Clare & Rosie went for a wander

Clare and Rosie go for a wander
Clare and Rosie go wiggly walk-about in St Loyes, 28 July 2017.

Back when I was still thinking about what a programme of public in art in St Loyes might look like, I went for a wander around the ward with Rosie King. Rosie is an environmental artist with an interest in place and its buildings. I first came across her in 2015 when she was chalking on the pavement of Princesshay. It turned out she was drawing the outline of the Exeter Phoenix, Thomas Sharp’s plans for rebuilding Exeter after World War II.

We found a great deal to mull over:

  • St Loyes as the digestive system of Exeter, the source of much of what it needs: water, energy, comms companies have offices there; Sowton supplies building materials, Amazon, Booker; police, fire, ambulance have bases.
  • St Loyes is on the east side of the city; it’s where the sun rises and the day starts.
  • Transience & liminality: arterial routes bounding or cutting through; holiday makers on change-over day at the J30 services; shoppers at Exe Vale retail park; boulders placed against travellers.
  • Urban design priorities, and subverting them: road crossings fit with cars rather than people on foot; desire paths where the crossings are made anyway; men in hi-vis jackets, using the boulders as a smoking stop; the homeless man making a camp.
  • Green space: all the trees and mini-wildernesses, and dens; pockets of green and biodiversity; picnic tables and benches dotted around Sowton.
  • Different areas of knowledge held by different people: where to forage for cherries, plums and blackberries; where parking spots for campervans are available.
  • ‘Waves of immigration’ and its associated architecture: pre-war council housing; suburbs of the 1960s and 1970s boom; new suburban in-fill estates, building on the green lungs.
  • Signage: restricting parking; designated activity zones; rules in playgrounds and other possibly community space.

Here are Rosie’s photos of suburban architecture through the ages…

…and mine of pockets of green space.

Subversion

Last year, Rosie King and I took a wander around St Loyes, noticing and thinking about the built and natural environment, and how we inhabit our space.

At lunchtime, on a green verge in Sowton industrial estate, we saw some workmen in their hi-vis resting on a line of boulders and having a smoke. At the time, the boulders spoke to us of exclusion; they are there to prevent travellers from parking up on the verge. But later, we saw campervans parked up in another part of the industrial estate. The owners of the campervans knew where they could park, and this led us to think further about subversion.

Sowton Industrial Estate isn’t just a group of large industrial, office and retail buildings where people drive to go to work or shop. Some people live there, a lot of nature lives there, and the green pockets are quite productive. Rosie and I did our own minor bit of subversion by foraging for blackberries along one hedge. The boundaries are blurred.

How do you behave in your space? Do you obey all the signs? Flout them? Take them overly literally? Do you follow the unwritten rules… how tidy do you keep your garden compared to your neighbours?! How much do you respect boundaries, between public, community and private, or different types of land use? Do you play in it, and make faces out of old quarry faces?

St Loyes is very much designed for the car, but there are many signs of subversion here too. Rosie and I saw and followed many desire paths, paths made by people taking the easiest route between places. The best example of these desire paths are between the pedestrian crossings at the traffic junctions on the Rydon Lane ring road, which are located according to design for the car, not for the people using them. On either side of the dual carriageway, the footpaths from the offices of Pynes Hill and the Exe Vale Retail Park actually emerge about halfway between the crossings. And so there are many paths in the grass verge where office workers have simply taken the most direct route to cross.

St Loyes may be designed for the car, but real people are subverting this all the time. How instead can we design for people? Maybe we should start with these desire paths by putting up some street signs!

Tranquility

In a ward that is mostly council housing, suburbs, industrial and retail park, and motorway services, tranquility might seem to be at a premium. Yet there are many pockets of green space in St Loyes. One of my ideas for this art programme is to hold some St Loyes Random Picnics, or SLuRPs for short! They would be an opportunity for residents and workers to visit measure the air quality, noise, and the types of transport used in the area.

Last year’s wander around St Loyes with Rosie King revealed where people spend their time, and their rest time. At lunchtime in Sowton, for example, we noticed a group of workmen in hi-vis resting on the boulders lining a grassy roadside, and having a smoke. These pockets of green, in the middle of a roundabout, or on a green verge in an industrial estate, are not particularly tranquil in themselves, but they are relatively tranquil compared with the workplace or the surrounding area.

So what is the best use of limited local government budgets? I reckon people would benefit most if these relatively tranquil spaces could be improved, rather than putting the money into those already recognisably tranquil spaces.

Where are your tranquil places? Where do you forage for cherries, plums and blackberries? Or perhaps that’s a closely-guarded secret! Why not share some photos of your regular and favourite spots on Exeter City Future’s #tranquilcity map.

Where might you suggest holding a random picnic? My ideas include: tree henge at M5 J30 services; old quarry face and green space at Britten Drive off Quarry Lane; water tower at Exe Vale; green space by the old Digby Asylum; derelict patch of land by the Toby Carvery; middle of Middlemoor roundabout; playgrounds; triangle between Rydon Lane, slip road, and A379 spur

Rosie and I found all sorts of green in Sowton: trees and mini-wildernesses, and dens; pockets of vegetation and biodiversity; picnic tables and benches dotted around. Wandering round the suburban parts, however, I was remembering all the open space and field that has now been built on, even in the 15 years I lived here! It’s affecting both out physical and mental health. We are building on the lungs of Exeter that filter out air pollution, and losing access to that green space that boosts our mood.

Let’s inhabit, celebrate, and preserve the green and the tranquility that we have!