Tuesday, 6 November 2012

#4: A Theoretical Reflection of Leeds as a City

Leeds, like many British cities, wasn't once the confident centre of consumerism that is has come to be known for, it was once a city of industry. During the Industrial Revolution, the city, began to move away from wool (although it was still it's primary product) and moved towards flax and contemporary production methods such as printing, before finding itself as a city of commerce during the 20th century. I want to show this shift away from industrialisation and modernism by illustrating the close proximity in which the classical architecture of the city's churches and other such buildings are to their post-modern counterparts; such as apartment buildings and shopping centres/arcades.

In the above image you can see the classical architecture of Leeds cathedral juxtaposed with the post-modern design of the apartments behind it. This is a recurrent theme throughout the skyline of Leeds, and throughout this essay. This is perhaps most evident at Holy Trinity Church on Boar Lane. As you can see below the church (taken from 4 different angles) is in the middle of the current building of Leeds Trinity shopping center. This juxtaposition of faith and commerce backs up what Marc Augé has said about “non-places”. The church, while still a place of worship for those of faith, has it's cultural impact detracted from with the addition of the shopping center arguably a non-place, contrived only for commercial means that houses myriad 'places' (shops). However, contradictory to Augé, Shaun Moores would argue that the shopping center (as in my example) is a place for those who work there every day and for them it is not a point of transition between shops. Furthering this idea he claims that new media technologies actually pluralise space, and those of us who carry mobile phones have the ability to be in several places at once.


If I were to argue from Augé's perspective, then it is entirely viable for me to suggest that, at least in some ways, for me, Leeds, as a city, is a non place. This is because, despite living there, my main interaction with the city is as a place of transit between both the tangible places of my flat and university, and between when I arrived and my overall destination of graduating.

Another way in which the progression of Leeds is evident is within the city's indoor market. Built in 1904 (from whence it takes its name) the market hall has always been a place of commerce. However now more modern shops populate the hall and clash with the turn-of-the-century fixtures within it.

Here the garishness of the neon sign advertising mobile phone repairs is completely out of place and dwarfed within the market, however it still depicts Leeds shift in to post-modernity whilst exhibiting the public’s obsession with new media technologies.

Perhaps one of the best examples I found was this photo of Bridgewater Place, taken from the corner of Swinegate. The building dominates every inch of this photo whilst competing against the Sky Plaza to dominate the Leeds skyline. Juxtaposing itself against the three-storey buildings that line the street, Bridgewater Place is a typical example of post-modern architecture, and gives the photo as a whole a feeling of placelessness and globalisation; the building could have been erected in any city in the world.

Like Leeds Town Hall, The Corn Exchange is Victorian in it's design. Even though it is still used for its former purpose, that of trade, the businesses that operate within it's confines are a far cry from that of its original, corn. It now houses boutiques and restaurants, a drastic change from when it opened in 1862.
A further way of looking at Leeds would be as Appadurai sees cities; as an area of 'scapes' This way of thinking takes different aspects of a city and forms meaning around that aspect. For example; given that Leeds has shifted away from the industrialisation of the 19th and early 20th centuries and found itself (like most cities) to be a city of commerce. Arguably then, this shift has allowed Leeds to become what Appadurai would term a financescape (centred around the movement of global capital – not just retail capital). However, the fact that Leeds is broken in to quarters suggests that there are more 'scapes' involved. For there to be a successful financescape, there must be shop workers and tourism adding to their global capital, this then brings a second 'scape' in to play; the ethnoscape, which is, as the name suggests, people-centric. As a result then of the growing population, a mediascape will occur, notable within the cultural quarter of Leeds where the BBC building is. The 'scapes' however, are not always distinguishable from one another and many times will overlap each other both geographically (shops within the financial quarter, people distributing newspapers and flyers within the commercial areas of a city) and less tangibly, as you can see above; one 'scape' gives birth to the next and so on and so forth. Thinking in terms of 'scapes' then, I personally contribute to the ethnoscape of Leeds. But since I buy food and consumer goods in Leeds I also contribute to the financescape. Furthering this I also contribute to the mediascape of Leeds, as both a student of the media and as a writer for The Met Online student blog. Using these examples it becomes clear how several different societal aspects come in to play to form the over all image of a city, in this case, Leeds.

In conclusion then we can see cities that were an integral part of the industrial revolution such as Leeds and Liverpool, have been uprooted from their initial roles within industry and now have much more in common with metropolitan, European cities of culture and commerce. We can also see how many different aspects of societal life act as the building blocks which are fundamental for any contemporary westernised city to function, and see how their journey from industry to an established cultural city is one that has been felt by a huge majority of successful capitalist cities throughout Western world.