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Towards a more ecological urbanism: the Sheffield Abundance fruit harvesting project as critical urban learning assemblage

Knowles, Katherine 2015. Towards a more ecological urbanism: the Sheffield Abundance fruit harvesting project as critical urban learning assemblage. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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The overarching context of this research is the problem of sustainability in, or of, existing urban areas. Urban populations are expected to rise in the UK, without a corresponding rate of change to the physical form of cities. This research looks to the expertise of inhabitants in existing urban areas for understandings and practices that could address sustainability and that may complement or obviate physical urban design interventions. It seeks to explore the relationship between locality, local knowledge and broader themes of sustainability. The Abundance urban fruit harvesting project in Sheffield is taken as an example of collective local action by inhabitants in an existing urban area to address themes relevant to sustainability. Abundance participants find, harvest, distribute, map, and celebrate surplus produce, such as fruit, nuts and herbs in the city. Blurring boundaries of what is considered urban, rural, nature, or private, and bringing humans into closer connection with the ecological life of the city, could be said to increase ecological sensitivity. In terms of methodology, this study takes an inductive approach, informed by grounded theory. An ethnography of the Abundance fruit harvesting project in Sheffield is conducted over a full year. The thesis includes thick description that relates the practices involved, the spaces used, and the changed relations produced. This forms the basis for considering how sustainability is understood in the context of ‘bottom up’ community projects and practices in urban areas, and what implications this raises for ‘mainstream’ approaches to sustainable development in urban planning and design. As a learning assemblage, Abundance critiques aspects of conventional urbanism and draws together more ecological alternatives. The results constitute an original contribution to knowledge in that this is one of the first such studies of a project of this kind, and as it draws on interdisciplinary literature encompassing participatory urban design, sociology, anthropology and geography. In particular the key findings are: 1. grassroots collectives can practice a form of urban design that is vernacular and experiential; 2. this type of urban design can play a role that is tactical and critical in processes of urban development and change; 3. participants adopted an eco-centric understanding of sustainability (an assemblage or meshwork of ecological relations) which is rooted in entanglements with living and non-living others; 4. social learning is a way of inhabiting the city, and in this context makes a novel contribution to practice theory; 5. socially engaged arts practice and collective action by urban inhabitants offer routes to activating change in existing urban areas and; 6. the use of ethnographic methods can enhance urban design research.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Publication
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Architecture
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NA Architecture
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ecological urbanism; Sheffield; Abundance; Fruit harvesting; Sustainability
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 7 June 2016
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 09:11

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