Civic pride

Find below an essay on civic pride, parks and gentrification, with accompanying map. This essay was initially written as part of a psychogeographic element of my Graphic Interruptions project. 

Psychogeography has been an aspect of my Graphic Interruptions project for a while now. It is a tricky term and there are many ideas about what defines the practice. Purists stick closely by Debord’s drift techniques, while others are happy to stretch the term. I fit the latter camp, and a large inspiration for me has been the book Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography, edited by Tina Richardson. The many different approaches and responses to the subject are documented over 14 essays, and these gave me the courage to experiment with my own personal written response to my walking.

At this stage in my project I am not sure I will continue in this vain as I evaluate the effectiveness of such personal, auto-biographical writing and whether this really sits comfortably with my photography and project intentions. With no pun intended, I am currently at a cross-roads with where I go next. While I am enjoying writing such self-reflective narratives they are becoming more distanced from the critical graphic design discourse I was aiming for in the first place, (as displayed in blog posts I’ve written about Graphic Interruptions in previous posts).

To help move on this internal debate I have decided to post this short piece of writing with a view to drawing a line under such a style. However, I may revisit this under a different banner in the future.

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MapTrial_v1

California, Ipswich—you couldn’t find somewhere less like the West Coast of America.

I’ve spent many years walking to work and exercising the dog along these streets. The journey to work, depending on the route I choose, can take anything from 15–25 minutes, often through a small but perfectly formed park. The local Coop can delay me when there’s cat food or bread to buy. I’ve often wondered about the criteria to work in that most ethical of supermarkets, and from my observations it appears to be the inability to move at anything other than a slow pace, which I quite like as it is representative of the life here. Recently I joked about an item I was buying and I was stared at blankly. (I read somewhere that Mark E Smith said his idea of hell was being stuck in a lift with ‘chatty man’—I fear ‘chatty man’ only slightly less than I fear becoming ‘chatty man’.)

One of the greatest things about Ipswich is its array of parks. The one closest to my home and that I cross on my way to work holds many memories, not least because it is where I first saw my future wife. She was giving a speech prior to an anti-racist demonstration I’d travelled from Colchester to support. Then, as an outsider, Ipswich felt like a hotbed of radicalism in comparison to that virtually all-white garrison town. That was many years ago and the tree she orated under has long since been cut down. I often bring the dog here now and as a result I have become intimately familiar with its plethora of dog-shit bins, screaming at me all bright red with decaying decals. I once pondered on how those in charge of guide-dogs locate these bins before it occurred to me that the pungent smell that surrounds them render visual signifiers superfluous to all but the anosmia inflicted.

I have lived in Ipswich some 18 years. Its people, as is their right, are fiercely critical of the town; yet equally defensive of it if outsiders dare to pass negative comment. This, I suspect, is typical of most small towns. It could be argued that Ipswich is a working-class enclave within a county of great wealth. If you went along with such an argument it could equally be claimed it is ripe for gentrification—the only thing holding such a threat at bay being the dire train service to and from London. A 2015 property feature in The Guardian claimed that Ipswich was ‘up-and-coming’. Brian Eno was quoted in the same edition of the paper stating he thought the best thing to do with Ipswich was to drive through it. Such is the strange duality that hangs over the town.

The town has always been a poor cousin to others within the wider Eastern region, and I think that’s how many of its inhabitants feel: neglected in favour of the money that surrounds it. Like Brian Eno, John Peel lived just outside the town, not actually in it. Other London media notables have bought up cottages in the surrounding luscious countryside and shop in Ipswich’s more middle-class neighbouring towns.

But in the time I’ve lived here I’ve become loyal to this backwater town. I like the fact that local thrash-punk rockers Extreme Noise Terror were invited by arch-situtationists the KLF to perform with them at the Brit Awards in 1992. I’m proud that the once mighty Cowell’s printers developed the craft of fine-illustration printing from the Buttermarket in the town centre, which resulted in Barbar the Elephant being inked here. And my earliest memories of Ipswich are of its vibrant local music scene that I used to travel to from Essex—but now decent mid-sized venues have been turned into theme pubs or car parks. Until recently, on political maps, Ipswich was an island of red in Suffolk’s sea of blue, and that always bought me great pleasure until Gummer Jr halted any such menace.

Local movers and shakers are still hopeful that gentrification is on its way though and Ipswich’s real history is often overlooked by those whose idea of culture is a ‘vintage’ street market a few times a year and a waterfront marina full of yachts that locals can not afford. The heraldic symbols that look distressed on street signs and on rubbish bins around my neighbourhood seem a fitting metaphor for a town that can sometimes appear to be down on its luck but is trying not to admit it. It is difficult to see where this old town may go, and I’ve heard arguments from well meaning colleagues who are hopeful the area is ripe for new money to move in to. Unfortunately they didn’t get my protestations against financial cleansing.

8 years ago there was a spate of graffiti in my neighbourhood from a gang calling itself the Front Line Warriors. There are still a few traces of their visual scenting around the place, where the council have given up redacting all signs of the FLW. They laughingly painted: “welcome to the ghetto” on the side of the local primary school, (2015 Ofsted award: Good). But this area is no more a ghetto than it is anything like its namesake California. Thankfully rather than just paint over this act of self-social deprivation the school got their pupils to create 4 mural pieces for where the graffiti once lurked, ensuring that the local children feel part of their community. I hope it encourages them to believe they can change their own area for themselves rather than either wallowing in its demise or relying on others to march in and mend it for them. I pass these artworks everyday on my way to work and they never fail to make me smile as they reaffirm my belief that civic pride can still have a place in 21st century Britain and that Ipswich’s fighting spirit is still there just below the surface.

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