Rebuilding, recycling, re-imagining…

by Sharon Macdonald

Like other cities around the globe, Sheffield is busy regenerating and redeveloping itself. Place-marketing and image-management are crucial tasks of the modern city in the global competition for visitors, business, enterprise and capital. Here we look at some of the limits and opportunities afforded by Sheffield’s cityscape and material cultures, and examine some of the ongoing, and possible future directions for the city.

Cultural regeneration for local residents? The case of the Millennium Galleries and Winter Garden by Kirsten Holmes provides an overview of debates about, and the ambitions of, cultural regeneration, as well as a thought-provoking range of cases elsewhere, and an account of the considerable transformation that there has been in Sheffield over recent years. The ‘masterplan’ for the city will also see further change to the city centre in the coming years. Kirsten argues that, unlike some attempts at cultural regeneration elsewhere, Sheffield’s has been couched much more in terms of local residents than attracting outside business. This was so, for example, in relation to the Millennium Galleries (opened 2000) and Winter Garden (opened 2002). The article here also presents the findings of research by Kirsten and some of her students on who does in fact visit these new Sheffield landmarks and how they see them.

In Materializing identities. Bricks coming out of the ground: Rebuilding Norfolk Park Simone Abram contributes a chapter that might have been in Forging the cityscape in its account of how this particular Sheffield estate came into being, and the visions of planners of Sheffield over the years, or in Experiencing place in its attention to local residents’ accounts of the area and its past – which also produces a fascinating insight into the sometimes subtle ways in which residents’ views may be ‘not heard’ by those involved in reshaping a place. Her reflections on these processes, however, also prompt us to reflect on just what is involved in materializing place and identities. She shows well how contributions that we might not immediately think of as themselves ‘material’ – such as meetings, talk and visions – may, in some cases at least, have very material consequences. On the basis of this, she draws out the implications for the future – for the future of the social work of negotiating places into being. This is, as she so vividly demonstrates, about much more than knocking down or doing up buildings.

In Sheffield Life and times @ Weston Park Museum Kim Streets – curator of social history – likewise describes a project involving using materials to create a new material culture within the city, in this case a new permanent exhibition of social history in the refurbished Weston Park Museum , begun with Lottery finding in 2002 and re-opened in 2006. A city museum is arguably the civic institution most thoroughly endowed with the authority to represent a city’s material culture. Items that become part of the city museum’s collection become part of the official history of the city. Material culture which is not included is much more likely to vanish from the historical record; and, as Kim’s account shows, it is much more difficult for official civic materializing institutions, such as museums, to tell the stories of those for whom there are no material cultural collections available. Her account here provides a rare glimpse into an attempt to revise a city’s collections, fill some of its perceived gaps, tell the stories – via material culture – of inhabitants who might otherwise be forgotten, and, more generally, to create an account of Sheffield for the future.

In the final article in our volume, Prue Chiles – a practising architect and academic -presents her insightful and exciting view of how Sheffield might be developed: Re-imagining the City of Sheffield. Currently, there are various visions for developing Sheffield, such as plans for renovating Sheffield’s (in)famous Park Hill flats or another Sheffield University architect, Jeremy Till’s visions of Sheffield as ‘Echo City’ for the Venice Biennale Here, Prue provides a vivid but also realisable vision of how the city might be reshaped to draw on not just its distinctive geomorphology but also a self-projection based in its historical strengths and future potential.

Sheffield has recently appointed its first ‘Culture Minister’ – Dr Ann Gosse – and drawn up a Culture Strategy. This includes plans to position Sheffield as a European city. The City has also embarked on a public consultation for its new city strategy 2005-2010. It is inviting comments on what is perceived as distinctive about Sheffield and what the city might be known for by 2010. Reply to: It is our hope that this volume too will contribute to stimulating debate about the city’s future and to creating a vibrant, and materially rich, place, culture and identity.