Tag Archive | Nature

Little Green

People often refer to Chorlton, where I live now in Manchester, as “leafy” or green – and to be sure, on a sunny day, it is certainly one of the nicer places to be. The scents of flowers and plants drift through the streets from various front gardens and parks to provide a reassuring sense that here at least, nature is asserting herself just a little. Still, moving between two cities throws up inevitable comparisons, and back in Glasgow for a few days, I couldn’t help but think that there is nowhere quite like the city’s beautiful West End, which really does come alive on a warm day (20 degrees Celsius!) with a combination of urban modernity and lovingly maintained foliage that most cities would really envy.

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Well, Glasgow does mean “dear green place” after all. Or something like that. Maybe I’m getting nostalgic! Who would have thought I’d get more of a suntan North of the Border than down here? 🙂

Majestic Skagen

One of the best parts of being involved in academia is getting the chance to travel, meet new people, and hear about research in areas you might never learn about in your daily work environment. Getting feedback and being challenged on your research by people not specialist in your particular field can be just as useful as hearing what those closely interested in it have to say. Add in the chance to experience some of Scandinavia’s most beautiful scenery while staying in a former royal residence, and it’s pretty hard not to be happy! Skagen, famous for its fish, its boating opportunities, and for a crystal clear natural light that has historically attracted the best of the nation’s painters, was the venue for CMI’s PhD Summer School. This year’s topic was “The Future of the Internet” and we focused on two areas in particular: Internet and the Media and the RFID/smart device-centred Internet of Things (IoT).

The students and researchers attending came from Finland, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, and um, Scotland – some of us via Thailand, Norway, China, Italy, or the US. Our backgrounds, methods, and our own research topics were almost as diverse as our nationalities, some people being based firmly in political economy, others in technology development, others in policy formation and some in media and cultural studies, with varying degrees of specificity. This type of group is definitely a good reflection of the key role which “convergence” (a keyword at the event) and interdisciplinary understandings now play in socio-technical research and development – and by extension in the businesses and market-places which drive or are driven by their results.

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Bill Melody, one of our lecturers, was keen to emphasise and challenge us to think about the inter-relations and interactions between theory, practise, applications, markets, and infrastructure configurations – as well as the increasingly vital role played by policies and regulation (whether at EU or national level). What determines how society makes use of its ICTs and media? What leads and what follows? To a complex “ecology” of path dependencies and paradigm shifts, those of us outwith Political Economics would of course add human nature, imagination, epistemology and pedagogy. Wherever you locate your specific research, it’s important to be aware of all of these overlaps. Diagramming is helpful for that. So too is disagreement. Everyone was given the chance to ask, answer, and debate.

As well as lectures on topics such as Standardisation, Business Models, Copyright Economics, and Hybrid and Over-the-top television services, we worked in small thematic groups on our own PhD topics, presenting, discussing and giving critical feedback. I got a lot of inspiration and many useful ideas from the other members of my group (our common link being a socio-cultural and new media focus) and am already thinking about how to reflect that in my thesis; in particular, the theories I want to draw upon and the scope of my questions. Many thanks to Martina, Atle, Alkim and Professor Ruth Towse! 🙂 As you can see from the photographs, there was a very good social schedule as well as work one, with a trek across moving sand dunes, cycling, and trips to the beach (as well as the local pubs) all included in an intellectually refreshing event which was excellently organised by Aalborg University Professors Reza Tadayoni and Anders Henten.

Chorlton Still Life

A place imposes its character on the people who live there as much as they impose theirs on it. You probably notice this most when going from one “extreme” to another – for instance, from here in the UK to just about any “exotic” holiday destination. You also notice it when you move from the city to the suburbs. The tone, the mood, the subtle but clear sense of who people are and what you might encounter; everything in you has to re-tune itself. Responses, reactions, expectations. Habits. That’s why families move to the suburbs after all. It’s nice. It’s lovely. And yet…on a two-hour walk today in the sunshine, my inner blogger struggled to find those angles that make me want to reach into my bag, grab my camera, and think about what I might write.

Peaceful, quiet, and plenty of recycling bins

Where I was living for the past 6 months was dominated by a huge shopping arcade. It was full of chainstores and bright lights and drunk teenagers and tourist attractions. A homeless guy set up camp on our front steps for three days without anyone really even noticing. The surrounding area was pretty much a building site. I could open the window and hear arguments, music, trains, trams. But hey, it was never long before I spotted something I could blog about – and nobody would usually even care that I was taking a picture. So, yeah, it’s a bit of a culture shift, more so than I expected. Maybe it’s just easier to blog in the city: to find novelty or something jarring which triggers inspiration. Doubtless, it’s all about state-of-mind. Isn’t it nicer just to let the pleasant, fresh air surround you? To watch the spring trees gently sway and sigh as you wander along? (Yeah yeah, I’m waxing lyrical). After all, how many nature photographs can you try to take? People will get suspicious if you photograph their cute little shop fronts or their terraced houses too openly. 😉

A curious Chorlton cat

I don’t want to fall into using easy adjectives: it’s not just that the centre of the city is more urgent, more vibrant, more messy, more dirty, more brutal, more asynchronous, more commercial, more full of “life”. Or that in contrast, everything outside its radius is cosy, safe, warm and the picture of perfection. Of course not. And hey, Chorlton is only 20 minutes away by bus! But let’s not split hairs because my feelings today have made me think momentarily about Raymond Williams and about the dual narratives we get caught up in…that get woven…about the city and the country (and now the suburbs) and what they represent. It’s not just symbolic, it’s not just about poetry and politics. People can bring about the very shifts that they’ve seen reflected through ages – that they aspire to – when they set an area up, or move into it. With all of its independent bars, shops, pubs, charity shops, second-hand shops, festivals and organic produce, Chorlton manages to represent something quite special.

So, I’m thinking of my change of immediate scene as a challenge. Here, there are new types of attitude and unfamiliar environments to find little gems in. I guess it’s all about staying alert and curious!

Back to Nature

Although I admit to being a big fan of city centre rhythms, one of the best things about moving to Chorlton is definitely its proximity to some truly tranquil “Urban countryside”. A very short walk from our front door and, passing through the amazingly cute little conservation village of Chorltonville towards Chorlton Eees Nature Reserve and the Mersey Valley, here is what you can find:

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Woodland, meadows, grassland, a mosaic of meandering pathways and a variety of birds, fish and flowers…Chorlton Brook calmly flows by on its way upstream into the Mersey. A proper trip to Chorlton Water Park (which was a farm and water meadows until the 1950s) is definitely in order at some point. In the sunshine, it seems almost like another world: not a football fan in sight, yet still the police are on horseback…