Above Street Level: Rethinking power, place and encounter through the Peckham skyline

Funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Small Grant Scheme [SG153099] Project co-investigators: Dr Michaela Benson & Dr Emma Jackson, Project researcher: Dr Francisco Calafate-Faria.

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'Above street level’ examines the vertical restructuring of cities, through a focus on how the spaces above Rye Lane are being reimagined and repurposed as part of ongoing urban transformations in Peckham. The research is guided by two interlinked questions: (1) How are encounters taking place above street level structured by and structuring of contemporary urban transformation? (2) How is power rearticulated from the top down and the ground up?

This innovative ethnographic project examines processes of place-making—an urban process both structuring of and structured by social divisions—at height through a focus on the upper tiers of Rye Lane (Peckham, London) a busy high street catering to a multi-ethnic and socially mixed population. While our fieldsite, Rye Lane, has previously been the subject of ethnographic research at street level (Hall 2015), we turn our attention upwards, where empty spaces have been variously converted into places of consumption and sociality to meet the needs of a changing population including roof top bars, art spaces, replacing industrial and warehouse space; the conversion of industrial spaces and storerooms above shops for use as evangelical churches. While these spaces of consumption and worship have moved upwards, high-density social housing has been pulled down. And new plans to build luxury high-rise housing have been contested.

This vertical transformation of Rye Lane is complex, embedding and reinscribing social divisions raising questions about regeneration, social and ethnic mix, class and the politics of place. We ask what kinds of encounters are possible in these elevated spaces? How do these relate to reconfigurations of power resulting from and feeding into contemporary urban transformation? Through participant observation and semi-structured interviewing, the project documents how and by whom these spaces are being appropriated, with what consequences for social relations in the area; it also explores the concerns and investments of local people and businesses, activists, and stakeholders in these processes. In these ways, it contributes towards understanding contemporary urban change and its consequences for people and places. 

The research team will be conducting research between June 2016 and December 2016. This will be followed by the analysis and dissemination of the research data. The project will conclude September 2017.

To get in touch with a member of the project team, please email us at the following addresses:

Dr Michaela Benson - michaela.benson(@gold.ac.uk)

 - e.jackson(@gold.ac.uk)

Dr Francisco Calafate-Faria - f.calafate(@gold.ac.uk)