Questioning the Community #1 Q.1&2

Last night was the first time in the project that I got to put my questions about life in S-o-T to the community. This took place at an Appetite planning meeting in Shelton where 40 or so members of the community across the 6 towns had come together to plan this Summer’s arts events.

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The 5 questions were a ‘test run’ of sorts, meant to confirm or challenge ideas I already have about life in Stoke, having I grown up there myself. They were also meant to gauge the response to some initial ideas I’ve had over the past month based on the research so far. The first two questions were these:

1. To you, Does Stoke-on-Trent feel like a city or a collection of joined up towns?

This is a bit of a trick question really, as Stoke-on-Trent is a city made up of 6 joined up towns, lined up along a coal seam. Unified just over a century ago, Stoke-on-Trent has no natural centre. For the purpose of unification the town closest to the geographical centre, Hanley, became the ‘city centre’ in all but name. The question, based on ideas of observation by the Sociological Art Collective and The Situationists International, was to see what people feel about the geography of their city. According to these art collectives, our relationship with our urban environment is essential to a good quality of life.
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As I suspected the majority of people still feel, after over 100 years, that Stoke-on-Trent is a collection of joined up towns and the majority of those people felt that that had a negative impact on the city.

2. If your town or city centre didn’t have any shops, what would be there instead?

This question was in response to some research I have done about the nature of our city centres. It has been said that the quantity and quality of shops in city centres makes our experience of it dull and predictable, turning us in to docile consumers, who’s only purpose in the city centre is to spend money. I wanted to see if people could imagine a city centre where we felt more free from this expectation.

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On the whole, the people I asked must have found this hard to imagine, as out of the 40 people I only got 10 replies, the lowest amount across the whole survey. It’s clear that we can no longer easily imagine what our town centres would be like without such a focus on consumerism, as it has become the norm, and sometimes sole purpose of these places. It is interesting to note that the majority could imagine parks and green space, arguably the direct opposite of what is there now. Gambling also featured highly, along with “drinking dens” and ‘brothels”. It seems that although people yearn for a more simple, natural city centre, they are fearful that removing massive shopping centres would allow darker/seedier pursuits to take over.

Your comments on this would be much appreciated. I will post about questions 3&4 in the coming days.

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