Sunday, 6 January 2013

URIC: Understanding our environment through experience

Here is the overview of the project for 2013
A series of walks and wades for students and academics over the last few years along the River Ravensbourne in South East London has now evolved into 'Urban Rivers in Context', a more coherently structured access-to-nature project. I was asked initially in 2010 to take a group of students from UCL for a wade along the river to explain my thesis 'From First to Second Nature: A study of the River Ravensbourne in South East London'. Some of the themes that have been explored on these early walks have been perceptions of wilderness, citing some of William Cronon's work; river regeneration and the question of 'regenerate to what?' and a discussion around the subjectivity of such projects; a little bit of political ecology and an introduction to Actor Network Theory, citing Noel Castree's work on the River Cole and finally some theoretical interpretations of nature's battle against development and the use of nature as a resource under capital. While these may sound 'heady', especially ANT, which I've often found a little intense, there is a good deal to be gained from getting waders on, getting into the water and letting nature come to you.
UCL MSc students 2011
More recently I've taken a small group of academics from UCL and University of Manchester and University of Chicago for a few hours visiting regeneration sites for an urban ecology/urban planning based walk/talk. One member of the group, Prof. Matthew Gandy (UCL), has a particular interest in urban ecology and also landscape and art and the evolution of Sutcliffe Park proved to be of particular interest as there has been a marked evolution from a straightforward river habitat into a wetland, thus bringing in a wider range of flora and fauna. Also, from a political ecology standpoint, there was great interest in the role of the Quaggy Waterways Action Group and other volunteer groups in making the case for regeneration there in the first place.
Landscape and art is a new area of development for Urban Rivers in Context in 2013. The landscape in and around urban rivers is constantly shifting, it is never a neutral or objective medium but one continuous with the act of perception. The riparian environment may be a rich palimpsest of cultural, social and industrial history but the constant movement of changing populations of flora and fauna and slower rise and fall of urban development also create a fertile ground for shaping and interpreting the landscape. City & Guilds School of Art have expressed an interest in bringing groups of students down to the river this year. Viewing an urban environment from within the river creates a completely different perception of the world around us and it is hoped that some interesting work will come out of this particular engagement.
UCL MSc ESS wade 2012

All wades and walks are fully risk assessed, equipment is provided and, where possible, back-up will be provided by Lewisham's Ecological Regeneration office. If you would like a walk or wade for a group along this river then please email your requirements to Lawrence Beale Collins and I'll send more information and a costing structure. Thank you, LBC 2013