Tag Archives: Utopia

Post-Covid Utopia

14 Nov

As I described in my last post, I was invited to take part in Living Maps Mapping the Pandemic projects during the Summer and my work features in two articles in the November Issue 9 of the Living Maps Review. Read the first article here.

For their Dreaming of a Post-Covid Utopia part of the project, artist/curators Kimbal Quist Bumstead and Sol Perez-Martinez invited me, and a number of other artists from around the world, to create a map of my utopia. They then convened an online event for all the artists to present their work to an international audience, and there is a recording of this fascinating event here:

You can read Kimbal and Sol’s article: Dreaming of a Post-Covid World: Drawing Maps, Imagined Places and Pandemic Storytelling here

After only a little thought, I decided that I didn’t need to invent an imaginary place, but that my utopia was already close at hand.  Interested in the minutiae of my local area of Frankwell, I had mapped my walks and the unfolding of Spring through drawings, tracings, surface rubbings, photographs, sound and video.  Elements of my work are incorporated into a utopian map comprising an A1 size collaged grid of prints, photos, and rubbings from the landscape.  But why Frankwell? And how can it be a utopia?

Frankwell Utopia Map

Frankwell sits within a loop of the River Severn, connected to Shrewsbury by the Welsh Bridge (on the LH side of the map).  It developed in Norman times by free traders outside the jurisdiction of the Lord of the Castle, and later became known as the “Little Borough” – exempt from Borough taxes.  It grew as a river port and a busy community of trade and industry.  Much of its historic past is evident in the buildings that remain, but in recent times modern buildings like the Theatre Severn and the University Centre Shrewsbury (formerly the Guildhall) are creating a new identity.

Detail of a Frankwell Utopia

Shropshire Council and Shrewsbury Business Improvement District have been developing a Big Town Plan involving public consultation for the last couple of years.  I have been involved in this as a resident and through my membership of the Shrewsbury Civic Society planning committee.  Until recently the Big Town Plan had not really addressed the fact that the Frankwell area, shown in my map is, perhaps, the key gateway to the town and in need of care and attention.  To the right of the map and in front of the University is a large car park, and visitors to Shrewsbury must then navigate over the river and busy road by footbridge into a now near empty and neglected concrete shopping centre in order to reach the main part of the town. 

It seemed to me that with relatively little investment in new infrastructure and a more radical change in attitude to sustainability, the riverside area situated between the University and Theatre could be a vibrant, cultural centre.  At the centre of this, the two buildings, the Stew and Glen Maltings are empty and derelict yet both are evidence of the area’s history with great potential for new uses.  The Stew dates back to the 15th Century but its recent planning history is complicated and controversial.   There are some practical engineering matters, like river flooding, that will require some imagination to deal with but not insurmountable. 

Detail from a Frankwell Utopia

My utopia includes a mix of cultural and sustainable uses building on what already exists.  The only new building would be a pavilion for public meeting place for performance events, music recording studios, cafes and street food.  Elsewhere car parks could be converted to community allotments, orchards and green spaces to connect with surrounding flood meadows.  A new lower level footbridge would replace the old concrete one allowing people to reach a traffic calmed boulevard along the river bank.   It would be a place for community sharing and learning with a library of things, repair café, flexible office and workshop spaces, artist studios, contemporary art gallery, free public transport and a place where natural landscape is nurtured and allowed breathing room.

Detail from a Frankwell Utopia

This is my utopia, but I think it reflects what I hear from many people about their hopes for a green recovery.  Having shared the map with my local councillor and spoken with Council officers tasked with implementing the Big Town Plan, I hope the map might provoke public debate with the community about how they might shape the place we live in. It may take some years to come about, and may be not all the detail will happen, but positive discussions are ongoing… and a utopia is worth the wait.