You may or may not be aware at the archival potential of Google Street view, but ever since the search engine behemoth has been photographing and spying on as much of our cities as it can, it has created a rather useful, freely accessible public archive of outdoor space. Archival research has long been the preserve of historical geographical research, but as Keighren (2013: 577) has eloquently argued (and still does to this day in our regular corridor conflabs, and with the same level of eloquence)…
“The skills associated with historical research – critical evaluation of sources, triangulation of data, attention to the beliefs and opinions of particular cultural groups – are precisely those which are encouraged and valued elsewhere in the human geography curriculum.”
While taking a few minutes to scroll through the historical images that Google has stored in its ongoing panoptic assault on everyday urbanity does not, nor should not, replace the much longer time needed to conduct archival research in situ, it provides students a gateway into the vibrancy of archives and how they contain a real impact upon research of the contemporary condition. And in the age of the pandemic and online digital learning, it’s proved extremely useful for urban research.
What does it mean to do autoethnography? What even is it? To the critics, autoethnography is rather disparagingly labelled ‘mesearch‘ and a form of personal story-telling that is far too narcissistic to be considered proper research. However, such a view tends to resolutely align traditional scientific objectivity with truth, and so personal accounts become far too unscientific to be able to produce generalisable results. But it is painfully obvious by now, that the truth has a rather variegated existence these days.
Many urban cultural geographers (and indeed, those beyond the discipline) will utilise autoethnography in their own research: some of the most compelling (albeit not entirely unproblematic) research monographs of late have been autoethnographical; Alice Goffman’s ‘On the Run’ and Bradley Garrett’s Explore Everything come to mind. But we also teach it. Students are extremely receptive to it as a method, and not just because it can avoid anxiety-producing encounters with strangers in the field. I find that those students willing to embrace it properly will wield it as a potent critical weapon against the stifling striation of the contemporary city. Yet despite our best efforts in the classroom beforehand, there is always some confusion as to what constitutes autoethnography as a methodological perspective in the field. Read More
London’s Glass War © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons
Stand on London Bridge on a sunny day and look East, you’ll see the towers of Canary Wharf glistening in the distance, the Shard looming to your right slicing into the sky, and the bloated curves of the Walkie Talkie shimmering like a newly blown glass vase. Walk further west along the South bank, and you’ll come across the ‘South Bank tower cluster’, with its centrepiece One Blackfriars jutting it’s chest out ostentatiously over the river. Further still, and you’ll reach Nine Elms, the biggest building site in the city. Scores of towers are flashing into the sky and construction has begun on the remarkably opulent ‘sky pool’, a 25m long, glass-bottomed swimming pool that hangs 10 storeys up.
These towers represent the most visible beacons of London’s continued development. They contain the moneymaking corporate machines that swell the city’s coffers but fuel the city’s rampant housing crisis, and the unaffordable luxury flats that are the symptom of the city’s hyper-gentrification. Yet there is another aspect to their representation that often goes under-recorded in the hyperbole around London’s gentrification problem – namely their most visible constituent material, glass. Read More
On Sunday after a weekend visiting the old haunts in Manchester for the weekend (and spending a day watching Jimmy Anderson skittle out South Africa’s batting line up), I took a slow drive along Chapel Street as I made my way back to the motorway. I wanted to see my old employer, the University of Salford as well as the changes to the area that I’d heard about from ex-colleagues. I was taken aback by the raft of identikit housing, the beautified (and frankly much better) ‘shared space’ of the new road layout, and the new cladding on the previously tired looking Salford Crescent Station. But the main draw for me was my old watering hole, the Salford Crescent pub. However, after noticing a small white notice on the window of the pub, I stopped the car to take a closer look. “Closed until further notice”. It was a troubling sign, not least as it meant I couldn’t pop in to have another look around. Read More
Having been CEO of London plc. for 5 years now, Stuart Gulliver can step down from the role knowing that he will go into the history books as perhaps the greatest businessman of all time. London wasn’t even a company when he took over, and today in 2026, it is has a bigger turnover than any of the tech giants of the West Coast Division of Trumpland, and employs more people than the recently floated NHS. Reluctantly taking the role in July 2021 after the now infamous ‘Londexit’ vote, Mr. Gulliver was the obvious choice having been the CEO of London’s biggest financial institution HSBC for some 10 years previously. Read More
Last night I had the privilege of watching Die Hard on the big screen at the Filmopolis Christmas Party. A great night, with an even greater film. Die Hard is one of those films that you can watch repeatedly, and rarely strays from perfection. Despite containing now tired Hollywood clichés, it has aged remarkably well, and is now considered the quintessential Christmas film (on which I noticed last night the falling paper at the end of the film beautifully analogous to snowfall; hence the ‘Let it Snow’ song at the end). In watching the film, particularly the “TV Dinner” bit, I was reminded of a 2010 blog post by Geoff Manaugh (on the brilliant bldgblog) about the relational architecture of the film. The post itself spoke to many of themes I explored when I was working on the geographies of parkour, and is still a wonderful take on the how the film Die Hard espouses the malleability of how we use architecture. But 5 years on from that post, and having now seen the film countless times since, there are many other ways in which the film can be utilised to explore architectural and material geographies (yes, there will be spoliers). Read More
Metroplex, the Transformer City
Cities, on the surface at least, seem stable. The imposing physical materiality of concrete, steel and glass projects an endurance that is ‘built to last‘. Yet decades of urban critique have elucidated the fluidity of cities. From Walter Benjamin’s Arcades, through Cedric Price’s Fun Palace to Nigel Coates’ Ecstacity, people have been envisioning cities that are mobile, mutable and malleable. These concepts of literature, art and architecture articulate cities that are far from static; they are fluid assemblages that wax and wane in response to cultural representations, economic global processes and social practices. And one only has to take a short walk through seemingly any city today before they encounter some construction or development of some kind. This affirms that the urban landscape is constantly changing in response to development pressures, policy tweaks and financial speculation. The ‘stability’ of cities is hence only an illusion; there is far more than meets the eye… Read More
The Annals of American Geographers annual conference this year was in Chicago, and as usual, was a hectic 5 days of sessions, networking, partying and pontificating. The ante seemed particularly high this year, there was a heightened sense of a complex mix of emotional states; excitement (perhaps a symptom of being in such a great city), enjoyment (plenty of people seemed to have beaming smiles), anger (name-calling was heard), insecurity (lots of discussions about academic precarity) and exhaustion (no-one I spoke to seemed well-rested). I targeted a route through the sessions that was focused on my current and future research plans, namely critical urbanism, activism and subversion, and so I found myself gravitating to sessions with ‘neoliberalism’, ‘activism’, ‘urban justice’ and ‘subversion’ in the title. Some were fantastic, others less so, but that is an inevitable consequence of the AAG’s policy of excepting all abstracts. One of the major themes though that I took home was that critical urban theoretical discussions are slightly laboured, a bit tail-chasing, and while important to provide a conceptual framework for activism, still seems not as connected to ‘on the ground’ experience, marginality and radical politics as it could be. Read More
At the same time that the nation tuned into the first TV debate of the 2015 general election, the Aylesbury Estate occupation reportedly ended. One event saw a bunch of lowlifes bickering about how to run a doomed institution, the other? Well….
The Berlin Wall of the new Creative Berlinᵀᴹ
One cannot have failed to notice the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall over the weekend. Coupled with Remembrance Sunday, it has created a milieu of memorialisation over the weekend that has invoked process of grief, global strife, hegemonic power, activism & resistance, personal loss and spirituality. There has been a lot of pontification and media chin-stroking about the geopolitical wrangling and consequences of the fall of the Wall in the lead up to the anniversary, but what has always been present in the urban studies literature is the way in which the Wall acts very much within the urban geography of Berlin. I was lucky enough to visit Berlin last month for a very interesting and enlightening Workshop on Controversies of the Creative City, and given the content of my talk (which was, in a nutshell, a 20-min dash through the themes of my book) the inventible question I always seem to be asked is ‘what is the alternative’? If neoliberal capitalism is unjust, damaging and polarising, just what is the answer?** Given that we were in the city that symbolically saw the collapse of one viable ‘alternative’ it seemed like an apt arena in which to have the debate. With the workshop discussions pinging around my thoughts, I took it upon myself to practice what I so often champion which is the act of drifting à la The Situationists, something which can (can) begin to inculcate a more creative city. But of course, this is neigh-on impossible in the contemporary Creative City, so using the old line of the Wall (which is of course now, a recognised tourist route – Berliner Mauerweg, the Berlin Wall Trail), I walked from the SouthEast of the city centre to the North, keeping as close to the line as I could. This practice has been done elsewhere far more vividly that I ever could by Will Self (the flâneur of our time), and my photography skills have a lot to be desired (to say the least – click on the photos to see a larger version). But what follows is a photographic essay which speaks to the changing urban condition in Berlin from a city divided along geopolitical and revanchist lines, but which now has perhaps lost the former in favour of a more global city-inculcated version of the latter. Read More