Scale and context are very important in urban development. It is always important to remember that any spaces being developed are within local, distinct places with their own identities, problems and aspirations. That very small scale, the one at which problems caused by bad development will be most keenly felt, must however be seen alongside larger scales such as city-wide or regional development and infrastructure. Further, at a very practical level, the need for developers and planners (whether companies or individuals [multiple scales again!]) to take lessons, practices and even visual styles learnt and developed in specific places in response to specific needs and apply them elsewhere creates an interaction between the local and the national and international that is played out every day in thousands of instances and in countless different ways.
Contemporary archaeology has a role to play in understanding that interaction. Using field methods developed over the last two decades and allying traditional archaeological perspectives with those of other relevant disciplines (in my case geography, politics and creative arts) archaeology can go a long way towards creating deep interpretations of what makes individual places what they are. We can add to the more obvious focus on the presence or not of ‘heritage assets’ with consideration of how, over time, built environments in the widest sense have shaped changing local politics, with particular houses, shops, roads or patches of grass becoming more or less important as suits individual ongoing issues. Following on from that, it becomes possible for archaeologists to investigate at that micro-scale the differing impacts of different kinds of developer, different development philosophies, different sources of financial backing, and specific architects or public artists.
In June I will be speaking on this subject at the World In Denmark 2014 conference, ‘Nordic Encounters: Travelling Ideas of Open Space Design and Planning’, in Copenhagen (information here), using my work in Bristol and international case studies to outline how important contemporary archaeological perspectives can be in understanding the multi-scalar contexts of new development. Specifically for this conference I will be adapting ideas developed in the UK to investigate the mediation between changing distinct, local places and the larger-scale project of developing an umbrella ‘Nordic’ urban design tradition. I will be speaking in my capacity as Senior Archaeologist (Built Heritage) at MOLA, who have kindly provided funding towards my attendance.
I am currently researching public art and community development projects across Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland so please get in touch if you have any news of interesting case studies.