Sam goes to Pattern Festival!

I was lucky enough to be able to attend Pattern Festival recently. Pattern Festival isn’t like other place-based and built environment events, and that was clear from the outset as we were greeted by Manchester String Quartet. As well as the excellent music, the festival programme was also a different offer to the usual. We had an opening talk from Andy Spinoza, a talk on neuroscience from a sports psychologist, a panel discussion, PechaKucha style quick fire talks, performance from Lemn Sissay, and drinks on the roof terrace. The question of the day, ‘Who owns the city?’

I’m not 100% sure we got towards an answer on who owns the city, but we certainly covered some ground. It was helpful to start with some history from Andy Spinoza who ran through the, in some ways, familiar Manchester development story but interestingly connected to pop culture history. Highlighting the place-based aspirations of those involved with Factory Records and the Hacienda. 

The curve ball of the day was our moment of sports psychology and neuroscience. We learned about the Chimp Model and how our brain is maybe better understood as a collection of characters – a reactionary chimp, a more reflective human and a computer. This made me think about how we can help people participating in our engagement to draw on their human and computer characters to really think through their responses. Managing our inner chimp is struggle we all deal with. 

The panel also provided an opportunity to hear more about the excellent model being developed by Picture This. Really changing what it means to be a developer. And this included a timely reminder from RECLAIMproject that young people and working-class people can feel unwelcome in some of the places being created. One of those crucial reminders at this sort of event. 

In many ways the highlight of the day was Lemn Sissay. Reading some poetry of course, but also speaking on ‘belonging’, Lemn really offered some of the most connected thoughts on who owns the city. Reminding a room full of self-proclaimed ‘place makers’ that people decide on what makes a landmark was my personal highlight. At PLACED we’re not in love with the phrase ‘place maker’ and try to steer clear. Instead, we favour remembering that people who inhabit spaces turn them into places and they really are the experts on their places. 

The rest of the afternoon was a whirlwind of quick fire PechaKucha style talks. And my note taking let me down, but I did make this note from Eve Holt’s talk which was roughly, ‘no amount of lighting can eradicate the patriarchy, misogyny and sexual harassment.’ A robust reminder again that place isn’t something we can control with streetlamps or landscaping and that not all places are safe for everyone all of the time. These things are important, but society also has work to do.

My takeaway was the importance of creating a design process which brings people and communities in. As we reimagine and rebuild the city over time, we need to keep in mind not just who owns the city, but who really makes it. I had some great chats in between with some of our existing partners and met some interesting new ones. I’m looking forward to what might come from these relationships in the future. I left feeling buoyed and encouraged. Thanks to all of the speakers and contributors, and to William Seabrook for organising the day! 

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