Welcome back to Place Parts, Episode 2, a short video feature in anticipation of the release of my third book, Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character: Principles and Best Practices, available very shortly in the United States, and eventually, around the world.
Last time, in Place Parts, Episode 1, we talked about Shaw Mill in Shaw, Newbury, Berkshire, England, to introduce the idea of urban context, and we explained the relevant backstory of a housing development where a mill has stood for almost 1000 years.
Today, we’ve returned to Newbury to dissect another simple question in understanding changing cities. Simply stated, in these trying times, where am I?
Or, as Lucinda Hartley, one of our advance book reviewers in Melbourne gave us kudos for asking, “what is place?”
Well, in today’s episode, I’m first on Shaw Road, just south of Shaw Mill over 100 years ago, through the wonders of technology. But then, suddenly it’s 2021, and I’m in the same place, at a different time.
Place. It means many things. It is, of course, multidimensional, which is why the issue of context from the last video is so important. I spend much time on the subject of multiple place environments in the book, showing how place sometimes becomes very real, even when an intangible product of our imaginations.
In the Introduction, which you can read now in the publisher’s brochure linked here and below, I explain how cities are layers of experience, interaction, tension, culture, and a social life that manifests itself in what we see from day to day.
The many ways we understand cities depend on blends that routinely occur between global and local, old and new, planned and unplanned, builtand natural, and the many other tensions of urban existence. Especially in these pandemic years.
That’s why, in London, it is possible (in ordinary times) to visit 221B Baker Street and Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross. As shown in the video and book, those who want to view these places imagined for Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter—“text cities” as they are called—will find actual, accessible, and popular destinations.
Oddly enough, these now-real places—sustained by tourism—embody culture (literary classics) and character (built forms that display the context of their creation). The locations are unique to their blend of circumstances, as are the applicable definitions of these two italicized and confounding words.
So, I’ll leave you with a challenge. Spend some time thinking about the role of city spaces beyond the physical, and, drawing from my earlier book, Seeing the Better City, whether we all see the same thing.
In the video, I say goodbye virtually, from seven miles away from where I was located when recording. I provide another spin on fictional locations that have become part of the urban and exurban landscape, allowing dreams to manifest and words to come alive.
To 221B Baker Street, I add Highclere Castle, with a long history as the country home of the Earls of Carnarvon. Today, most know it better as Downton Abbey. As noted, the photo backdrop is subject to a creative commons license in favor of Flickr user JonJames86.
Stay tuned for more examples, and as noted last time, soon we’ll have others joining the conversation, to help figure out where we go next, wherever “where” may be.
Review the special “landing page” Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character here.