Melissa Butcher

The London Borough of Hackney is marked by high levels of cultural diversity, social inequalities, and mobility into and out of the area. It is also subject to rapid and intense processes of urban regeneration as a result of several factors including its proximity to the Olympic site re-development and London’s global financial centre. Demands from competing stakeholders have led to juxtaposing expectations of space use and an increasing potential for everyday conflict between residents, and between residents and local authorities such as police and the council. There is a public assumption that community, that is a notion of a stable, homogenous social entity attached to place, is breaking down as a result of this urban transformation. To more fully understand the nuances and realities of these assumptions, the experience of living in this space has begun to be ethnographically documented but to date there has been little targeted focus on young people, despite being substantial users of public space in Hackney and a cohort embroiled in debates about social inclusion, crime and media representations of the borough. Youth are often portrayed as the source of others’ insecurity in crowded urban spaces, with a particular role to play in perceptions of social breakdown inflected with inter-generational opposition and a discourse of shifting cultural values.

‘Creating Hackney as Home’, therefore, aimed to work with young people in Hackney, in collaboration with the estate-based youth organisation, Immediate Theatre, and the film-makers Mouth That Roars, using participatory visual research methods and online forums, to understand young people’s experience of space and space use in the formation of ‘home’ (i.e. a sense of belonging). The study broadens the understanding of diversity to incorporate an examination of intersecting factors such as age, and a continuing need for investigation of the complex, ambiguous processes of growing up in post-industrial society. While there are increasing numbers of grounded studies on urban diversity, little is known of how age affects the negotiations of space and space use. For young people, their experience of belonging can be impacted by their ‘otherness’ (ethnic and aged) intersecting with changes to physical space such as gentrification and privatisation, surveillance and exclusion. They can become a source of tension and contestation in terms of space use, as they negotiate and adapt to spaces of dominant whiteness, but also adult and commercial spaces. In particular the study examined the influence of emotional and affective responses to change and difference in the process of defining or creating home as a place in which young people have a stake, including excitement and possibility as well as anger and anxiety among others. Using this approach the study identified sites of possibility and conflict made invisible in mainstream, top-down, urban planning, as well as identifying ways in which young people develop the ability to move through complex, contested urban space. The findings, therefore, are of interest, not only to academics but to youth organisations and local urban authorities as well.

If you would like additional information about this case study, please contact:

Dr Melissa Butcher
Reader in Social and Cultural Geography
Department of Geography, Environment & Development Studies
Birkbeck College (University of London)
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HX

tel: +44 (0) 20 3073 8456

Twitter: @melissa_geog