On Park Hill

I have spent some time over the summer exploring Park Hill. On site, spending time in the gardens, drawing, walking, photographing. Exploring the estate’s perimeter, and it’s relationship with the areas around – enclosed, impermeable, hemmed in on one side by railway and tram and trunk road, on the other by a low wall, cracked pavement and low rise, un-regenerated 19th century shops (mainly empty) and housing (poor quality). At the top of the site, large parts of Park Hill are empty, fenced off, awaiting redevelopment. Those glimpses through the site reveal a wasteland of unkempt laws and litter. There’s an uncanny correspondence between the abandoned, unmaintained former grassed areas of this area, overgrown, brownfield land, and the newly laid-out wildflower meadows of the redeveloped quarter. There’s something important to unpick here, something that feels like the Hauntology Mark Fisher has written about, the slow spectral failure of an imagined future.

What struck me most about the site was the emptiness of it all. Even in the sculpture garden, I sat for many hours without seeing a soul. At lunchtime a young couple sat down to eat their sandwiches, uncertainly, hesitatingly choosing a spot to picnic. Indeed, I too wasn’t sure – whether I could sit, whether the omnipresent CCTV cameras would summon some kind of private park warden to instruct me to keep off the grass. But no one came.
When I strayed beyond the site, the emptiness continued. I walked the nearby streets, the emptiness feeling at times threatening, at times sad. A fenced off walkway ended in a shooting gallery of syringes, a stroll through the carefully restored elegance of Norfolk Park ended in the empty concrete footprints of the three demolished tower blocks which complimented Park Hill, once.

Of course, no one knew where I was, I was lost in a wilderness, of sorts, on this ramble.

I took some photos, at times over exposed on my phone-camera, the bright sunshine of the hottest summer since the 1970s bleaching out the differences between old and new, causing a ’squint test’ (so beloved of the original redevelopers) that elided the differences. From the sculpture garden, everything seemed rosy. I made some drawings too. Mainly of the landscape, of the sculptural quality of the landscaping. The mature trees which remained, survivors of the redevelopment (I would later come across images of newly minted saplings in the archives). Wildflowers in bloom (carefully chosen species, of course). Gravel paths, an uncertain, hesitant newness to the site. Here and there concrete steps negotiating the changes of levels, survivors of the rather more concrete landscape originally provided. Archaeology in reverse – acres of asphalt covered in earth and wildflower.

Now I am exploring two archives – early press photographs of the buildings original construction, and the extensive planning documents available online. My hope is to understand the way this building – and its landscape has been imagined, and presented. How it has been codified to be understood by others, what the attempt was.