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Note from a year ago: Mash-Up in Somerstown

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Portsmouth – 11th Jan 2010

I went to a meeting organized by an arts initiative and studio  –  a group people who work with the arts, organize international exchanges, artists, educators, mainly from the Portsmouth area.

The meeting was a discussion of a phase of regeneration in Somerstown, a part of Portsmouth that was earmarked for regeneration 10 years ago.  Somerstown is the densest part of Portsmouth and has low figures with regard to housing, education and health services. In other words, there are high levels of deprivation. Residents and stakeholders came together with a vision of Somerstown.

“Vision: the aim of the Somerstown and North Southsea regeneration plan is the creation of a sustainable urban community. It will improve quality of life, foster local pride and act as a springboard for social and economic regeneration. This will be achieved by creating a safe, active and attractive environment with a new community heart.

Somerstown and North Southsea Regeneration Project Board and Regeneration Participation Group (RPG)” [From the website]

According to Jane who lives there and runs an artists’ space called ‘Space’, the residents are now cynical. They do not believe they will see this happen. They are afraid they will lose facilities and are being misinformed. None of this is a surprise . I was listening to this quite interestedly not so much because this is something that not is happening in most cities, but because I was trying to understand the word ‘regeneration’ as well, and the other word that is used in conjunction with it – ‘community’ here. Oliver, from the arts initiative organising this, had mentioned earlier that there haven’t been many opportunities to respond to ‘regeneration’ and that ‘community’ slips through ones fingers as soon as one tries to grasp it.  I was interested also because most of the people at the table were connected in some way to art, and I was curious to know how they would interpret a moment like this, and what they would consider an ‘intervention’ into it to be. Jane has obviously engaged with it for a while, because she seemed to know it well – she was cynical though. She kept saying how people were tired of it. And then she talked about the ‘mashup’ : Art plus community plus local histories plus multimedia. And funding and spaces and galleries. Everyone seemed to know this. Clearly it hadn’t really happened, or when it had, didn’t manage to restore pride and facilitate change.

It was interesting talking about a place I was in, but hadn’t seen apart from the walk from the station. The walk from the station was through snow and it was hard to tell roads, and pavements in some places. Everyone had written three words about Somerstown – some of them were: thoroughfare, squashed, divided, separate, boxed in, fenced off ..

Then this man talked about how it is a thoroughfare enroute  South Sea. That it is on the way to somewhere. That it has no deep roots and is transient. That  made a lot of sense and I realized that transient places that feel like thoroughfares have to be infused with a sense of permanency. That is key. Transient is not home. Thoroughfare can’t be arrived at. Then I started to understand a little more why this regeneration business was such a sticking point. That it denied people a sense of a stable, static, immovable future. Or a future where Somerstown would be a desirable place to live. What struck me though is that regeneration takes over the imagination of a future that is safe and empowered and uplifted  – which leaves very little room for any other imagination of it. It made me think of how we think of these things back in Delhi. Regeneration / Renewal . The group engaged with it without questioning it. The questioning would be of a different order from the ones we would ask in Delhi I imagine.

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Written by Priya Sen

January 2, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized