Representing place

Barcelona map exaggerating its main roads

Barcelona map exaggerating its main roads

“The land itself, of course, has no desires as to how it should be represented.  It is indifferent to its pictures and picturers. But maps organise information about a landscape in a profoundly influential way.” (Robert Macfarlane, in The Wild Places)

It struck me that guide books, canned tours and signed tourist itineraries could be considered similarly.  Echoing Robert MacFarlane’s words, they “carry out a triage of [a place, not destination‘s] aspects, selecting and ranking those aspects in an order of importance, and so they create forceful biases in the ways a [place, not destination] is perceived and treated”.

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“We all need space”

“We all need space; unless we have it we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.”

This quote comes from Octavia Hill, writing in 1875, in Homes of the London Poor:

“There is a small, square, green churchyard in Drury Lane, and even the sight of its fresh bright verdure through the railings is a blessing; but if the gates could be opened on a hot summer evening, and seats placed there for the people, I am sure the dwellers about Drury Lane would be all the better for it.”

Octavia Hill’s legacy may well serve as inspiration for those seeking to enable better places for people to live in (as well as visit)–places meaning inclusive, shared places; people meaning the wider community.  Small-scale, thoughtful changes can sometimes have profound consequences.


Sensing outstanding natural beauty

The remarkable CoaST team and people at Tamar Valley bring on sense of place to better appreciate the value of this AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in Britain) and hopefully draw appreciative visitors to the area too.

For illumination visit www.coastproject.co.uk/theland/tamarvalleyasenseofplace.


Collecting our senses in Collserolla

Evarist March of NaturalWalks joined our group in the afternoon and led us “by the most natural route possible” from the top of the Collserola park down to the station for our suburban train back to Barcelona.  One of the most interesting facets of the conversation along the way related to public attitudes to this Natural Park.  While it seems much of the media and public discourse on the park is negative, pointing to issues such as the risk of forest fires and wild boars encroaching on peripheral residential areas, few stories celebrate the beauty and mere existence of this diverse natural area so close to the densely-populated built-up area.

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A sense of place trail through Barcelona

From the site of the Republican Army’s Spanish Civil War gun placements and shelters.

Working through Nick Lloyd’s Iberia Nature and Spanish Civil War tours I was able to take some visitors on a rarely-run, long Barcelona walk at the weekend.  We ventured through some of the city’s particularly meaning-laden places, as well as other places less well-known, applying a kind of sense of place framework as we went.

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Getting Close-serola

Barcelona, post-1992 Olympics, is a story that has been told countless times in print, conference rooms and tour guide banter: finally, after decades with their backs to the Med and their plumbing pointing straight into its immediate depths, the Barcelonins gave their stretch of coastline a spring clean and reacquainted themselves with their maritime souls.

It’s an account that washes over some contradictory and more place-specific detail.  For insight, talk to some old-timers in the sea- and portside neighbourhood of La Barceloneta, or ask questions about the former shanty town neighbourhood, El Somorrostro.  A good source of such insight might be La Barceloneta Rebel.

My point is that the situation today is generally the reverse.  From their homes and workplaces the attentions of many Barcelonins are directed to the beach, to a stroll in sea breeze reverie, or to a plate heaped with steaming cooked gifts from the sea and rice paddy.

Meanwhile, the thoughts of a small minority of Barcelonins slip through the backdoor to the hills behind this compact metropolis: La Collserola natural park.

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