Tim Waterman

Landscape Studies, Food Studies, Utopian Studies

Approaching Queer Island: Worlding and Imagining the Other

by Tim-Waterman on March 9, 2024, no comments

This is an odd (well, queer) little piece I wrote a couple of years ago. I’m not sure if it stands alone, but I’m not sure what else to do with it, so I’ll just leave it here. It begins with an attempt to imagine myself as an Indigenous ancestor in a part of the world I’ve never visited. I wrote it partially because I was worried about the ways in which cries of ‘cultural appropriation’ might shut down valuable attempts to think through and learn from the experience of others, and partially because I wanted to think through processes of (negative) queering as part of the operation of colonialism and how (positive) queering and imaginative worldmaking might help to combat them. And finally, a little about Queer Island: it is a real place, located as described below.

,A kayak slides through calm water in moonlight

Still from Patricio Guzmán’s film The Pearl Button.

I am approaching Queer Island, a small, uninhabited island off the tip of a peninsula south of Kodiak in Chiniak Bay. This is the home of the Alutiiq / Sugpiaq people. I am in a skin-covered qayaq, just a membrane between me and the deep, clear ocean. It is not gravity that holds me down, but instead the great swelling mass of water that pushes up beneath my craft. Pines rise from the scrubbed rocks of the shore. The only sound is the wind curling into my ears and the rhythmic dip of the paddle. As I approach the shore the water is calm and I can see far down to seaweed covered rocks below. Nearer still fat starfish in shades of peach and yellow and pink spangle across the seabed. As I alight I avoid treading on them in my long sea lion skin boots. It’s here, at the margin of land and water, that so much hunting and foraging takes place, and it is this rich coast that defines and that feeds me as much as the dark open water or the stony ground beneath my feet.

This has also been a place of death. In 1784, just across the bay at Refuge Rock, a rock stack reached by a tidal land bridge which we call Awa’uq, “where one becomes numb”, 2000 of my ancestors were massacred and a thousand captured by Russian settlers armed with guns and cannons. Even children were taken as hostages.

If I abandon now the voice of the Alutiiq and travel south along the coast as myself, a white man the child of European settlers, past the lands of peoples like the Tlingit and the Haida, sustained by the shellfish and the once-abundant salmon, past what’s now called Vancouver Island through the Salish Sea, I come past the San Juan Islands where once I worked in restaurants during the tourist season. It’s such a beautiful place but I feel so melancholy there remembering long hard hours and the heavy drinking that goes with them. Puget Sound runs south from there, petering out eventually into Mud Bay near Olympia, Washington.

To the west is the great damp and towering rain forest of the Olympic peninsula, home to the Makah, Quileute, Hoh, Quinault, Skokomish, and S’Klallam, where moss hangs from and clings to every surface. If I continue to travel south from there I arrive in Portland, Oregon, where again I find my young self. It’s 1991 and I’m a student standing looking at a flyer someone has posted on the Mount Hood Community College campus walls. On it is a map of a vast tropical Pacific zone, with the tiny Tabuaeran atoll of Kiribati, to which a hasty arrow has been drawn, and the following written by hand: “Gay and Lesbian equal rights here.” it said, “Keep it in the closet.” I’m at once appalled and attracted, allowing myself the momentary fantasy of an all-queer all-erotic Pacific island paradise. Exile and quarantine intersect with the act of escape. Now the inhabitants of the atoll are witnessing it disappearing beneath the waves along with its fresh water aquifer. It is no paradise any more.

All along that route we find practices of renaming and reconfiguring, shaming, hiding, eradicating that are all part of the practices of othering and queering that relate to settler colonialism. It’s here that you, the reader, might stop me, worried that my imagination inhabiting these past indigenous lives is an act of cultural appropriation. Worried that my comparison of right wing anti-gay persecution in Oregon with the forms of ecocide and genocide that were visited upon the Indigenous peoples belong to wholly different realms of oppression. Worried that my speaking the names of Indigenous places and peoples exoticises them and distances them, continuing the process of othering and queering undertaken by generations of white settlers.

What I argue back, though, is that by speaking the names we call forth the lives, the landscapes, the practices, lifeworlds, lifeways. Worlding is an imaginative act. With the right intentions the imagination is a tool for empathy. The othering that calls forth hatred, incomprehension, and death: the queering that is smearing, with the right intentions become windows to other (queer) worlds and other (queer) possibilities. Of course our imaginations have cultural limits, but if we don’t stretch them they become stiff. What’s occurring is an act of translation, and translation requires empathy, openness, and attention. What is afoot in colonialism is often precisely a refusal to translate and the urge to erase what it refuses to translate. Landscape is now more about translation than it is about writing or inscribing or fixing.

That we are understanding landscape as a dialogic medium at the moment that that medium is changing is valuable. The landscapes we inhabit will become increasingly unfixed in decades ahead, and acts of translation will have to take place within landscapes we already inhabit and not just those which are objects of study.

Landscapes in Europe, at the source of the colonial project, are also subject to capitalist and colonial practices, and often the forms visited upon Indigenous populations overseas were practiced in Europe first. Dispossession, expropriation, erasure, clearance, and plantation. Genocide and ecocide are paired projects, as with the ploughing of the American plains and the massacre not only of people, but of the bison that were fundamental to Indigenous foodways and lifeways.

It is essential to be able to imagine these lifeworlds not only because of mere empathy, but to learn about what it means for a people to live through and survive an apocalypse, and to understand that the apocalypse happened both ‘at home’, so to speak, and abroad. That we have alternative imaginaries to hand is crucial in light of our currently unfolding apocalypse.

And I want to finish by making mention of Chilean director Patricio Guzmán’s astonishing films Nostalgia for the Light and The Pearl Button, which between them place the landscapes of the Atacama Desert and the cold, misty archipelagos of Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia within the context of astronomical time and outer space, the eradication of Indigenous peoples by settler colonialism, and the brutality of the Pinochet dictatorship. The desaparecidos, the imprisonments and tortures by a monolithic inflexible regime that queered Chilean radical politics is held side by side with the ways in which settler colonialism queered the lifeworlds of people like the Yaghan, Selk’nam, and Kawesqar. These people, who painted their bodies to reflect their cosmology and their spirit world, saw the European sheep as prey to be hunted. They were, in turn and as a result, themselves hunted and murdered by European settlers. Can land use be queer? Yes, everywhere, and in this case it led to the almost total extinction of the people, their language, and their lifeways.

Still, as Guzmán shows, we can also learn from those who didn’t survive an apocalypse, and again the imagination is our aid here. There is hope for our climate changed future, but only if we open fully to the other and learn, only if we see the processes at work in climate change as part of the necropolitical engines of capitalism and imperialism, and only if we begin to imagine whole new worlds. For this we need a worlding, queer, and utopian imagination.

Aerial view of a small, misty, vegetated Island in Patagonia

Still from Patricio Guzmán’s film The Pearl Button

Utopia ‘Down by the Power Lines’: Mojo Nixon’s Psychobilly Cockaigne

by Tim-Waterman on February 9, 2024, no comments

painting featuring three men, sated and lounging, surrounded by huge amounts of easily available food and drink

Pieter Bruegel’s 1567 painting of Luilekkerland (the land of Cockaigne), housed in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. Note the pies as roof tiles and the roast pig walking around in the background. All these dudes need are some couches.

Mojo Nixon has just died, aged 66, on 7 February 2024. I can’t help but imagine him, if an afterlife were possible, ‘down by the power lines’ as he found his imaginary self in the song ‘Jesus at McDonald’s’ (find it here) from his 1985 debut album (with Skid Roper), Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper. The song is typical of Nixon’s irreverence, filthy sense of humour, and his hobo campfire forms of fabulation and speculation—a story, a dirty joke, a bit more story, spit on the ground, swear, grin, and scratch your ass.

The song begins with a sighting of “Jesus at McDonald’s at midnight”, in which Mojo ascertains that Jesus isn’t doing too well, and it seems loosely to do with Jesus’ mother’s dalliances with Santa Claus and Rudolph, or something to that effect. Then there’s a digression in which he declares his affection for a lady wrestler, then finds himself in bed with his wife. Then back to the main story, which finds Nixon checking off all the major fast food outlets on the strip, each of which is associated with a major religion: “Allah at an Arby’s,” “Buddha at a Burger King,” and, of course “The Ramalama from Alabama at a barbecue pit.”

All this indicates that he’s well on his way to a personal ‘twilight zone’, and this is where the hobo yarn of the song begins to take over and a folk utopia emerges, “out where the Interstates turn to dirt/ out past the fire roads/ out past route one-four-oh/ down, down where the train trestles go/ over the graveyards, back behind the dynamo/ right beside route one-four-oh.” Jesus reappears as a guide to take him to a place where everywhere he looks there are couches—“not the kind you want to sit on but the kind you want to sleep on.” There are bonfires on which cauldrons bubble with Top Ramen and the trees dispense gin and Mountain Dew. The “entire Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters record collection” and a “brand new stereo” are the icing on the cake.

“Am I at the Big Rock Candy Mountain? Am I in paradise?” Is it heaven, he asks. “No,” comes Jesus’ answer, “I’m down by the power lines.”

The song feels like an anthem for its particular moment. This low-ambition utopia anticipated the ‘slacker’ ethic that was to emerge as Gen X’s badge (at least at the time), as well as the ‘fuck it’ sensibility of punk. But there is also an embrace of the quotidian. In a way, it’s one of Ernst Bloch’s ‘concrete utopias’—it’s a utopia arising from everyday practice, and while impossible it still seems pragmatic. How hard can it be to find a Muddy Waters record, a couch that’s good to sleep on, a package of Top Ramen and some gin ’n juice?

The hobo utopia of the Big Rock Candy Mountains (here sung by Harry McClintock in 1928) was a place hobos would story together along the railroad tracks while riding the rails—like the medieval utopia of Cockaigne or Luilekkerland it is a place where lemonade flows in springs, roast pigs sidle up to you and invite a nibble, roof tiles are pies, and cigarettes grow on trees.

Anyway, I’ve long meant to write about Mojo Nixon’s version of Cockaigne, but never could figure out anything more critical to say than, “hey, that’s a folk utopia.” But maybe that’s all I need to do here—in the best slacker spirit, I’m just gonna leave this one here and go look for a couch. Not the kind you want to sit on, but the kind you want to sleep on.

Utopia as Method for Planetary Landscapes

by Tim-Waterman on May 4, 2023, no comments

This is a short commissioned piece I wrote for the Design Council’s ‘Design for Planet 2022’ zine, which was edited by the whip-smart, redoubtable Will Jennings. For seasoned utopian scholars this will be pretty basic stuff, but I aimed for this piece to make utopian methodology accessible to a broad range of designers.

Utopias commonly appear throughout literature or film as islands—as in Thomas More’s original Utopia in his 1516 book of the same name. Scaled up, they are pictured, in science fiction, as whole planets on which ideas for social relations are tested out. Commonly utopias here on Planet Earth are narrowly conceived of as totalising diagrams, but if we look to film and fiction we can see they are testing grounds for an astounding range of possible social relations, political possibilities, and most excitingly for visions of future flourishing and goodness. The great power of utopias is not in providing an authoritarian model for a perfect world, but rather in the way that envisioning relations differently through a philosophy of hope can introduce radical possibilities for improving everyday life in everyday places and situations.

Utopian scholar Lyman Tower Sargent identifies three faces of utopia: utopian literature, utopian experiments (these are practical experiments in lived space often called intentional communities), and utopian social thought. Sociologist Ruth Levitas furthers this in The Concept of Utopia by identifying that desire, in particular desire for change often, fuels these utopian formations. And Tom Moylan in his seminal Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination tells us of ‘critical utopia’—first it operates as critique, and second it is critical in the nuclear sense—with the critical mass to act explosively upon relations and possibilities in our world.

Critical distance is also important, and imagining situations that allow us to understand and evaluate our own world from afar, in often transgressive ways, creates possibilities for change because, well, many of the ways people live just look really weird when you step out of the ruts you’re in and simply look.

I’ve spoken above about relationships, and relationships are central to the study and experience of landscapes everywhere. Commonly landscapes are thought of, like utopias, as total diagrams or plans, like the geometric layout of the gardens of Versailles. But landscapes in everyday life are the environments that make people who they are, and people have a relationship with the places they inhabit that shapes them in return. The Nordic philologist Kenneth Olwig tells us that landscapes can also be thought of as landships, relations of belonging and meaning-making that are embroiled in the particularities of place. By way of example, landscape architecture as a profession is becoming more and more about relationships between humans, other species, the inorganic elements of lifeworlds, and climate and weather than about the imposition of a geometric order on a defined ground.

The complexities of landscapes require thinking through everything about a place, and to transform them often requires the sort of all-at-onceness found in utopias. The scenario-making function of design is then privileged over the form-making function, and this too is like utopias in that narratives and possibilities for a better world in which all species might flourish are allowed their full expression.

Perhaps what is finally of greatest importance in all of this is that the moral imagination must be employed fully in projecting landscape futures, which repeatedly forces the question through the process of design, “Is this right, good, and desirable?” in the face of the ever- present insistence that “This is just how things are done” or, worse, “There is just no alternative.” Utopias are tools for better futures, in substantive landscapes, here and now.


Levitas, Ruth (2010) The Concept of Utopia. New York: Peter Lang.

Moylan, Tom (1986) Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination. London and New York: Methuen.

Olwig, Kenneth R. (2019) The Meanings of Landscape: Essays on Place, Space, Environment and Justice. London and New York: Routledge.

Sargent, Lyman Tower (1994) “Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited.” Utopian Studies, 5(1): 1–37. DOI: https://doi.org/www.jstor.org/stable/20719246

Sargent, Lyman Tower (2010) Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

The Tasty City (from The Landscape of Utopia: Writings on Everyday Life, Taste, Democracy, and Design)

by Tim-Waterman on January 30, 2022, no comments

This short extract is from the final chapter of The Landscape of Utopia, which is published by Routledge in February 2022.

The food philosopher Carolyn Korsmeyer speaks of taste as good judgment, however it must be assumed that if taste as a sensation can be unpleasant, then taste as a judgment can also be perceived as negative as well as positive. In other words, ‘bad’ taste is still taste. But here is Korsmeyer: “Taste is construed as the ability to perceive beautiful qualities and to discriminate fine differences among the objects of perception, differences that might escape notice by someone without Taste” (1999: 42). She goes on, though, later in the book, to admit a different standard (and compare the ‘taste of necessity’ to the idea of hunger as dearth, which I have critiqued above):

Bourdieu characterizes the eating habits of the leisured bourgeoisie as ‘the taste of liberty or luxury’ and those of the working class as the ‘’taste of necessity.’ […] Bourdieu emphatically rejects the qualitative distinction between literal and aesthetic Taste. There is no universality of Taste untainted by class privilege, no pure judgment of aesthetic pleasure. And therefore there is no need to stipulate a particular sort of Taste to ground universal aesthetic standards. Both kinds of taste are part and parcel of the same social forces (1999:65).

Similarly the notion of ‘good’ or ‘correct’ judgment appears in the architectures. Nathaniel Coleman describes how taste is conceived in the work of theorist-architect Claude Perrault (1613-1688). Perrault “argued that taste, which lends itself to cultivation because it is an agreed upon social construction, is the only sure way to protect architecture from fancy.” ‘Fancy’, here, being a form of pure, uncontextual or even anti-contextual invention which has much more recently become many architects’ calling card —exemplified in postmodernism by Charles Jencks’s ‘iconic building’ (2005). “A crucial facet of Perrault’s construct—what separates it from later developments—was his conviction that, because of its venerability, a classical language or architecture would persist indefinitely as the vehicle by which buildings would continue to communicate” (Coleman, 2005: 13).

The fixity of this notion of taste is anchored by chauvinism. It assumes that only one model of Taste: likely an upper-class European frame, is possible. It is useful for the reason of avoiding such totalizing models of ‘good taste’ to speak of tastes as particular to different circumstances, different cultures, and different classes. “Ethics and aesthetics reduced to rules are useless: ethical action is always singular and circumstantial,” writes Alberto Péréz-Gómez (2006: 4). It is likewise useful to speak about ‘architectures’ instead of Architecture or knowledges instead of Knowledge. Architectures appropriate to tastes and situated knowledges might vary widely, and draw on the resources of many and variegated utopias. Hannah Arendt explains the importance of this relationality succinctly, and when she speaks of ‘a culture’, she is pluralising rather than seeing culture as unified and bounded:

[T]aste and its ever-alert judgment of things of the world sets its own limits to an indiscriminate, immoderate love of the merely beautiful; into the realm of fabrication and of quality it introduces the personal factor, that is, gives it a humanistic meaning. Taste debarbarizes the world of the beautiful by not being overwhelmed by it; it takes care of the beautiful in its own ‘personal’ way and thus produces a ‘culture’ (1977 [1954]: 224).

Whether our tastes are highbrow or lowbrow, we still describe our sensual world in taste terms, and our lifeworlds are expressed in particular urban idioms, local and regional expressions of landscape, and are shared through foods and languages that express the local and regional. Even in a globalized world, the local is always particular. This is so because patterns of custom are played out as slowly shifting rituals that repeatedly inscribe, reinforce, and resonate with patterns of local urbanism in a dialogic way. It is important to see the customary as that which is practiced, as this deeply affects the way landscapes and landscape relations are imagined. A few years ago I visited the Expo in Milan as a journalist (Waterman, 2015). It was focused on the theme ‘Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life’ and amongst all the national pavilions was an installation celebrating the Slow Food movement. I had a conversation with an earnest young activist who spoke about the need to ‘preserve’ their home city of Genoa’s food culture and protect it from outside influences. In the course of the conversation I pointed out, gently, that Genoa’s food culture was explicitly the result of its cosmopolitan and outward-facing history as a port city, and that maintaining an openness to influence was the best way to value and extend a robust culinary heritage.

To see such heritage as performed, enacted, and practiced in customs rather than as a given or a tradition is the key to avoiding the fixity of chauvinism. Despite the increasing tendency for people to be described as ‘consumers,’ a term which seems oddly drained of savour, the reality is that most people are actually ‘customers’ when they are in public. They act out roles and rituals repetitively, bringing repeat business to the places that enrich their everyday experience. Those urban attractors that inspire custom are each utopian fragments—dream ideals that have been realized, or at least partially realized. They can be recruited into the imagination, using “the privileges of fiction” (Shonfield, 2000: 154) to understand how they figure in people’s narratives about the spaces they inhabit. These fragments of utopia help to fix the urban fabric in place and to provide loci for community and collectivity. It’s the partiality of these last schemes which I find interesting, but also perhaps the utopian fragments of totalitarian regimes bear some examination as well, or perhaps the fragments of the free market capitalist utopia, which, while it has conspired with state u/dystopian forms to build such horrors as the military- and prison-industrial complexes, has also contributed much fantasy architecture from Art Deco department store palaces such as Barker’s or Drage’s (sadly, recently demolished— sucked into a beige hole) in London or pleasure gardens like Melbourne’s Luna Park. Even dystopian fragments have importance and even allure as ruins or memorials, from the carefully maintained landscape, buildings, and artefacts at Auschwitz or Vienna’s indestructible Nazi flak towers to thanatourism sites like the Atomic Research Facility at Orford Ness in Essex or Pripyat in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. This perhaps offers an insight into how particular buildings or sites can provide object lessons for humanity about how it ought, or ought not, to act.


Arendt, Hannah (1977 [1954]) Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Coleman, Nathaniel (2005) Utopias and Architecture. London and New York: Routledge.

Jencks, Charles (2005) The Iconic Building: The Power of Enigma. London: Frances Lincoln.

Korsmeyer, Carolyn (1999) Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy. Cornell University Press.

Péréz-Gómez, Alberto (2006) Built upon Love: Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press.

Shonfield, Katherine (2000) Walls Have Feelings: Architecture, Film and the City. London and New York: Routledge.

Waterman, Tim (2015) ‘The Global Cucumber’ in Landscape Architecture Magazine July 2015 Vol. 105 No. 7. Washington, DC: The American Society of Landscape Architects, 50-56.

London Plays Itself: Our City in Film

by Tim-Waterman on October 21, 2021, no comments

This list was originally created thanks to a call to Twitter (RIP) to identify great resources for studying London landscape, architecture, and urbanism. Please let me know if you see anything significant that’s missing, and do let me know why it’s significant and what part of London it references. I have tried, wherever possible, not to link to IMDB, as it is owned by one of the billionaire mega-corporations that rule too much of our lives, but in some cases the only reference is there.

First off, I must make special mention of the BFI Britain on Film map. It’s a slightly clunky interface, but it allows a search of films set in Britain by location, and of course there are a vast number set in London: https://player.bfi.org.uk/britain-on-film/map#/54.69843416/-0.4924633970/6///. Also the website Reel Streets is a constantly growing resource which is searchable by region: https://www.reelstreets.com/


15 Storeys High (BBC sitcom, 1998-2000) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/15_Storeys_High

All That Mighty Heart (R.K. Neilson-Baxter, 1962) ‘A British Transport Film’ A day in the life of London and the Home Counties in 1962, seen from the perspective of the use of London Transport facilities from buses and tubes to long distance coach routes. Accompanied by extracts from BBC radio.  Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIgORp3Rvuc&ab_channel=JoanneHarris

An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981) https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082010/ Locations lovingly detailed here: https://www.reelstreets.com/films/american-werewolf-in-london-an/ and hunted down like prey here: https://www.movielocationhunter.co.uk/show/movie/an-american-werewolf-in-london

The Angel Who Pawned Her Harp (Alan Bromly, 1954) Shot at the Angel in Islington and in Haringey. “An angel finds that she needs money to fulfill her mission on Earth. Her only solution to this problem is to pawn her harp.“–IMDB https://www.reelstreets.com/films/angel-who-pawned-her-harp-the/

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (Thorold Dickinson, 1939) Filmed at Wembley. Just kidding. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/arsenal-stadium-mystery-the/

Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011) Aliens invade the now-demolished Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle. A “perfect allegory of estate-demolition and the stigmatization of black working class youths.” —Oli Mould: see his article here: https://filmopolis.co.uk/attack-the-block-review/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_the_Block

Babylon (Franco Rosso, 1982) The Black experience in the UK in the 80s, reggae, sound system culture, family drama, police brutality and much more. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/babylon/

The Bed Sitting Room (Richard Lester, 1969) Post-nuclear apocalyptic film. Features Aldwych Tube and a submerged St Paul’s Cathedral. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/bed-sitting-room-the/

Beautiful Thing (Hettie MacDonald ,1996) Gay coming of age story set in the Brutalist housing estate of Thamesmead. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beautiful_Thing_(film)

Bend it Like Beckham (Gurinder Chadha, 2002) Filmed in Hounslow, Hayes, and Southall. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bend_It_Like_Beckham

Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (Douglas Hickox, 1968) Shot in Hampstead. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/bicyclettes-de-belsize-les/

Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966) Filmed in several locations around London including Greenwich and Notting Hill. Opening scene is at The Economist Building in St. James. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/blow-up-2/

The Blue Lamp (Basil Dearden 1950) Fantastic views of Harrow Road and Warwick Avenue/ Maida Hill area. See the blog ‘The Blue Lamp Then and Now.’ https://www.reelstreets.com/films/blue-lamp-the/

Breaking and Entering (Anthony Minghella, 2006) Jude Law plays a landscape architect with an office in King’s Cross at the dawn of its gentrification. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breaking_and_Entering_(film)

Britain at Bay (Harry Watt, GPO Film Unit 1940) Big Ben pictured behind barbed wire. http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/1315472/index.html

Career Girls (Mike Leigh, 1997) In which a very 90s futures trader shows off his fancy Canary Wharf flat. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/career-girls/

Chameleon Soho (Paul Des Salles, 1979) This one’s hard for me to watch. So many great things that have been lost in just the last few years. The original Patisserie Valerie … sigh. View it for free here: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-chameleon-soho-1979-online

Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006) Post-apocalyptic London in 2027 (we’re almost there) https://www.reelstreets.com/films/children-of-men/

The City (Ralph Elton, GPO Film Office1939) http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/999708/index.html

A City Crowned with Green (Reyner Banham, 1964) Watch it here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00sydsh/a-city-crowned-with-green

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971) Scenes shot in Thamesmead. The ‘Ludovico Medical Facility’ is in fact the Brutalist lecture centre at Brunel University in Uxbridge by John Heywood/Sheppard Robson. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/clockwork-orange-a/

Cosh Boy (Lewis Gilbert, 1953) Scenes in Hammersmith and Battersea. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/cosh-boy-reboot/

Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970) “15-year-old dropout Mike takes a job at Newford Baths, where inappropriate sexual behaviour abounds, and becomes obsessed with his coworker Susan.https://www.reelstreets.com/films/deep-end/

Desmond’s (Channel 4 sitcom, 1989-1994) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desmond%27s

Doctor in the House (Ralph Thomas, 1954) Gower St, UCL Main Building and Quad (posing as ‘St Swithin’s Hospital’), and Cruciform building – also used in subsequent Doctor films https://www.reelstreets.com/films/doctor-in-the-house/

East Meets West (Herbert Mason, 1936) “The son of a wealthy and powerful sultan is carrying on an affair with the wife of an infamous criminal. The father determines to end the affair, erase the shame of his son and bring the criminal to justice.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Meets_West_(1936_film)

Expresso Bongo (Val Guest, 1959) – Mostly Soho, but also Pimlico and White City. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/expresso-bongo/

Fahrenheit 451 (François Truffaut, 1966) Lots of wonderful futuristic locations, but the Alton Estate in Roehampton is the star. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/fahrenheit-451/

Festival in London (Philip Leacock, 1951) Watch the film about the 1951 Festival in the National Archives collection here: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/films/1945to1951/filmpage_fil.htm

Free Cinema (BFI Box Set) http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/444789/index.html

Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972) Misogynistic violence in pre-touristification Covent Garden. Fabulous shots along the Thames too. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/frenzy/

Gideon’s Way (TV Series, 1964-1966) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gideon%27s_Way

The Green Man (Robert Day and Basil Dearden, 1956) Shot largely in and around Holborn. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/green-man-the-2/

Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009) Excessively violent revenge thriller set in the Heygate Estate at Elephant and Castle. Fulfills a checklist of Daily Mail stereotypes, cramming in stigmatisation and demonisation of social housing, the working class, and the young. It’s on this list because it’s useful to show how prejudice is mobilised against the urban fabric of working class neighbourhoods. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn this film was paid for in full by the real estate financiers who replaced the Heygate with ‘luxury’ flats. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Brown_(film)

Heart of the Angel (Mollie Dineen, 1989) – Documentary about Angel Tube station. Really good, acclaimed documentary and maker. Watch it here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0074tkn

Hidden City (Stephen Poliakoff, 1987) Wide variety of locations around London. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/hidden-city/

High Hopes (Mike Leigh, 1988). Filmed in King’s Cross and other locations. Lloyd’s Building in Leadenhall appears in a cameo. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/high-hopes/

High-Rise (Ben Wheatley, 2015). Ostensibly about London, but filmed in Belfast and Bangor. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Rise_(film)

Hue and Cry (Charles Crichton, 1947) An Ealing comedy about children solving a heist, shot on location in a bombed out City/East End. Great, sweeping shots of the Docklands. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/hue-and-cry/

I Love This Dirty Town (Margaret Drabble, 1969) Watch it here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00rzvqv

It Always Rains on Sunday. I think this is in Camden.

It Always Rains on Sunday (Robert Hamer, 1947) Kentish Town and Whitechapel. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/it-always-rains-on-sunday/

Joanna (Michael Sarne, 1968) Multiple London locations including Paddington, Kensington Gore, and the South Bank. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/joanna/

Jubilee (Derek Jarman, 1978) Huge variety of London locations including Greenwich, Deptford, Kensington, and Bermondsey. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/jubilee/

A Kid for Two Farthings (Carol Reed, 1955) Many detailed scenes in Petticoat Lane. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/kid-for-two-farthings-a-2/

The Knack … and How to Get It (Richard Lester, 1965) Knightsbridge, Warwick Avenue, Campden Hill Water Works, Holland Park. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/knack-and-how-to-get-it-the/

Ladies Who Do (C.M. Pennington-Richards, 1963) Camberwell, Battersea, Kew, among others. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/ladies-who-do/

The Ladykillers (Alexander Mackendrick, 1955) Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers in the classic Ealing Comedy set in King’s Cross. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/ladykillers-the/

Aerial view of King’s Cross from The Ladykillers

The Lavender Hill Mob (Charles Crichton, 1951) Lavender Hill plays itself in this classic heist movie; well, at least you think it would, but this is filmed in various locations including Gunnersbury Park and Notting Hill. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/lavender-hill-mob-the/

The Leather Boys (Sidney J. Furie, 1963) An early sympathetic portrayal of a gay character in British film. As it features motorcycling, there are many street locations across London from Kingston to Canning Town and some great shots of the venerable biker spot The Ace Café (still standing, but with altered signage).  https://www.reelstreets.com/films/leather-boys-the/

The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock, 1927) June Tripp and Ivor Novello in Alfred Hitchcock’s first suspense film, “a story of the the London fog”. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/lodger-the-1927/

London, Robinson in Space, and Robinson in Ruins (Patrick Keiller 1994, 1997, and 2010). This trilogy comprises three of the finest films ever made about London. The first two are narrated by Paul Scofield and the third by Vanessa Redgrave. They express London through a landscape sensibility, unfolding meaning through relationships across vast time and space through Sebaldian methods that combine fact, fiction, and memoir. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_(1994_film)

London Can Take It (Harry Watt and Humphrey Jennings, GPO Film Unit, 1940) http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/443913/index.html

London Fields (Matthew Cullen, 2018) I have to admit that, from a cursory glance through the film stills on IMDB, this looks like a truly terrible film, but hey, it’s got a scene shot at the top of the Gherkin. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1273221/

London in the Raw (Arnold L. Miller and Norman Cohen, 1964) Exposé inspired by Mondo Cane. Followed by the sequel Primitive London (see below). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_in_the_Raw

The London Nobody Knows (Norman Cohen, 1969) An absolute classic, this, and an insightful document about London. With James Mason. Watch here: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5h8w0mA 45-minute trippy documentary of late 1960’s London and is a fascinating time capsule of the remnants of a bygone age before Londons’s extensive redevelopment in the late 1960’s.” https://www.reelstreets.com/films/london-nobody-knows-the/

A London Trilogy ( Paul Kelly and Saint Etienne, 2013) Finisterre: A Film About London (2003) is probably the best of the three music-driven London films by the band Saint Etienne. It’s set in East London as is What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day? (2005). This is Tomorrow (2007) features the renovations of the Festival Hall/Southbank Centre. They’re available in a box set as A London Trilogy: http://www.saintetienne.com/london-calling-a-london-trilogy/

London’s Green Heritage (Director unknown, 1948) A documentary about London’s parks. Watch it here: https://www.londonsscreenarchives.org.uk/title/1093/

London’s Green Heritage

London Symphony (Alex Barrett, 2017) A recent silent film in the ‘city symphony’ genre celebrating London. “A poetic journey through the life of a city”. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6974916/

London: The Modern Babylon (Julien Temple, 2012) Archive footage and voiceovers construct this kaleidoscopic portrait of London. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1937419/

The Long Arm (Charles Frend, 1956) West End, Chelsea, Great Queen Street, Hammersmith, and many other locations. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/long-arm-the-2/

The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie, 1980) Rightfully celebrated gangster thriller set in London’s blasted docklands, starring Helen Mirren and Bob Hoskins. This is a must-see. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/long-good-friday-the/

Tower Bridge photo-bombs The Long Good Friday

Look Back in Anger (Tony Richardson, 1959) Atmospheric Holloway, Romford, Harlesden, Acton, and Dalston locations. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/look-back-in-anger/

The Magic Christian (Joseph McGrath, 1970) Chelsea, Fulham, and Putney. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/magic-christian-the/

A Man About the House (Leslie Arliss, 1947) St John’s Wood, Euston Road, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast (unfortunately the last two are not in London). https://www.reelstreets.com/films/man-about-the-house-a/

The Man Who Haunted Himself (Basil Dearden, 1970) City, South Bank, St James, Mayfair, Chiswick. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/man-who-haunted-himself-the/

Melody (Waris Hussein, 1971) Set in Lambeth. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/melody-aka-swalk/

Metro-land (Edward Mirzoeff, 1973) John Betjeman’s film poem and guide to the Metropolitan Line made for television. Watch it here: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5i3sp7

Misfits (2009) Channel 4 drama set in Thamesmead. https://www.channel4.com/programmes/misfits

Momma Don’t Allow (Karel Reisz, 1956) This short film by the late great Karel Reisz is a perfect rendition of working-class youth having a night out in 1950’s London https://www2.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b69e93c9d

Mona Lisa (Neil Jordan, 1986) Bob Hoskins may well be a synecdoche for London. This is another true great, that roves all over a luscious, grubby London with a coda in Brighton. Just check out all these glorious moments on Reelstreets: https://www.reelstreets.com/films/mona-lisa/

My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears, 1985) Punk meets Pakistani, queer love in a laundrette ensues. Totally wonderful. Particularly interesting in relation to Nine Elms development and what has been lost. There is an article by the BFI about the London locations of the film here: https://www2.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/my-beautiful-laundrette-locations https://www.reelstreets.com/films/my-beautiful-laundrette/

My Beautiful Laundrette, 11 Wilcox Road, Lambeth

Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993) Perhaps David Thewlis’s finest moment in film; he plays a repellent anti-hero. Shot in Dalston, Southwark, Soho, and Fitzrovia. Its most famous scene, an edgy encounter with a security guard, is shot in Ariel House (described as a “post-modernist gas chamber”) at 74a Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107653/

Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950) Shot in and around Leicester Square and Covent Garden, this film precedes Dassin’s heist film Rififi. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/night-and-the-city/

Nightbirds (Andy Milligan, 1970) Set in and around Spitalfields. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/nightbirds/

No Two the Same (1970) Ian Nairn’s Pimlico films on Churchill/Lillington Gardens; a moment perfectly caught. Watch for free here: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-ian-nairn-1970-online

Notting Hill (Roger Michell, 1999) Sentimental romcom set in West Ham. Just kidding. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/notting-hill/

The Old Kent Road (Van Dyke Brooke, 1912) Silent short film. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0222243/

The Old Kent Road (British Pathé, 1971) “Travelling shots from vehicle driving down Old Kent Road showing school, road systems, wasteland, shops, blocks of flats, pubs, bus stops and advertising hoardings. Various shots graffiti on front of shop reading “Millwall”. ” Watch it here: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/old-kent-road

The Old Kent Road (Ian Parkin, 2014) Documentary telling the story of one of London’s oldest roads. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4697238/

Oliver! (Carol Reed, 1968) All filmed in recreations of London on elaborate soundstages at Shepperton Studios, including a scene with a steam railway. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/oliver/

Omnibus: The River Bob Hoskins takes Barry Norman on a truly brilliant walk on the South Bank – the reality of redevelopment “makes the Long Good Friday look like a story out of Winnie the Pooh”. Watch it here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/hoskins-london/zmgmd6f

The Optimists of Nine Elms (Anthony Simmons, 1973) Battersea, Nine Elms, and Peter Sellers. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/optimists-of-nine-elms-the/

Ours to Keep (1985) Dan Cruickshank presents a BBC programme on the restoration of Georgian houses in Spitalfields. Watch it here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00t3f42/ours-to-keep-incomers

Paddington (Paul King, 2014) Views of various London sites: Paddington Station, obviously, and also the Natural History Museum. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1109624/

A Palace for Us (Tom Hunter, 2010) A short film about the lives of residents of Woodberry Down Estate in Hackney. Watch an excerpt here: https://www.serpentinegalleries.org/whats-on/a-palace-for-us/ : http://www.tomhunter.org/a-palace-for-us/ 

Passport to Pimlico (Henry Cornelius, 1949) Pimlico becomes independent from the rest of Britain. Actually shot on a set built on a bomb site in Lambeth.  https://www.reelstreets.com/films/passport-to-pimlico/

The Pedway: Elevating London (Chris Bevan Lee, 2013) Excellent short film about the elevated walkways still remaining in the City of London, originally planned to raise pedestrians up off the street. View it here: https://vimeo.com/80787092

Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960) Much is filmed in and around Fitzrovia. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/peeping-tom/

Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, as seen in Peeping Tom. The Newman Arms at the top of Newman Passage is visible to the centre left.

Perfect Friday (Peter Hall, 1970) Grovesnor Crescent, Hyde Park Corner. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/perfect-friday/

Performance (Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg, 1970) Various scenes all over London in this psychedelic classic. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/performance/

Permissive (Lindsay Shonteff, 1970) “Groupie girls who really want to make it big!” https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066216/

Piccadilly (E.A. Dupont, 1929) Silent film starring Anna May Wong. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/piccadilly/

A Place to Go (Basil Dearden, 1963) Set in Bethnal Green. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/place-to-go-a/

The Ponds (Patrick McLennan & Samuel Smith, 2018) Documentary about the swimming ponds on Hampstead Heath. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7702314/

Pool of London (Basil Dearden, 1951) “A drama of the river underworld”. Wonderful locations shot in the City of London. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/pool-of-london-2/

Postcards from London (Steve McLean, 2018) Camp, colourful, queer sex work melodrama set in Soho. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postcards_from_London

Primitive London (Arnold Louis Miller, 1965) https://player.bfi.org.uk/rentals/film/watch-primitive-london-1965-online

The Proud City: A Plan for London (Ralph Keene, 1946) J.H. Forshaw and Patrick Abercrombie present the new (then) Plan for London. Available for free on the BFIPlayer here: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-proud-city-a-plan-for-london-1946-online

Patrick Abercrombie positively radiates midcentury male credibility.

Radio On (Christopher Petit, 1979) Atmospheric road movie with great shots of West London and a superb soundtrack (and a cameo appearance by a very young Sting). https://www.reelstreets.com/films/radio-on/

Robbery (Peter Yates, 1967) Railway heist movie about the Great Train Robbery. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/robbery/

Robinson in Ruins (Patrick Keiller, 2010) The third of the trilogy, and I think the best. Narrated by Vanessa Redgrave. See London https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1714893/

Robinson in Space (Patrick Keiller, 1997) see London. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120028/

Rocks (Sarah Gavron, 2019) Snapshot of east London life from a teenage girl’s perspective – collaboratively made. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocks_(film)

Rude Boy (Jack Hazan & David Mingay, 1980) Film starring The Clash. Rated X presumably for a scene of simulated fellatio. Joe Strummer features prominently in a variety of London locations including Brixton and Covent Garden. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/rude-boy/

The Sandwich Man (Robert Hartford-Davis, 1966) Millwall, Somers Town, Lambeth, Billingsgate, London Wall, Tolworth, St Paul’s, and Holborn. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/sandwich-man-the/

Scandal (Michael Caton-Jones, 1989) South Bank and Bayswater. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/scandal/

The Scene from Melbury House (British Transport Films, 1973) Shot in fragments (with odds and ends of film stock) from the roof of Melbury House, just adjacent to Marylebone Station, this is a magical bird’s-eye and long-shot view of London. There is a description on the BFI website here and the film is available to view for free here: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-the-scene-from-melbury-house-1973-online

Battersea Power Station chuffing away beyond the clocktower of Marylebone Station

Battersea Power Station chuffing away beyond the clocktower of Marylebone Station in The Scene from Melbury House (1973).

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (Bryan Forbes, 1964) Filmed in Staines, Hythe End, and Wimbledon with notable scenes on the London Underground. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/seance-on-a-wet-afternoon/

Sebastian (David Greene, 1968) Cold war thriller with some great scenes on the walkways in the City of London. Film is very uneven but watchable. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/sebastian/

Seven Days to Noon (John Boulting and Roy Boulting, 1950) Central London. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/seven-days-to-noon/

Small Axe (Steve McQueen, 2020) A series of five utterly masterful short films set in London’s West Indian community. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_Axe_(anthology)

Shakespeare in Love (John Madden, 1998) Well, it wouldn’t be early Modern London without shots of the Globe Theatre, now would it? (Spoiler: not the original Globe) https://www.reelstreets.com/films/shakespeare-in-love-ready/

Sparrows Can’t Sing (Joan Littlewood, 1963) East End romp with Barbara Windsor. Shadwell, Woolwich, Stratford. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/sparrows-cant-sing-2/

The Street (Zed Nelson, 2019) Thoughtful portrait of working class life and encroaching gentrification on Hoxton Street. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Street_(2019_film)

Streetwise (Mark Phillips, 1996) Film about London cab drivers preparing for the comprehensive examination known as “The Knowledge”. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1306584/

Terry on the Fence (Frank Godwin, Children’s Film and Television Foundation, 1986) “A mixed-up, teenage runaway becomes involved with a tough teenage street gang and its lawless activities while trying to find a way to redeem himself.”–IMDB Set in London’s Docklands and much gentler than The Long Good Friday. Great aerial shots in the credits. Greenwich, Deptford, Poplar. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/terry-on-the-fence-childrens-film-foundation/

Thamesmead 1968 (Jack Saward-Greater London Council 1968) GLC film about the planning for the Thamesmead development. View for free here: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-thamesmead-1968-1968-online

That Kind of Girl (Gerry O’Hara, 1963) “Austrian au pair girl comes to London as the 60s are on the brink of swinging, dabbles in CND and receives a dose of VD.” — Reel Streets. Fitzrovia, Kensington, Chelsea. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/that-kind-of-girl/

To the World’s End: Scenes and Characters on a London Bus Route (BBC, 1985) This short film follows the route of the no. 31 bus from Camden Town to World’s End in Chelsea. View it here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0074ry7

Top People (ITV, 1960) Workers on London’s High Rises. https://www2.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b79dd6806

Underground (Anthony Asquith, 1928) Chelsea, Bakerloo Line, Brompton Park Road https://www.reelstreets.com/films/underground/

Utopia London (Tom Cordell, 2010) Documentary about architects such as Kate Mackintosh who built some of London’s finest and most interesting social housing. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1757922/

We Are the Lambeth Boys (Karel Reisz 1959) Thoughtful and sympathetic portrayal of working class lives in Lambeth on the verge of the 1960s. View for free here: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-we-are-the-lambeth-boys-1959-online

We are the Lambeth Boys

The Winstanley Plays Itself (Aileen Reed) This wonderful short film from the Survey of London explores the 1960s Winstanley Estate in Battersea to great effect. View for free here: https://vimeo.com/102127150

Wonderland (Michael Winterbottom, 1999) Set in Soho, Vauxhall, Crystal Palace, Selhurst Park, and South Norwood. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/wonderland/

The Wrong Arm of the Law (Cliff Owen, 1963) Soho, Mayfair, Buckinghamshire. https://www.reelstreets.com/films/wrong-arm-of-the-law-the/

Young Soul Rebels (Isaac Julien,1991) Superbly stylish Black and queer (and quintessentially London) story. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Soul_Rebels


Films for teaching architecture and planning: there’s a really great crowd-sourced and annotated list here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/19Sgcor0JF8rBBdrkDxsQAjlWWWzbRaIQRU1i2XluGEA/edit

And here’s a very thoughtful list by Jill Stewart of documentary films about housing, many of which feature London: https://www.jillstewarthousing.co.uk/learning-from-documentary-films/

Note: I’ve now removed the book and map lists to keep this section focused on film. I’ll get those posted up again under a different heading soon.

Thanks to:

@anonomia, @BardenGridge, @bonapart100, @clashy_girl, @DaubeneyT, @DawsonsHeights, @DollyG66, @EastLondonGroup, @ed25terror, @HistoryTown, @infrahumano, @KinondoniDSM,@linea_at_ftc, @Lucotter1, @Megthelibraria1, @planning4pubs, @psychojography, @stef18881, @terry61021, @tomdanewag, @TomPoyn, @un_Arch, @urbanpastoral, @WestminP, A2 Architects, Pam E. Alexander, Peter Barber, Myles Bartoli, Hannes Baumann, Duncan Bell, Alan Benzie, Matthew Berry, Danny Birchall, Gerald Blessington, Adam Borch, Iain Borden, Steve Bowbrick, Nick Bowes, Kathleen Brentford, Aidan Budd, Lucy Bullivant, Craig Burston, Eric Dolph, Richard Brown, Rob Cave, Aditya Chakrabortty, Tom Chivers, Shane Clarke, Robert Clayton, Steve Cole, CPRE London, Alan Crawford, Gillian Darley, Andrew Demetrius, Demolition Watch London, Directions Bas, Paul Dobraszczyk, Philip Downer, Michael Edwards, Fiona Fieber, Jason Finch, Suzy Fisher, Jonathan Ford, Justin Fowler, Samantha M Fox, Adam Nathaniel Furman, Leonid Furr, Rachel Genn, Alice Grahame, John Grindrod, Felicity Hall, Lucy Hall, Dan Hancox, Ewan Hannah, Danielle Hewitt, Frederick Guy Holmes, Garry Hunter, Colin Hynson, Jake Ireland, Catrin James, Bryony Jameson, Will Jennings, Oskar Johanson, Lyndon Jones, Just Space, Tom Keene, Richard Knight, Bec Lambert, David Landau, Paul Lincoln, Andrew Lockett, Freddie Lombard, Carya Maharja, Thomas and Ingrid Marlow, Alison Martin, Matty Massi, Christopher McAteer, Ross McKinley, Darran McLaughlin, The Modernist Magazine, George Morgan, Janice Morphet, Max Morwell, Tim Morton, Oli Mould, Andrew John Nelmes, Nita Newman, Miranda Nieboer, Nilesh Patel, Jane Petrie, Christopher Pfiffner, Praxis Architecture, Emma Quinn, Katherine Ramsey, Omer Raz, Nicola Read, Tadeáš Ríha, Ben Rimmer, Sam Roberts (Ghost Signs), Suzy Robinson, Bryony Rudkin, Sibyl Ruth, Robert Sakula, David Samson, Jon Savage, Fred Scharmen, C.J. Schüler, Catherine Slessor, Bob L. Smith, Jonny Smith, Steve Smith, Jill Stewart, Matthew Sweet, Mark Tewdwr-Jones, Phil Tinline, Matthew Turner, Kieron Tyler, Steve Walker, Paul Watt, S.W. Whiteley, Owain D.H. Williams, Stacey N. Wing, Alan Wylie, Gail Wylie, Andy Yan, Alison Young

Trespass is Necessary to the Defence of Democracy

by Tim-Waterman on April 24, 2020, no comments

Today is the anniversary of the Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout on 24 April 1932. To celebrate the continuing legacy of this momentous event, I reproduce here an excerpt from my book chapter “Democracy and Trespass: Political Dimensions of Landscape Access”, published in Defining Landscape Democracy: A Path to Spatial Justice, edited by Shelley Egoz, Karsten Jørgensen, and Deni Ruggeri, published by Edward Elgar in 2018.

Bounding and Framing

The express link between history and geography is made clear when we say that history ‘takes place’, that movements of people and great conflicts often occur due to disputes over land and resources and conditions of scarcity. The link between history and geography is as reciprocal and relational as the link between humans and their environment is in the concept of landscape. Places are produced and framed by the historical events that occur within them. These determine the scale and tenor of events in such spaces into the future. This is not necessarily always an ‘organic’ progression, however, as the making of landscape has increasingly, in modernity, been tied to the wielding of power, as with the Enclosures in England (Thompson 2013; Williams 1973).

It is easy to naïvely assume that before the Enclosures and the planting of miles of hedgerows that demarcated its definitions that the British landscape was a largely boundless common land defined instead around centres of feudal power: the lord, the castle, the monarch. Firm definitions of territorial boundaries in Britain, however, predate the Enclosures quite considerably. The ancient pagan practice of ‘beating the bounds’, which continues to this day in many places in England and Wales, involves elders of a community accompanying youths on a circuit of the boundaries of the parish, and beating the children with sticks at landmarks along the way (Olwig 2002). Nowadays the beating is light and ceremonial, but the seriousness of understanding precisely where borders lay in case of dispute would have justified painful beatings historically. Where surveying is now the final arbiter of boundary disputes, this more abstract practice was preceded by one in which the body and its situation – its siting, its emplacement in context – were key to maintaining order. The bodily memory and experience of bounding are explicit in ways that reinforce the body’s profound part of human cognition. The senses, in this case excited to the point of pain, are fundamental to human meaning, identity and place.

This very visceral ‘knowing one’s place’ is both literal and figurative, and reflecting on this gives one a sense of what an outrage it was to the peasantry – physical, moral and spatial – that boundaries could be blithely rearranged by the wealthy, ‘landed’ classes in the Enclosures.

The peasantry, forced, often violently, off the land, became the urban proletariat in modernity, and now the underclass is defined by the desperately marginalised and often de-skilled poor or the precariat. The precariat is composed of those who are living at or below the subsistence level, lack job security, and are often in debt. For the peasantry, the proletariat and the precariat, the forces of oppression are tied directly to the practices of capitalism, and the project of the Enclosures must be seen to be one that is ongoing and unfinished, perhaps (though hopefully not) interminable.

Cultural historians Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker identify the oppression that has accompanied capitalist accumulation throughout modernity as ‘the three disabilities of terror’, which are at root three different problems with embodiment, emplacement and identity. These are: (i) the inability to name the oppressor (evident in forms of resistance and misplacement of anger in various forms of racism and xenophobia, for example); (ii) the desire for death (this is quite specifically engendered from the hopelessness of violence and enables people to give up their lives or those of others such as in gang warfare); and (iii) to become deracinated – specifically to be removed from place, culture and identity (Linebaugh and Rediker 2000, pp. 53–54, 60). What is disabled by terror, wherever it is deployed – which is virtually wherever it is conceivable – is the practice of alternative ways of living, often collective, and ‘popular attachments to liberty and the fullness of sensuality’ (ibid., p. 14) Curiously, the terror finds itself directed back upwards at the oppressor, as the fears of rebellion, crime or other transgressions born of the isolation germane to wealth and power is also a form of the terror of deracination.

Acts of Trespass

To know one’s place in a democracy is to know that one’s place is often on the other side of someone else’s fence. Trespass is necessary to the defence of democracy, as is the idea of utopia: the dream of a better world beyond those boundaries. Democracy is a constant pressure against the solidification of forms of authoritarian power, a solidification that is more often than not spatial and enclosing in its expression. Both hope and transgression – ‘a form of politics’ – are the primary forms this resistance takes (Cresswell 1996, p. 9). In politics, hope for the masses is tied to place and setting (and Michael Walzer (1992, p. 98) describes civil society as a ‘setting of settings’). Thus it is situated; topos drives change, and civil society functions in places as social and historical agent. It takes place. Peter Hallward writes, ‘Democracy means rule of the people, the assertion of the people’s will. Democracy applies in so far as the collective will of the people over-powers those who exploit, oppress, or deceive them. Abstracted from such relations of power and over-power, democracy is an empty word’. It is also an empty word when democracy is abstracted from the places people inhabit, and in which power and over-power are physically expressed.

Trespass, as it so often has been historically, is an embodied, emplaced rejection of global capital and its processes of abstraction and extraction – and disembodied dis-emplaced corporations and people – from the land-grabbing gentry of the early days of the Enclosures to the tax-dodging corporations who hide their money and existences in non-places, to the ‘people’ who own urban luxury flats or villas but who are never home. How can any of this be democratic?

Isolation (and splendid isolation) and its accompanying tendencies of bounding and defence breed fear, particularly the fear of trespass. On the other hand, isolation and fortification necessitate trespass in a democracy. Thus the fear of trespass is fully justified, as is the necessity of trespass. Democracy is the project of resisting certain forms of conservatism – in particular the form that seeks to preserve or to entrench structures of power, class (which nowadays may be read as ‘lifestyle’) and wealth, and their expression in landscapes.

In 1932, young members of the urban proletariat of Manchester and Sheffield, frustrated by a lack of access to the beautiful Peak District landscape around the summit of Kinder Scout (a point roughly equidistant from each city), demonstrated the power of trespass as part of the Right to Roam movement. Benny Rothman, one of the leaders of the group that undertook to trespass on the private land, guarded by keepers and used by a wealthy minority to shoot grouse, says of the group:

We were very young, almost entirely under 21. The established rambling clubs were of a far older age group, and had spent a lifetime in the rambling movement. We were impatient at the seemingly futile efforts so far made to achieve access to mountains. Conditions in towns were becoming more intolerable and unemployment, which stood at about four million, greatly added to our frustration. (Rothman 2012, p. 21)

The Manchester Ramblers’ Federation, the more ‘established rambling club’, was hostile to the idea, afraid that it would antagonise the landowners and set the movement back (ibid., p. 20). Kinder Scout, once common land, but enclosed in 1830, was a highly visible but emphatically denied attractor to those ramblers seeking to escape the smoke and crowding of the industrial cities. The ramblers must have felt the constriction of the industrial city in a very real, bodily way. The 24th April 1932 was a clear, bright day, and the young crowd of working-class men and women took to the hills, ready to defy the keepers, who were armed with stout sticks. Rothman and his friend Woolfie Winnick led the group mounting Kinder Scout from the Manchester side, while another group made the ascent from Sheffield. Rothman and Winnick evaded a heavy police presence stationed to prevent them taking to the paths, and addressed the crowd at Bowden Bridge quarry. During the ascent the group grappled with the gamekeepers, but overcame them and walked much of the way to the peak. The ramblers enacted the freedom of access and the freedom to roam and thus won the right of both at Kinder Scout.

The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass was as much addressing problems of urban conditions and proletariat lives as it was addressing conditions in the countryside. The ongoing Occupy movement also embodies manifold meanings, reaching from physical urban places to structural conditions in geopolitics. In particular its actions at Zuccotti Park in New York from 17 September until 15 November 2011, at St Paul’s in London from 15 October 2011 until 14 June 2012, and at Gezi Park in Istanbul from 28 May until 15 June 2013 expressed the right for resistant bodies to occupy public places at the same time as they expressed a desire for a new global political order that excluded the practices of neo-liberal capitalism. Crucial to Occupy is the performance of democracy (Chomsky 2012). Horizontally and non-hierarchically organised, Occupy insists not on making specific demands, but rather demonstrating ‘its refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the existing political institutions’, and ‘to challenge the fundamental premises of our economic system’ (Graeber 2013, p. 99). Its goal is to show by example, by acting it out, that a better alternative to the current system of government manipulated by corporations, at best ignoring and at worst victimising the poor and serving the wealthy, is possible. David Graeber, one of the key figures of Occupy, calls this ‘prefigurative politics’: it is a politics of futurity in a utopian mode, and all the stronger for it. ‘Direct action’, he says, ‘is, ultimately, the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free’ (ibid., p. 233).

What both the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass and the actions of the Occupy movement demonstrate is an embodied and emplaced resistance to force, violence and enclosures through the assertion of equality – in place, through the use of the body, and through the projection of political imaginaries. This assertion is concrete in a way that that which it resists is not. State and corporate power are increasingly abstract – abstracted away from sources of real value to simple arithmetic measures as well as the physical abstraction of people and human processes from land. Urbanisation has effectively emptied the countryside of people in many places, making the rural landscape little more than a picturesque abstraction for a large segment of the population in the West. Of Henri Lefebvre’s famous statement about the ‘right to the city’, David Harvey (2013, pp. 3–4) writes:

[T]he question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the kind of people we want to be, what kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of life we desire, what aesthetic values we hold. The right to the city is, therefore, far more than a right of individual or group access to the resources that the city embodies: it is a right to change and reinvent the city more after our hearts’ desire. It is moreover, a collective rather than an individual right, since reinventing the city inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power over the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake ourselves and our cities is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.

I would argue further that the right to the city must be extended to a right to the country; that all people should have a right to the landscape, to make it and remake it ‘more after our hearts’ desire’.


Chomsky, N. (2012). Occupy. London and New York: Penguin.
Cresswell, T. (1996) In place/out of place: Geography, ideology, and transgression. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
Graeber, D. (2013). The democracy project: A history, a crisis, a movement. London and New York: Penguin.Hallward, P. ‘People and power: four notes on democracy and dictatorship’ Campagna, F. and Campiglio, E. (Eds.). (2012). What we are fighting for: A radical collective manifesto. London: Pluto Press, 61-72.
Harvey, D. (2013) Rebel Cities: From the right to the city to the urban revolution. London and New York: Verso.
Linebaugh, P. and Rediker, M. (2000). The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, slaves, commoners, and the hidden history of the revolutionary Atlantic. London: Verso.
Olwig, K. (2002) Landscape, nature, and the body politic: from Britain’s renaissance to America’s New World. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Olwig, K. (2011). The right rights to the right landscape? In Egoz, S., Makhzoumi, J., and Pungetti, G. (Eds.). The right to landscape: Contesting landscape and human rights (pp. 39-50). Farnham, Surrey, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Rothman, B. (2012). The battle for Kinder Scout including the 1932 mass trespass. Timperley, Cheshire: Willow Publishing. (First published as ‘The 1932 Kinder Trespass’ in 1982).
Thompson, E.P. (2013) Whigs and hunters: the origin of the Black Act. London: Breviary Stuff Publications.
Walzer, M. (1992). The civil society argument. In Mouffe, Chantal, (Ed.). Dimensions of radical democracy: Pluralism, citizenship, community. (pp. 89-107). London and New York: Verso.
Williams, R. (1973) The country and the city. Nottingham: Spokesman.

The Islecentrality of Philology: a review of Kenneth Olwig’s ‘Are Islands Insular?’

by Tim-Waterman on April 4, 2020, no comments

Kenneth R. Olwig’s essay ‘Are Islands Insular?’ appears in his insightful new book The Meanings of Landscape: Essays on Place, Space, Environment and Justice (Routledge, 2019). I reviewed this essay as part of a series of reviews of his book, which included reviews by Kent Mathewson, Tom Mels, Theano S. Terkenli, and Claudio Minca, and a response from Olwig. It is available here.

Early in 2006, two fishers, Sunder Raj and Pandit Tiwari lay in a drunken sleep after illegally fishing for mud crabs off the shore of North Sentinel Island in the Andamans. In the night they drifted onto the shore after their boat slipped its anchor. They were attacked and killed while they slept by the Sentinelese and buried in shallow graves on the beach. (Foster, 2006: n.p.) Some years later a similar fate awaited a missionary bent on fishing for souls rather than mud crabs. The isolation of the Sentinelese protects them from sexual exploitation, alcoholism, and Influenza, Measles and other diseases to which they have no resistance. The story of the Sentinelese seems to confirm every commonly held notion of insularity. It also, perhaps, helps to underscore the territoriality of the human species and of islands. Homi Bhabha tells us, ““Etymologically unsettled, ‘territory’ derives from both terra (earth) and terrēre (to frighten) whence territorium, ‘a place from which people are frightened off’” (1994: 99-100).

In ‘Are Islands Insular? A personal view’, in his new collection of essays The Meanings of Landscape, Kenneth R. Olwig (2019) challenges the contemporary conception of islands as insular. The essay purports to differ from his usual approach to the philological examination of landscape, rather he uses his “personal experience and background as an islander”—Staten Island, that is (ibid.: 89). Olwig, however, gets stuck right into literature and language in his preface, in which the meaning of choros is explored via Ptolemy, and a literary framework is established through mention of The Odyssey and Moby Dick. The essay does exercise a personal view, but through this seeks to define islands through the evaluation of the underlying actions and ideas that shape western understanding of them in much the same way etymology excavates words to find evidence of the actions and ideas contained within them. As such, then, this essay differs from Olwig’s usual philology primarily only through an increased intimacy of tone.

Olwig’s philology gains its power from its operation on three separate registers, each interdependent. “The philological approach taken here does not only have the traditional philological focus primarily on language and text, but also focuses on the semiotics of pictorial representation in relation to text,” he writes in his introduction (p. 3). His examination of the actions, processes, forces, and relations contained within words is not just augmented by a similar observation of imagery, but also acts on and interacts with the study of landscape forms, land uses, and place imaginaries. The stories written into places, told through wind and water, planting and harvesting, politics and justice, are explicated through a mode that broadens and deepens philology by an alignment with geography, topography, and chorography: a frame for thinking that, although Olwig has not himself used the term, I like to call toposophy. Olwig uses the term environmental geohumanities, which is useful, if clunky, but lacks the sense of a set of tools and ethics for structuring thinking held in the ideas of philology and toposophy.

If one thinks through word, image, and landscape form, it is clear that islands are insular, a point Olwig seeks not to refute, but to augment. Islands are isolated. Both of these terms arise from the Latin insula. The situation of the Sentinelese people exemplifies this. There are other ways of being islandic, though, that are radically different and that enrich the ways in which islands could be conceived. It is Olwig’s gift to the reader in all he writes, to provide not either–or, but both–and.

North Sentinel Island in the Andamans, aerial view. By NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided by the NASA EO-1 team. – https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/42136/north-sentinel-island-andaman-sea, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8955271

Olwig’s work has been a profound influence in my own thinking, writing, and teaching. His habits of relentless investigation and delightfully, imaginative word and image play (including elaborate puns) showed me I could nurture and gain from such practices already present within my work. Here is an example pertinent to the task at hand: When I teach about the British Isles in ancient times, I present my students with a north-up map view of Scotland and the tip of Norway, centered on the Orkney archipelago. Then, speaking of the difficulty of traveling over land in the interior and the naturalness of seafaring, I invert the map, which completes the process of forcing the students to see the island not as remote, but central from the perspective of a voyager on the North Sea, from the perspective Olwig calls “islecentrality.” “From the sea,” Olwig writes, “the world is made up of islands and peninsulas, and that which is unreachable by water is isolated terra incognita and the true home of insularity. The word for insularity should really be in-continentality” (p. 94). Olwig’s inversion (and his pun) here also helps to show the world in a profoundly different way. This does not, of course, negate the fact that, in the contemporary world such a place as Orkney can legitimately be seen as remote, insular, and isolated, but that it is also simultaneously and fruitfully near, embroiled, and central. Such manifold and often contradictory meanings are precisely and always what landscapes hold and display, a fact that helps to explain the plural meanings employed in the title of this book. Without various and contradictory meanings, word play would not be possible, and so the pun, much maligned as a witticism, can here be elevated to an emblem of an approach to thinking about landscape meanings philologically, toposophically, and playfully.

Orkney inverted, showing how different the view from the water and the island is from the mainland.








Over the past century or so, philology as a practice, as a mode, has fallen into obscurity. Olwig’s body of work, however, along with the work of several other writers who have been close to Olwig both intellectually and through friendship, including Ingold, Lowenthal, and Tuan, have worked, each in their own way, to reclaim the wide-reaching philological base of the (geo)humanities. Olwig’s work helps us to see philology not as a remote, depopulated island, but as a realm that, once one has escaped from the in-continentality of disciplinary silos, can be discovered as a field of intellectual endeavor with its own islecentrality, linking together all the islands and peninsulas into newly intelligible coastlines in an ocean of playful and profound knowledge.

Portolan chart: “The East Coast of Scotland with the Isles of Orkney and Shetland.”
1693? Collins Greenville (National Library of Scotland. https://maps.nls.uk/coasts/chart/178)


Bhabha, Homi K. (1994) The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge.
Foster, Peter (2006) “Stone Age tribe kills fishermen who strayed on to island”, The Telegraph, 8 Feb 2006. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/1509987/Stone-Age-tribe-kills-fishermen-who-strayed-on-to-island.html. Accessed 26 March 2019.
Olwig, Kenneth R. (2019) ‘Are Islanders Insular? A personal view’ in The Meanings of Landscape: Essays on Place, Space, Environment and Justice. London and New York: Routledge, 88-103.

Feasting is a Project

by Tim-Waterman on November 27, 2019, no comments

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, ‘The Peasant Wedding’ (1567)

This piece first appeared on the ‘Feasts for the Future’ website of the University of Plymouth’s Imagining Alternatives here. It appeared alongside other short pieces from such luminaries as Ruth Levitas, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Susan Parham, and I’m grateful to be in their company. It seems appropriate to post it here just in time for the autumn harvest feast.

In my tweens, my family made a trip from Harwich to Copenhagen on a cruise ship. It is the one and only trip on a cruise ship I’ve ever taken. Even though it lasted only a couple of days, it was dull, especially for a youngster. Every meal was a buffet, and every meal was enormous, overflowing the table. 1980s Britain was not exactly cornucopian in either the quality or quantity of the meals served. Still, when every meal is a feast, the excitement begins to wear off.

One evening in the ship’s cinema we were treated to a screening of the film ‘Quest for Fire’, which I admit I only dimly remember, as though in flickering cave-light and also queasily rocked by the sea. The film is set 80,000 years in the past and was filmed in the Scottish Highlands. The plot, narrated by the actors in a speculative prehistoric language created by Anthony Burgess (who speculated on future tongues, of course, in A Clockwork Orange), is necessarily thin, revolving around the possession of a carefully kindled germ of fire. Around that glowing nucleus, in the 80,000 years that would follow, would form the campfire, the hearth, the kitchen, the dining room, the feast.

The cooking of food, whether or not it started exactly 80,000 years ago or not, may be one of the most important moments in human cultural evolution. First of all, cooking food makes more nutrients available, and second of all cooking and eating together is very much at the heart of human association. Biological evolution is a series of more- or less-happy accidents–mutations. More than mere happenstance, cultural evolution has shape and direction. It has memory and it is concerned with the future. It is human. To understand the evolution of the feast as a form of human association coupled with a utopian drive, a little reimagining of prehistory is necessary.

A fair amount of biological evolution can happen in a few thousand years, but only cultural evolution can explain the exponential advances of the human species. Primatologist Michael Tomasello speaks about the ‘ratchet effect’, in which innovations are held in place while new innovations are geared up and advanced upon them. That ratcheting, for humans, begins with the campfire, the spear, maybe the atlatl, and various tools for digging at the earth to forage. Many parts of the earth provide generously, copiously for such hunting and gathering lifestyles. There is little reason, rationally, to culturally evolve from this luxurious state into sedentist agriculture. Farming is hard, risky work with long hours, and it developed in many fruitful parts of the world where it might be seen to be unnecessary.

But just as the campfire projects the possibilities of the hearth and the kitchen, so the digging stick imagines the garden. And the kitchen and garden are projects that require organisation. In short, cooking, gardening, and tending animals are interesting. They give people something to talk about; a reason for language, even. The campfire, the kitchen, the garden, and the herd provide a focus for human energies and a reason for human association. The quest for fire leads to a quest for conviviality, and conviviality may well be humanity’s great project.

As flame-roasted meats developed into ‘lunch’ and ‘dinner’, so too did primal nature become formed into landscape, and even more interesting project in total than mere lunch or dinner. And the cycles of time; day and night, season, hunt and harvest–the genius temporum that accompanies landscape’s genius loci–become frames for imagining delicious pasts and tasty futures. ‘We are all utopians,’ wrote Henri Lefebvre, ‘so soon as we wish for something better,’ and the next feast necessarily has to be lovelier.

So, like Kim Stanley Robinson’s article here on this same site [actually, it is here], I come to the potluck, that great dining invention. A potluck is interesting. It’s a project. It requires organisation. It is a frame for conviviality. Then, perhaps most importantly, it is emblematic of the form of evolution which Peter Kropotkin calls ‘mutual aid’. Kropotkin clarified Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’, stressing that the fittest relationships within species and among species were those which ensured the greatest advantage. For humans, stories become part of the advantage; stories about pasts and futures; stories about utopia. Our future feasts (and when I say ‘our’, I mean ‘all humans’) are often utopias; dreams of convivial living in shared landscapes.

Utopia is a drive with the same sort of shape and direction as that of cultural evolution. When Lefebvre speaks about utopia, he speaks of it as part of a work–an oeuvre. Though much of human life in landscapes, whether rural or urban, is composed of drudgery, routine, duty, and hardship, what is created collectively is often beautiful, even transcendent. If human history is a dull fabric, it is woven through with sparkling utopian threads, and when seen in total the drapery of its folds is an astonishment. Those sparkling threads are the emergence of the festival in the everyday, the utopian feasts in which an abundance of food and a surplus of art, music, and dance make the everyday worthwhile.

If human feasting in late capitalism has itself become drudgery, like the overflowing tables on that Danish cruise ship of my childhood, then it’s likely that a return to understanding the nature and the place of the feast as a human project is important. To make the feast interesting and fulfilling, it is not enough for food to magically appear in folkloric abundance, as it does in the land of Cockaigne, but it must be part of a planned project that is undertaken collectively. A feast is meaningless, its utopian significance eviscerated, if it isn’t part of a project that links the landscape (of finding and foraging, whether roots or cheese and chocolate as well as growing) with the kitchen with the table; place-making with companionship (from com-panis, breaking bread together) and commensality (coming together at table). All of life must be lived with one eye on the potluck.

Landscape and Citizenship

by Tim-Waterman on July 18, 2019, no comments

This is an article I wrote for Garden Design Journal last year to promote our symposium ‘Landscape Citizenships’. I’m now in the process, with Jane Wolff and Ed Wall, of working the whole thing up into a book.

A dozen years ago I added British citizenship to my US citizenship, trading up from a work visa when I entered into a civil partnership with my partner Jason. Jason was born and raised in Hong Kong, educated in Derbyshire and Nottingham, and he gained his British citizenship in 1997 when the colony was handed back to China. I grew up in a US Navy family, living in various ports all over the world. I no longer feel as though I belong to the USA (especially not to its current government) but neither do I feel quite British or English. ‘Londoner’ perhaps fits me best, and with my background I’m quite typical. I’m a citizen of London.

I know how to dwell in London. I can operate its landscape. I have learned its people and its customs. I stand aside and let people off the Tube before I board. I know all the shortcuts through my surrounding neighbourhoods. I’ve teased out plant roots to tuck them into London soil, and I’ve traded seeds and tools with other allotmenteers. I’ve acquired the habits that allow me to fit in here and that allow others to accept me as a Londoner. When people ask me where I’m from—and that’s a hard question to answer—it’s not with the assumption I’ll return there.

All places should be this way, offering legible and substantive landscape relationships that are local, regional, and particular, and that give human transplants a chance to root—belonging not just as lip service or abstract allegiance, but to a genuine sense of place. In the last twenty years, the idea of landscape has grown, in various disciplines such as geography and anthropology, and through the influence of the European Landscape Convention, to express a relationship—a landship—in which people are products of their places, and those places are their products. Thus the word ‘landscape’ has come to hold deeper and richer meaning than simply the description of a view.

The richness of the landscape idea also holds the sense that landscape is something mutually constructed and shared, which has sparked powerful new discourses around the ideas of landscape justice and landscape democracy—there is now even a Centre for Landscape Democracy in Norway. What is desired is that people, as part of their existences and as a way of linking to each other, learn the plants and animals and topography of their places.

Of course these ideas have particular purchase in larger landscapes with clear identities, such as the North York Moors or the Highlands, and in urban landscapes like Exeter or West Glasgow. However, there is also an important link to the garden, particularly those gardens that are shared, such as allotments, community gardens, and parks. Even private gardens, which taken collectively form a larger landscape, can be considered landscapes to which we belong, and in which we might find citizenship.

Last year I visited a beautiful community garden called Parckfarm (www.parckfarm.be/) in the tough Brussels neighbourhood Molenbeek. Its construction, by the community with the cutting-edge landscape practice Taktyk and with Alive Architecture, made a once derelict landscape available and legible to its very mixed and multi-ethnic community. How this garden is a community practice and how it has shaped shared identities is a more powerful and grounded form of citizenship than anything the pomp and circumstance of the Belgian state could provide. And in a time of rising nationalism and increasing migration, it’s a practice of belonging that is true and real and necessary—and rooted in the garden.

Even the small private garden offers opportunities to provide engaging relationships with landscape, and this can be realised through an approach to design which, instead of simply employing geometric strategies for scenic spacemaking, actively invites people to interact. Some of this may be accomplished by working through imaginative scenarios for how the garden might be used by adults, and especially by children. Plants, especially edible plants, particular to a region, might be used, and natural processes can be invited in—allowing frost to accentuate a slope or water to pool after a rain. Focusing garden design on use, action, and interaction is, perhaps, a first step to inviting people more fully into the rest of their immediate world as active participants, as citizens.

Flows off the Tongue: Charting climate change futures in ancient place names

by Tim-Waterman on August 4, 2018, no comments

Bawsey (‘Baew’s Island’, Norfolk. Image from https://waternames.wordpress.com/images-of-watery-places/

This article first appeared in Landscape Architecture Magazine in August 2017.

One of the joys of travel, even of armchair travel, is the discovery of euphonious place names. I’ve driven through both Humptulips, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and Quonochontaug, in Rhode Island. Both of these are names that flow off the tongue (well, with a little practice). This is an apt metaphor, given that both names describe the flow and flood—the hydrological characteristics of each site. Humptulips, in the tongue of the Chehalis Tribe, tells that it is “hard to pole” a canoe through the river, which follows a convoluted course that includes fast, narrow torrents, and Quonochontaug (Narragansett for “at the long pond”) is along a string of broad, placid coastal lagoons. 

The guide that Indigenous names can provide to landscape qualities and to human interactions with landscape may be followed anywhere such names have not been erased by the conquest of colonialism. This is no less true in Britain, where four British universities, Leicester, Southampton, Nottingham, and Wales have joined forces under a grant from the Leverhulme trust for a two-year study of place names called ‘Flood and Flow’. In Britain, an extra dimension to the record of place names provides a set of clues to how particular landscapes might respond to global warming in the near future. In the period between 700 and 1000 AD, temperatures in the British Isles rose rapidly after a cold phase that began in 400 AD. Extreme weather and an abundance of precipitation in this time is a historic parallel to our present-day situation, and thus the Anglo-Saxon names have once again become meaningfully descriptive of their sites. 

Image from https://waternames.wordpress.com/about/

Not only is this helpful, but a great many of Britain’s present place names were devised in precisely this period. So, though few written records remain from this time, even a modern map holds a hydrographic key to possible futures that have been written in the past. 

Some of these names have particular poignancy: Muchelney, in the Somerset Levels, was cut off during the extreme winter floods in 2013-14. Muchelney means ‘big island’. Communities along the River Swale in Yorkshire have increasingly frequent opportunities to find out that its name derives from Old English swalwe, meaning ‘gush of water’. The River Trent is “the trespasser”. 

Dr. Richard Jones at the University of Leicester is Flood and Flow’s Principal Investigator and a specialist in medieval landscapes. He explains how the project’s aims fit within a larger understanding of indigenous naming: “Place-names are used by all Indigenous, aboriginal and First Nations peoples to communicate information about the local presence, behaviour and characteristics of water. For these communities, such names helped them to share and pass on the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) gained through generations of observation of the flood and flow of water through their home grounds. As such, such names act as active makers of place rather than the passive markers of space they have become in the modern western mind.” TEK describes much of how we have come to understand landscape in recent years, as both maker of people and made by people.

Jones says, speaking of the project’s potential, “It is exciting to ponder how many possibilities might exist everywhere in the world to apply this knowledge—TEK—and to build a richer picture of both the lived and designed landscape from the poetry of original place names.” 

For the Flood and Flow website see https://waternames.wordpress.com/, and for an in-depth analysis, see Dr. Richard Jones’s paper “Responding to Modern Flooding: Old English Place-Names as a Repository of Traditional Ecological Knowledge” in the Journal of Ecological Anthropology, 2016.