness. The very lack of secure financial resources in the past sixty years benefited areas such as Lower Ouseburn. These "marginalised" areas were fortunate to escape the passion for wholesale re-development. Decay and pollution have something to be said for them. The time capsule of dirt which enveloped Lower Ouseburn for most of the 20th century has proved its worth.

Most people have an urge at times to tidy up. It somehow refreshes us. Carried on for its own sake however it becomes a monster on our backs, forever eliminating the incidental and accidental, the marginal things which give meaning and texture to our lives. Sharp, clean, neat are lifeless. So I believe it is with our surroundings.

Recently visiting a friend in a town outside the city I was confronted with results of a massive re-deveolpment. The demolished buildings were not in fact very old and part of a faded passion themselves, the one that told us all in the 60s we had to be 'modern'. Dated and dingey, the town's 'shopping centre' has been pulled down and today one is confronted with a fine example of the vanity of our own time, fake history. What one sees now looks like a film set for a light-weight television series or one off 'period' drama, a milky export version of Dickens or Mrs Gaskell. It has been well received. For myself, all it needs to finish it off are a few strollers in 'Quality Street' clothes or, possibly even more apt, a toy train driven by a rosy cheeked lad in a gnome's hat. The problem I have with much contemporay building however, is not just that it is bad or trite; most is not even banal.

I will leave my thoughts there for now. I have strolled round the district with my camera and these seasonal images will serve as my greeting to you, dear reader.

Best Wishes for now and in 2010.

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