These notes were prepared for a photo walk in Hampton, Peterborough 18th August 2018

‘As long as nature is seen as something outside ourselves, frontiered and foreign, separate, it is lost both to us and in us.’

John Fowles, The Tree

What is our new place in Society? More importantly what is our place in Nature? When we try to think about what makes up a place, it can be helpful to break down our ideas. Place can be seen to be made up of four building blocks that are often segregated, but that need to be increasingly integrated.

Wild Place – These are areas of longstanding wildness, protected sites such as National Nature Reserves or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Place – Place in this instance is formed from our collected social history. It is formed by people and communities and can include architecture, heritage, folk traditions and tales and personal histories. For this reason as long as there are communities, Place can never be completely erased.

Non-Place[1]A term by the French anthropologist Marc Auge that defines man-made spaces that are transient in Nature. They are sites of anonymity that are often generic in nature and do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places”. Examples of non-places include motorways, hotel rooms, airports and shopping centres.

Negative Place – Refers to the final building block and overlaps with Place and Wild Place. It relates to anthropological or Natural elements that have been removed and are no longer visible. It also theoretically applies to examples such as modern housing estates where the technological and social present have not been recognised. There is a negative quality to a place which has been developed on previous historical planning models and that does not integrate technology, Nature, modern architecture and current social needs.

New communities like Hampton are built around the model of the garden city movement. The movement was founded by Ebenezer Howard in 1898 and outlined in his publication To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform. His thoughts and actions were a response to the terrible conditions in urban slums and he described a utopian ideal of a new city in which people live harmoniously together with nature. The movement he established led to the building of Letchworth Garden City around 1903. Modern garden towns lie on the periphery of cities and contain an amalgam of competing building blocks. These include, but are not limited to; The influence/interests of the neighbouring City centre, agriculture, nature, national identity, local identity, state and council authority, present and past Industry, agriculture, the rich, the poor, settled residents and uncertain newcomers and commuters. All of these elements meet (or compete) together to create the new community and its identity. The new town is therefore a space of friction, uncertainty, ambivalence and marginality. It is the periphery in every sense, but it is now our urban present and future. Suburbanites are our frontiers people, our explorers into the new territory and our new way of living.

The Tump

Tump is an alternative name for a circular bowl barrow burial mound, or a small hill in the middle of a village green. However the Tump, in the new township of Hampton Hargate on the southern outskirts of Peterborough, is a modern man-made mound.

A road adjacent to the Tump, is called Four Chimneys Crescent, and its naming reflects the area’s previous use as a brickworks. The Tump also reveals to us the natural level of the land before the Hampton development started. It is all that remains of the original land level before O&H Hampton, the management company developing the site and cleared three million tonnes of clay.

The clay that can be found in Hampton was formed 160 million years ago in the Jurassic Period. If you climb the Tump you can see an expansive view across Hampton and its 1,000 acres of open space, lakes, woodland and nature reserves – 632 acres of the space is specifically for wildlife.

Most of what can be seen from here is man-made. There is no interpretation at the Tump that references the sites heritage. History has been literally cleared away. The 160 Million year old clay deposits filled with fossils, the industrial buildings and the four iconic chimneys from the old Orton Brickworks exist only in our memories and in photographs. The hill creates an element of geographic alleviation from the housing spanning out around it.

Hampton Nature Reserve

Hampton Nature Reserve was previously the site of Orton Brickworks, a working brick pit until 1998. It is now owned by O&H Hampton a billion pound privately owned property development company. The site is a Special Area of Preservation as well as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is home to Europe’s largest population of Great Crested Newts. Stonewort’s, water voles and Skipper Butterflies. One of the unique aspects of the reserve is an area of undulating land that was formed by the extraction of clay and dumping of clay and bricks. The area also contains ancient woodlands, ponds and grasslands. Nature and greenery is an integral part of Hampton, which has been cited by Natural England as an exemplar of how to integrate new development into the surrounding landscape, with a successful pledge to maintain 50 per cent of open space.

Here like elsewhere in the UK we see the housing developments and road networks buffering up against Nature. Although the Hampton development had to include the preservation of this unique area, it is not integrated into the site and is inaccessible to the general public. Several areas of wilder Nature can be found at the edge of Hampton, but are fenced off; residents are only able to walk along ‘designated’ paths or playing fields. This is obviously in the interests of protecting the Nature reserves, however at this tipping point of our environmental emergency, you could argue that it is more important than ever to connect ourselves with nature to fully understand what is under threat.

It is also worrying to note areas like the Hampton reserve may be under threat due to the impact of Brexit – Special Areas of Conservation could be affected by Brexit as it is an EU funded and established initiative. The EU directives provide much greater protection against development and destruction of the sites than the domestic designation of areas as SSSIs – sites of special scientific interest. Richard Benwell, head of government affairs at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in a recent article with The Guardian stated ‘The law itself might be unpicked and loosened in terms of planning protection as a result of lobbying from groups like house builders’[2] A positive about Brexit maybe that it leads to a reconsideration of our farming methods. The UK is now the 28th most denatured country on the planet and intensive farming is the main culprit. The introduction of CAP subsidies by the EU encouraged a dramatic intensification and a drive for economies of scale in our agricultural industries.

Environmental societies and groups, land owners, agricultural owners and town planners have all played a part in further segregating us from land which began with the Enclosure Acts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Today, just 0.3 per cent of Britain’s 65m own 69 per cent of the land. This all contributes to a sense of disconnect from Nature and the land.

Housing

Peterborough is the second fastest growing city in the UK and many of the new residents have and will continue to come to live in the Hampton development. There are nearly 5500 homes in Hampton with thousands more to be built. There are currently about 10,500 people already living in the community. O & H describe Hampton as a series of Village communities and one of the most sort after areas to live in East Anglia. It is made up of; Hampton Hargate, Hampton Vale and Hampton East. Four new garden villages are planned to be built. Hampton (now over 25 years old) is a matured township- the name was chosen to create associations with The Hamptons part of the East End of Long Island near New York, an upmarket holiday and seaside destination for affluent Americans. House prices in The Hamptons rank as some of the highest in the USA. It has been designed as an Arcadia town, on the model of a holiday village. It contains nostalgic planning designs and architecture modelled on the garden city movement, which is over 100 years old. It could be described as Neo-traditional and criticised in that it does not truly achieve its aims as it does not truly integrate nature or heritage. There are limited community spaces and sites that were originaly designed for the community, such as an event space are now inaccessible to the public. Around some of the lakes lie seemingly unfinished constructions for leisure activities and remnants of the sites industrial heritage, which are not interpreted. These mournful pieces of broken chimneys and bricks signify only negative Place. Could the new garden city movement also signal a retreat from the modern world/city and its problems. Does this nostalgic design ignore the technological and social changes/issues of the last 100 years? Can we ever return to a truly integrated community or will it forever be a Utopian ideal?

Many visitors to Hampton or any other new housing estate, describe how easy it is to get lost. Generic housing design and planning and a lack of landmarks can quickly make areas seem similar. Hampton was originally intended to be split into five different sections to create different zones with ten different housing developers. It does, however contain a mix of private and social housing and a positive is that it is difficult to tell the difference between these types of housing. All the residents are able to share the open spaces and access to the lakes.

Integration or separation?

Estates like Hampton or hi-rise flats are where most of us will be living in the future. The architecture and planning in Hampton has been deemed as the ideal for living in England in the 21st century. Our changing leisure pastimes and busy working lives mean that we spend more time in a virtual space or in work mode than enjoying outside spaces. Public spaces have become less meaningful and under utilised. New towns segregated from the rich identity of cities, nature and heritage can create pseudo realities and landscapes encouraging us to spend more time in the simulacra (Advertising/media/virtual space) than in nature. Does this mean that the under utilised (and often unfinished) lakes and green spaces at Hampton and elsewhere become simulations or a pastiche of nature? If this is the case than how can we re-engage and re-animate these spaces?

Questions and quotes to consider

 

Historical heritage can carry a lot of weight. Should we just dismiss our heritage and live in the present?

 

J.G. Ballard thought that the city and in particular the centres of cities, no longer hold the ability to reflect what is actually happening in modern society. Ballard said ‘I regard the city as a semi-extinct form, London is basically a nineteenth-century city. And the habits of mind appropriate to the nineteenth century… aren’t really appropriate to understanding what is really going on in life today. I think the suburbs are more interesting than people will let on. In the suburbs you find uncentered lives…So that people have more freedom to explore their own imaginations, their own obsessions’.

‘The Pacific Atoll may not be available, but there are other islands far nearer to home, some of them only a few steps from the pavements we tread every day. They are surrounded, not by sea, but by concrete, ringed by chain-mail fences and walled off by bombproof glass’.

 J.G.Ballard – Concrete Island

What traces of the past can we see from this viewpoint? How important is it for you to see a visible connection to the past in your community?

‘…the old persisted alongside and despite the new surviving as echoes and shadows detectable by an acute mind and eye’.

Robert McFarlane –The Old Ways

What kind of relationship do we have with Nature in the suburbs? What kind of Nature do we see in this location? Does it matter that most of the Nature is Man-made?

“To wander in a kind of reverie, to take a stroll as they call it, is a good way for a philosopher to spend his time; particularly in that kind of bastard countryside. Somewhat ugly but bizarre, made up of two different natures, which surrounds certain great cities, notably Paris. To observe the banlieue, is to observe an amphibian. End of trees, beginning of roofs, end of grass, beginning of shops, the end of the beaten track, the beginning of the passions, the end of the murmur of things divine, the beginning of the noise of mankind.”

 Victor Hugo – Les Miserables

Should future cities designed for Nature before the needs of humans? In the future maybe the ideal city would not be just for humans. What would a city for birds and Newts look like? Is Hampton, with its integration with Nature therefore the ideal city?

“People are of no value at all as far as I am concerned. People can bury each other but the animals have to be helped. Not just rabbits and rats, but all the little animals. Other men kill them and I bury them”.

 John Hurt – All the Little Animals (Film)

A suburb for the mind. We are not all of the same mind. Why do modern suburbs all look the same when we are all so different? Maybe the city would be different if one was depressed, manic, on the autistic spectrum, and so forth. Chtcheglov proposed different zones for different emotional states, but what about cognitive states?

Should there be different zones in the suburbs rather than everything being similar?

Conservatism/Fear of Change Edward Storey, writing just before the development of the parkways in 1971 in his book Portrait of the Fen Country suggested negatively ‘A lot of people do not want expansion. They do not want to see their city grow to a population of nearly 200,000 people within the next twenty years. Many are afraid. Afraid that any character the place has will be lost with the coming of the demolition men, that the city of the future will be an antiseptic ghost town where life is replaced by a new kind of orderly existence’

Hampton is set to grow even bigger over the coming decade. How can we prevent modern developments becoming ‘antiseptic ghost towns’?

 

[1] Marc Auge Non-Places, introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/06/britains-wildlife-needs-urgent-new-protections-ahead-of-brexit-say-mps