Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
W. B. Yeats
Certain words represent a set of thinking in time. Today there is much talk of ‘place’, particularly in the policy landscapes of Government and the professional landscapes of practitioners. Placemaking is taking over words like ‘masterplanning’ or even planning. The process of making is, for the most part, self-explanatory. But what is ‘Place’ and how is it made?
Agnew describes these understandings of place. One is “local”. The physical geography represented by a particular location. We can point to it, mark it out, and specify it physically. Another understanding is “locale”. This is a more fluid concept. It is the setting for social interaction, and can vary in scale from a cross roads to a kitchen or virtual world. It can be represented by ceremonies or rituals in time, transforming ordinary places into places of particular meaning. Finally there are “senses of place”, experiences, feelings, senses and emotions. These are the fabric of meaning – the smells, sounds and activities of the communities that shape our lives.
Raploch is a place which embodies all threes understandings of place. On World Earth Day, Good Friday preceding Easter, Raploch hosted the opening of the “Green Arena”. It is a simple piece of ground bound on one side by existing housing, on the other by the main road. It sits in the shadow of the castle. Once derelict ground, this space has been transformed into a temporary arts space, a transitional public space for the community. The space sits between phases of development, a resource for the community to shape, act out and represent their lives. This spatial in-between-ness is a community that is continually shaping its future and provides a strong basis for making “place”.
The opening took the form of an outdoor cinema. Watching the evening sun set on the Stirling landscape, a crowd gathered in the tilled soil. There were face painters, music, ice cream vans and three substantial cinema screens. The crowd laughed and talked. Some left. The wait was too long. Eventually the sun went down. The screens roared with white light, resplendent against the backdrop of the floodlit castle perched on its rock. This is a special place. The artists introduced the evening and opened. A piper made his way through The Green Arena. As he passed children from the community cast meadow seed into the awaiting ground, starting the transformation of this space into a canvas of colour. Some seed never made the ground but there was plenty of laughing. The piper was exhausted when he completed his circle. People clapped, patted his back and thanked him. A good effort. A proud community.
The film started; “Raploch on film”. It consists of stories of the community, its past, its present, its future. What unfolded through this film was truly remarkable. Each scene moved from a view of a resident in the distance, to a close up and a detail of the places. Stories of trouble and pride, identity, struggle and achievement poured out, both highly personal and powerful. The crowd stood still. A middle aged man wrapped his arm around his wife. Together they stood watching the film of their place in their place. It was very moving in such simple surroundings.
As someone not from the neighbourhood it was humbling to see such honesty and humility in a carefully crafted and respectful narrative.
The last part of the film was an animation created by students of the community campus some ten years ago. It is a fantastic piece of work, a special telling of the story of the place by a skilled, proud and resourceful community.
The film ended. Many, many people had stayed to the end. Everybody clapped in that way that is both appreciative and proud. Something special had happened in this simple piece of ground that transformed another piece of soil in this strong community into a place.
Yeats describes in his poem the desire of one who wishes to mark significance. He asks us to respect the ground, the arena of people’s dreams. On a simple piece of ground at the edge of a community in Raploch a meadow of wild flowers will soon prosper. Dreams were sown the night the seeds were cast at this ground. Tread softly. They are the dreams of a people. This is what place is about.