Leicester Urban Observatory

Urbanism in Focus, 12 October 2022

Event report

Urbanism in Focus was a one day exploratory event organised by Leicester Urban Observatory for LCB Depot’s Design Season. Academics and professionals came together to share ideas about Urbanism with different communities in Leicester. Four sessions were organised as follows:

9:00–11:00: Looking to learn about Leicester;

12:00–14:00: Working Lunch: Introducing food’s urban graphic heritage;

15:00–17:00: Urban research across the region;

18:00–20:00: Debate and discussion with professional societies.

9:00–11:00: Looking to learn about Leicester—Moat Community College. Closed session, led by Robert Harland and Justin Webber

The day began with a session for 40 pupils in year nine and year ten (13–15 year olds) studying Geography at Moat Community College in the inner city of Leicester. The session was introduced by Head of Geography, David Hill, and comprised a short presentation by Robert Harland (Loughborough University) and Justin Webber (Leicester City Council) that introduced Urbanism. This was followed by a quiz that encouraged pupils to identify landmarks in major world cities as well as local urban details in Leicester.

Global city images (left) and local details from Leicester (right). Picture quiz for pupils at Moat Community College, Leicester.(Photography: Robert Harland, various dates)

12:00–14:00: Working Lunch: Introducing food’s urban graphic heritage. Public session, led by Robert Harland

This second session invited participants to bring and eat lunch that held meaning for them and reflected their heritage, family, and lived experience. This could include places to eat or food from other countries. After a short introductory presentation, discussion with Architecture students from De Montfort University explored ways migrant communities represent themselves on high street fascia panels through graphic images that reflect their cultural identity.

Four Architecture students inquisitive about food’s urban graphic heritage

15:00–17:00: Urban research across the region. Public session, led by Jamileh Manoochehri and Stafano De Sabbata

This session was about academic research exchange across the region. Jamileh Manoochehri (De Montfort University) introduced the session and showed her research into the mapping of building facades on Granby Street. Frank Breheny (also De Montfort University) then introduced the work of final year Architecture students, many undertaking substantial projects in Leicester. Stefano De Sabbata (University of Leicester) shared research for everyday digital geographies of Leicester and Robert Harland (Loughborough University) introduced Urbanism research in graphic heritage, global and world cities, and the Delos network. Doctoral Researcher Yusra Ali (De Montford University) shared her research about The Public High Street, and Angelina Pan (Loughborough University) explained the concept of graphic landscaping.

Doctoral Researchers networking and presenting their studies

18:00–20:00: Urbanism in Focus: A public debate between built environment specialists on how we live together and interact in and around Cities – Public session, led by Grant Butterworth

This evening session concluded the day with a discussion between ‘urban practitioners’ and an audience of 20 people. Issues for debate included:

—Definitions of Urbanism;

—History of urban settlement and indigenous nomadic culture;

—Notions of what makes a place more or less urban;

—Audience members volunteered examples of good urban places (e.g. Edinburgh, Letchfield);

—The proliferation of sustainable urban extensions;

—Green field development;

—Branding of new housing estates.

Grant Butterworth chairs discussion between three urban practitioners

Three invited speakers biographies

Michael Hopkins is a Principal Planner in the Local Plans Team at Charnwood Borough Council.  Before working in local government he was a researcher in urban morphology at Birmingham University. He will provide a perspective on Urbanism reflecting on the relationship between Leicester, Leicestershire and Charnwood. He is interested in Urbanism as an emergent phenomenon linked to the parts and wholes that make up built form (bricks – walls – dwellings – street/neighbourhood – settlement) and the importance of difference and connections in its creation. He will explore  relationship of Leicester as the central city with Loughborough and the Soar Valley villages and how urban or not they are in terms of form and function.

Dave Singleton was originally a geographer and surveyor from the East Midlands. He stopped making maps and moved into landscape architecture some thirty years ago.  Latterly he has dabbled in urban design.  And even urbanism.  He set up DSA Environment + Design in Nottingham 2005.  DSA is currently working on a number of public realm projects including in Sheffield, Rotherham, Grimsby and a redesign of Maid Marian Way in Nottingham as well as several large housing schemes and healthcare settings.   Dave will introduce a perspective on Urbanism from the Landscape architect’s point of view. Dave teaches at Nottingham Trent University and University of Nottingham.  He is an author of Building for a Healthy Life and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.   His interest centres on how people engage with place, in particular the role of blue-green infrastructure in making places, and what this might mean for the health of people, creatures and the natural environment upon which these depend.  Dave considers Urbanism to be the study of people’s interaction with an urban (that’s to say in contrast to rural) environment.

Nils Feldmann set up Feldmann Architects after twenty years of working as a registered architect in London, Hamburg and Nottingham. Nils is currently the co-chair of the RIBA East Midlands region and a co-chair of the Design Review Panel for Design:Midlands. His portfolio includes architecture, urban design and interiors with an emphasis on offices and housing for commercial and private clients.

Acknowledgements: Urbanism in Focus happened through close collaboration and support from James Burkmar, LCB Depot Creative Workspace Manager. LCB Depot is run by Leicester City Council, City Development & Neighbourhoods, and Tourism, Culture & Investment.