Warwick Road wilderness

Following the “Minecraft my home” meet-up, my local councillor Peter Holland made the following request:

What I am hoping to do is show the Planning Committee what will be ‘lost’ if a footpath is constructed along the back of the proposed DCH/Cygnet housing development. It is only a very small strip of land which borders the gardens of the odd numbers from 41 [Warwick Road]. At present the path alongside the garden boundaries is locked outside of school hours.

The land at the rear of the gardens is currently a copse of established hazel trees, some of which are rooted in what appears to be a dilapidated Devon hedge. It is a refuge for wildlife, attracting a wide variety of birds including, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Long Tail Tits, Coal Tits, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Wren, Starling, Robin, Blackbird, Blackcap, House Sparrow, and Woodpigeon. Sparrow hawk are also occasionally seen in the local area. A number of bird species are currently using the trees and bushes for nest sites. Birds can be seen throughout most of the day foraging in the leaf litter or in the branches of the trees. During the summer months, bats are regularly found in our garden, which suggests that they may be roosting very close to the current vegetation. Bats have been witnessed flying in the gardens and the adjacent land this year from the 24 April.

It is noted that an ‘ecology zone’ is proposed within the north-east area of the housing development, but it seems illogical to destroy an established wildlife area by paving it with tarmac only to establish a new ‘ecology zone’ elsewhere. It was also noted that the environmental survey performed described a very limited array of birdlife. Quite clearly the area behind the gardens has a high level of biodiversity beyond that which was originally surveyed.

If the copse were to become a public path with access 24 hours a day, there is a security and vandalism risk to properties and boundary fence and the risk of noise from rowdy members of the public which would impact residents’ privacy. If street lighting were to be installed along the footpath, there is obvious risk of light pollution through residents’ windows.

What I would be grateful for is a Minecraft showing what the copse could look like.

Peter and I paid a site visit on Friday 22nd June, and we were joined by Mark from Exeter City Futures. I had just enough time to put together a Minecraft wilderness before the Planning  Committee meeting on the Monday.

A narrow dirt path winds through mossy stones, tall trees and saplings, creepers, ferns, grasses, fungi, and a few flowers, and eventually gets lost in the undergrowth. My version of Minecraft is a bit limited in terms of bird species, so I had to be content with releasing bats, cats, and rabbits, and a few spider webs.

It’s a small example of how Minecraft can be used to imagine our place, to the extent of forming part of an official planning meeting! Here are some real life photos, Minecraft screenshots before and after, and a video walk-through.

It’s Minecraft, but is it art?

Here are two works of art that I have installed in the St Loyes Minecraft world. What others would you like to see? Maybe Anthony Gormley’s “Angel of the North” on a high point in Ludwell Valley Park? Or “A Line Made by Walking” by Richard Long? Or you could make your own.

The Tate’s purchase in 1972 of “Equivalent VIII” by Carl Andre triggered one of the most famous public debates in Britain about contemporary art. You may also know “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, and his description of the Vogon Constructor Fleet: “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” It seemed like a fun idea to combine the two above Middlemoor roundabout!

Carl Andre / H2G2 crossover

Minecraft lends itself to reproducing more geometric art, like that of Piet Mondrian. It’s just slightly unfortunate that the Tesco car park isn’t aligned exactly N-S and E-W but on a diagonal!

Subversion in Minecraft

Previously, I’ve written about how people in St Loyes are subverting the ‘normal’ design for the car, and making desire paths. Now, in Minecraft, I’m rolling out the red carpet for these champions of life, liberty and the pursuit of walking!

Mark from Exeter City Futures is joining in too, with a small example from the bottom of Quarry Lane. How many desire paths do you take (or can you spot) on your journeys around St Loyes?

Imagine a Community Hub

St Loyes is a mishmash of council housing, mobile homes, old and new suburbs, industrial estate, retail park, M5 J30 services and part of Ludwell Valley Park.

There is no community centre, post office, or anything obvious that connects people and provides heart. There are a few cafés for workers on Sowton, but there aren’t really any eateries or watering holes for locals. Most are for shoppers, or for people passing through on business or holiday. There’s nowhere I’d really like to meet up with a friend for a nice cup of tea, or go for a meal, or have a relaxing pint on a summer evening.

The schools provide some space for meeting, and rent out their halls to groups, but it’s not quite the same as having a dedicated space like at Newcourt. In some parts of St Loyes, there aren’t even any noticeboards for advertising events and activities.

It would be nice to have a place that brings people together and could be used as an art space too. Where might such a community hub be located?

There is a patch of derelict land almost slap bang in the middle of the ward near Middlemoor that might be an option. I had a go at dreaming and creating a possible building in the St Loyes Minecraft world. Not terribly successfully, it has to be said. Minecraft can help you imagine all these things and ask what if? questions. Maybe someone could do a better job.

The site is also problematic because it used to be a petrol station and the land needs a lot of work to make it safe. It looks green on Google Maps because it’s overgrown concrete reverting to nature! So maybe there are other possibilities. Let it be, and let it rewild itself, as a pocket of biodiversity? Or perhaps put up a gazebo and bunting, drag in some armchairs for the day, and hold a random picnic? Any other ideas?

Minecraft my home meetup

Minecraft my home - posterAs part of Art Week Exeter, which ran from 22-28 May I held a Minecraft meetup in St Loyes on Sat 26 May.

It was an opportunity for some to learn about Minecraft, and for others to indulge in play.

So within the online world, we now have two herds of ocelots and cows roaming free, and a tribe of villagers somewhere…

Exeter City Futures are supporting the “Minecraft my home” activity, and on the day Mark from ECF kindly helped me out. During the day, he managed to build an ECF branch office in the Tesco car park.

I built the shell of a new St Loyes Community Hub, Cafe and Gallery on the patch of derelict land that used to be a petrol station near Middlemoor. It has a number of really bad design features!

It was good to welcome Peter Holland, my new City Councillor, and I think persuade him of the value of Minecraft as a way of re-imagining neighbourhoods.

Mark and I have also laid some red carpet along ‘desire paths’ – places in real life where people have walked to get from A to B and marked paths where there were none before.

Some of the creations so far are unlikely to happen. Working with Gold Towers – my Trumpesque rebuilding of my home – is never going to get planning permission. And I suspect the Carl Andre / Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy crossover sculpture is always going to be gravity-challenged!

You too can explore, play and build in the Minecraft world of St Loyes. You can download it, the online version should be available until about October 2018, and I’ve written a couple of crib sheets for newbies.

Have fun!

Horrible history of Exe Vale Tesco

Did you know? St Loyes has quite the horrible history, what with hangings, massacres, battles and burials, and a mental asylum.

For example, the Exe Vale Tesco store and car park are built on the burial ground of a 16th century battle. According to the Historic Environment Record, a farmer unearthed dozens of bones in the 1960s in a field below Pynes Hill. The source for this information “refers to the site being that of the 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion battle of Clyst Heath and that the Tesco superstore now stands on the site.”

I found this information via Devon County Council’s Environment Viewer. There’s all sorts here. It also shows a Bronze Age semi-circular ditch under Tesco. Check out all the other historical sites in St Loyes!

On 18 May 2018, Exeter City Futures launched their Exeter 2025 Minecraft Challenge. It was an early outing for the St Loyes Minecraft world, and one lad got hold of it. Here’s what happened…

Planning applications and imagining alternatives

There doesn’t seem to be a week goes by without the announcement of a proposed development in St Loyes, or that will affect St Loyes. At the moment I can think of the following, at various stages of approval:

  1. McCarthy & Stone off Russell Way near Tesco – DevonLive 13 Mar 2018
  2. Retail on the Tesco car park overflow – DevonLive 12 Feb 2018
  3. More retail at Moor Exchange off Honiton Road, just outside the ward – DevonLive 30 Jan 2018
  4. Retail on the north end of the Police headquarters at Middlemoor – DevonLive 16 Feb 2018 and 15 May 2018
  5. Yet more retail on the Western Power Distribution sites off Honiton Road – DevonLive 6 Mar 2018 (handy map of 3-5) and 28 Mar 2018

But what do we really want to see on our doorsteps? Green spaces are great for our mental health. So how can we keep and cherish the pockets of green left in St Loyes?

Maybe that green space off Russell Way should be kept, as a boost to biodiversity, a scrubber of air pollution, and (with access rights) a nice place to walk.

Do we need all of that out-of-town retail, and the extra traffic that goes with it? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a ‘village centre’, with local independent shops and cafés, a post office, and a community hub?

What about building office space for social enterprises on the Tesco car park? It’s convenient for rail and bus, the mixed land use should mean fewer journeys, and there’ll be a nice green space to have lunch breaks.

“Minecraft my home” can help you imagine all these things  and ask what if? questions. You can now explore a re-creation of St Loyes in Minecraft, and experiment with buildings and transport.

Here’s how Mark from Exeter City Futures imagined a branch office on the Tesco car park could look.

Exeter City Futures branch office

Visit St Loyes!

Exeter City Futures have produced a St Loyes world in Minecraft for me. After flying around it for a while, I started seeking out some interesting views and taking screenshots.

Then I made myself a St Loyes Tourist Board hat, put it on, and had some fun making these old-style railway posters. Hopefully a couple will make an appearance during Art Week Exeter, in the showcase AWEsome Art Fair and Art Around the City.

Click on the thumbnail image for a bigger version.

I turned the screenshots into a postcard too…

…and took some more screenshots of the four schools in the ward. Maybe I need a new St Loyes Education Board (SLEB) hat!