The growth in the popularity of Nature writing seems to suggest that our desire for experiences of wilderness seems to be increasing. So much so, that we are changing our definitions as to what can be considered a natural space.
The countryside is of course largely artificial, managed and manipulated over centuries for agricultural and industrial use. As most of us choose to live in or close to cities for work, our access to wild Nature becomes increasingly limited. As cities grow our access becomes even more limited. The boundary of a city where agriculture meets industry and the tail end of housing estates contain a unique and shifting boundary of wild space. Shouldn’t these areas be explored, enjoyed, documented or preserved in some way?
Peterborough is one of the fastest growing cities in the UK. It has developed from a small settlement around its famous Cathedral to a commuter and transportation hub through the arrival of the railways in the C19 and its designation as a new town in the late sixties.
Over the spring of 2015, I set out to walk and document the outer edge of the city in which I grew up. I was particularly interested in capturing and recording what the edgeland landscape looked and felt like, before the city expanded and developed further. It seemed that few people were paying attention to the process going on across England of rapid expansion and subjugation of villages and green space. These rapid changes perhaps effect us all subliminally as our identities are tied up with the places that we live or have lived in. Increasingly artists are turning to their own neighbourhoods to record and investigate their own relationship with place.
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 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’.
There is a specific feeling at the edge of modern cities. The areas are perhaps more describable as zones buzzing with remnants of the mundane, illicit and fantastical.
As the suburbs keep expanding what happens to today’s edgelands? Will anyone remember these neglected and unloved pieces of land? Can a transient landscape be worthy of documentation or preservation even before its transformed into new shopping centres or housing estates? In our cities and towns, there are many places that lie undeveloped, abandoned or in-between. Many of these places lie unexplored. It is quite likely that we can live in the same place all our lives without detouring from the quickest routes in between our social and work based spaces. But there is another landscape close to our own workplaces and homes, which can inspire and influence and tell a story of where we come from.
On the eastern edge of Peterborough, just past the swimming pool and the pedestrian underpass for the parkways it is possible to walk out along the North Bank, which parallels the River Nene between Peterborough and Whittlesey. Here miles of flat landscape and broad skies can be enjoyed minutes from the city centre. Along the path that begins next to a new housing development, it is possible to imagine the ghosts of workers from the distant Whittlesey brickworks traversing back and forth across the open stretch of Fen bank as they did for decades. Now only the odd cyclist or jogger uses the route using the time to contemplate the wide expanses, sky and emptiness. There is however evidence of other unseen users in the form of makeshift shelters, campfires and drinking sessions, particularly near the river bank. At night the area is used by the homeless as a space to escape the city.
The discarded rubbish that can be found gathered together here seem ordinary, but are also out of place in the landscape and reveal the past activities of the place.