A Community Map of Miles Platting

Liz from 3Cs recently participated in a the Community Mapping of Miles Platting in Manchester in collaboration with the University of Sheffield Urban Institute’s “Whose Knowledge Matters?” Project and the Manchester Community Grocer. The process involved a series of workshops with residents of the neighborhood of Miles Platting about how urban redevelopment projects are shaping their neighborhood and the lasting impacts of austerity. The map is currently on display at the Manchester Central Library as part of the Manchester Histories Festival. Here she shares a few reflections from her experience:

1) Mapping functions as collective research. Making the Community Map of Miles Platting functioned as a form of collective research in various ways. First, it allowed different residents to share the knowledge they already have based on their everyday life and experiences living in Miles Platting. Of course these experiences differ, based on how long people had lived in the neighborhood, their age, gender, race, ethnicity, education level, whether they have children or sick or elderly residents to care for, etc. etc. The first workshop served as a space to share those experiences, without attempting to come up with one dominant narrative, and then to identify common themes and concerns that would then serve as the basis for the icon-stickers we used in the following workshops. Second, the mapping also allowed us to identify new questions and things that were unknown: Who owns that plot of land? What are they building there? What will happen to that abandoned building? Where is the new park they promised us? Identifying these questions served as the basis for further research and also allowed us to question why it was that neighborhood residents didn’t have access to this information. Why, despite promises of consultation and participatory planning processes, were residents not only being left out of decision-making processes, but also not even able to access information about what was going on? Thus we decided to use blue stickers to indicate all of these “mystery spaces” on the map.

2) Mapping allows us to tell multiple stories. One thing that became clear from first workshop was that people, despite sharing many of the same everyday spaces and experiences, have very ways of understanding and valorizing those experiences. Many residents emphasized the things the neighborhood had lost: the swimming pool, the clinic and the dentist, the library, shops, green spaces, etc. Others emphasized what the neighborhood still had and what makes it a place worth saving: friendly people, the existing parks and green spaces, community ties and people talking to each other on the streets (while yet other people disputed this vision!) They denounced discourses of “social isolation” and wanted the map to show that, in practice, the community is actually a very social space. The tool of the map allowed us to tell these multiple different stories without any of them drowning out the others. And the process opened up a space for reflection on these different experiences of life in the neighborhood.

3) Making a map means knowing the territory. One of the highlights of the workshops was taking a collective walk or “drift” around the neighborhood to see some of the sites that had been discussed in previous workshops. Visiting sites allowed everyone to gain better insight into how the neighborhood had and continues to change. Old memories were revived as we walked past places and people began recalling what used to be there or sharing stories of past times spent in now abandoned buildings. Soon the walk went off the planned route as individuals decided to take us to spots that they had forgotten about or that had special meaning for them. Participants got to know each other and their neighborhood better. We passed around a Polaroid camera allowing people to take pictures of places that mattered to them to be included in the final map. And we all added more stickers to our individuals maps to record what we saw as we walked around.

4) Mapping allows us to show multiple temporalities. While politicians might proclaim that “austerity is over,” the impacts of austerity remain imprinted on the urban landscape: the empty lot that used to hold the swimming pool, the closed social club, rubble where a clinic used to stand… Mapping allowed us to show these ongoing effects of austerity by showing what services had been lost to the community and to visually emphasize how those losses continue affecting everyday life. We also used the map to show different uses of spaces in the present, how neighborhood residents reappropriate spaces for their own uses, even as those spaces are increasingly privatized. And, finally, mapping allowed us to show different visions of the future. While developers, as part of a Private Finance Initiative, build fancy apartments that current residents will not be able to afford, the residents express desires for more parks and play spaces for their kids, a better library, a swimming pool and exercise facilities, more grocery stores and community spaces.

5) A map is never finished… as we’ve said before, a map never need be finished. Of course, the map is not complete, due to time, design, and methodological constraints, some perspectives were inevitably left off of the map. But, the process is on-going: as it currently stands in the Manchester Central Library, visitors are invited to explore the Community Map of Miles Platting and to place their own stickers and stories onto a People’s Map of Manchester. Once the exhibition is over, the map will go back to the community where neighborhood residents will be able to continue adding to it and sharing as they see fit, using it to shape the neighborhood space itself.