Department of Landscape Architecture
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Department of Landscape Architecture
My research focuses on migration histories and the experiential qualities of place, developing a landscape specific contribution within a broad field of literature encompassing belonging and isolation, conviviality and racism, transnational connections and the shaping of cultures of use of public open space.
My earlier work developed theory regarding to the role of transnational place narratives with regard to typologies of urban spaces, contributed significant understandings of refugee affiliations and disconnections with urban environments, and how the visibility of difference informs social engagement within the public realm.
More recently I have developed more confidence in occupying and articulating the specific interaction between sociological understandings of place and multiculture and the often-unconsidered process of urban change through design and management. Through the Bench Project, through my role in ‘Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature’, and with the applied remit of ‘#refugeeswelcome in parks’, my academic curiosity and social values are focused on profiles of marginalisation - shaped by intersections of ethnicity, class and gender - set against the civic ethos of public space.
I still very much see myself as a Landscape Architect and love teaching design projects in our studios (and with as many site visits as I can fit in). I gained my undergraduate degree in Landscape Architecture at Leeds Metropolitan University, followed by the diploma level at the University of Sheffield. My professional background includes working as a Landscape Architect for a Groundwork Trust near Slough, a district council in Somerset and as a guest tutor at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan. I have held an academic position at Department of Landscape Architecture at Sheffield for over twenty years, and am a senior lecturer and ‘Director of External Relations’. I lead the ‘Transcultural Urban Outdoors’ research group, forged mostly through creative ideas shared between myself and my doctoral students.
I firmly believe in producing research in collaboration with others and I am committed to working with the professional and voluntary sector in all my research projects, including recently in Germany and Lebanon. I am a regular contributor to professional debates and training with the Landscape Institute.
- Research interests
As outlined above, my research is concerned with how our experience of place is shaped by personal and community histories of migration.
There is a professional remit here: how does the broad ambition and practice of landscape architecture respond to contexts of superdiveristy, plurality of values and the different ways that these places may be used? Are we culturally competent in identifying, reflecting and responding to issues of equity, justice and inclusion in public places?
I have gradually moved from research methods which have aimed to `share benefit´ with participants to ones where the objectives, methods and analysis is co-produced with non-academic organisations.
Included Outside: interventions for a more inclusive public realm in conflict settings (starting 2021)
This project is based in Beirut, in collaboration with Lebanese academics (University of Notre Dame, American University of Beirut) and third sector/NGOs (Public Works and Collective for Research and Training-Action), and builds on the findings and methods of #Refugeeswelcome in Parks. I am the PI and it is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund.
For most people across the world, spending time in public spaces improves quality of life: different types of open spaces (formal parks to street corners) offer opportunities to informally socialise, exercise, gain respite from work or home pressures, feel part of a local neighbourhood and enjoy contact with nature. However, these opportunities can be constrained in many ways, reflecting wider patterns of individual and community marginalisation. This project addresses how histories of conflict shape experiences of public space exclusions for local residents whose life experiences include forced displacement and/or sectarian divides (focusing on the experience of women, a double marginalisation) and through the diminishing of the public realm in Beirut through historic destructions and severe under-investment.
The aim of the project is to engage with organisational stakeholders as allies-in-practice who have the ability to initiate change within their activities well beyond the timeframe of this research project. We will do this in three steps:
- Interviews to understand and learn from stakeholders' values, priorities and experience of initiating effective change,
- Undertake participatory pilot fieldwork to improve understanding of inclusions and exclusions of being outside by residents most impacted by conflict histories,
- Through discussion and networking, share with stakeholders the findings of our pilot fieldwork, and support them in connecting their existing activities with improving access to local public open space.
#Refugeeswelcome in Parks (2018)
Though the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers are complex and varied, circumstances of under-employment, poor living conditions, limited social opportunities and mental health pressures are commonly reported. Can the use of parks support social networks, improve local awareness and give a sense of belonging or a peaceful moment?
In the #refugeeswelcome in parks (link: https://refugeeswelcomeinparks.weebly.com) project we looked at how using outdoor places in cities and towns, in particular visiting parks, has the opportunity to improve the wellbeing of these new residents and support integration on the local scale. Our project methods were founded on three principles: careful listening, learning from different contexts, and giving back so as to support change. We interviewed refugees and asylum seekers (16 interviews and many informal conversations), and a range of stakeholder groups (35 interviews) from both the refugee sector (support and orientation services, conversation clubs, mental health services) and the greenspace sector (management, design, advocacy, community support). We worked in three places, Sheffield, London and Berlin in collaboration with The Young Foundation (London) and Minor (Berlin). I was PI on this project which was funded by the AHRC as a follow on to ‘The Bench Project’.
Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature (2016-2019)
‘Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature’ (IWUN) was a significant three year project based in the Department of Landscape Architecture, with PI Anna Jorgensen (funding from NERC). It sought to explore questions around urban nature and urban residents’ mental health and wellbeing in Sheffield, a northern British city. Within the IWUN study, I led on a qualitative strand exploring cultures and values of nature, health and wellbeing in a diverse city. 90 people aged 17–86 years were involved with in-depth life-course interviews in order to understand a general population experience of nature and mental wellbeing. Additionally, we used arts-based workshops to understand more deeply the experience of urban nature for wellbeing in the context of lived experience of mental health difficulty. Resulting publications (co-authored with Dr Jo Birch) focus on the nature connections and greenspace benefits for young people and for first generation migrants, and include practical guides for supporting nature connections and wellbeing (young people, people with mental health difficulties, challenging inequalities) (link http://iwun.uk/publications/)
The Bench Project (2015)
I was the Principal Investigator for The Bench Project, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council within their Connected Communities programme. The focus of this research is on locations where people often 'hang out', the act of everyday sitting on a bench or low wall, near a takeaway, a park entrance or in an urban square.
The project has explored the stories, memories and activities of people using benches in these places and questions how they provide places for social interaction. We were keen to find out how different aspects of people’s identity (age, ethnicity, gender, life situation) shape how people see and are seen when they sit outside.
The project team included documentary filmmaker Esther Johnson who made a short film with bench-users in the two fieldwork locations (a Gustafson Porter-designed square in Woolwich and an urban green space in Sutton).
Though the urban bench is often seen as a delightful, sometimes even romantic place, the research also investigated aspects of confrontation and control.
In particular, we noted a context of increasing concern about gathering in public places (such as use of dispersal orders) and how places are often made cleaner but also more boring. This can include removing of benches, with the aim of deterring longer-stay use of the public realm.
The findings show that policies and actions that respond to certain groups of public space users as problematic (for example, young people) is at odds with understandings of mental, physical and social wellbeing, which often show many benefits to being outdoors and spending time with friends.
Walking Voices (2006-2007)
This ESRC funded project aims to investigate perceptions and values of neighbourhoods as described by first generation migrants. Focusing on the spatial, temporal and sensory context of the local environment, the research addresses how experience of place contributes to settlement processes and cultural identity.
Deepening understandings of both motivations and barriers towards engagement in the public realm will help inform initiatives regarding cohesive communities and healthy lifestyles.
The research uses qualitative and reflective methodology working intensively with a small group. Ten participants from a range of home countries and currently living in north Sheffield, are loaned mini-disk recorders and asked to make real-time commentaries of walks or journeys in their daily lives.
Supported by training from BBC Radio Sheffield, each makes weekly recordings over a three month period. Individual interviews and participant guided tours will help contextualize the immediate accounts, and will inform an ethnographic and social mapping of the neighbourhood.
The research scope includes interviews with environmental and community organizations to relate findings to policy and practice. Outputs include academic papers, a radio programme and interactive website.
Viewfinder (2004 – 2005)
This ESRC-funded project aimed to investigate migrants´ perceptions and experiences of exploring urban open spaces; to explore the role of homeland memory in this; and to test innovative participatory and visual methods.
The research was developed in close partnership with a voluntary sector media training organisation. `Fieldwork´ was conducted during a 12 week accredited photography programme, the subject of which was urban open spaces.
A variety of qualitative and visually focused methods were used. In total there were six participants, all asylum seekers and refugees, and ten sites in Sheffield were visited.
The key themes of the research findings are: the importance of memory and nostalgia in participants´ experiences; the significance of plants; the novelty of visiting British `parks´; the role of urban open space in quality of life of refugees, factors of engagement and detachment.
The findings provide an insight into how designers and managers can encourage greater use of urban parks, woodlands and public gardens by these communities.
- Urban nature and transnational lives. Population, Space and Place. View this article in WRRO
- Conviviality by design : the socio-spatial qualities of spaces of intercultural urban encounters. URBAN DESIGN International. View this article in WRRO
- Nature doesn't judge you – how urban nature supports young people's mental health and wellbeing in a diverse UK city. Health and Place, 62. View this article in WRRO
- Participation and wellbeing in urban greenspace : ‘curating sociability’ for refugees and asylum seekers. Geoforum, 106, 125-134. View this article in WRRO
- Sitting outside: Conviviality, self‐care and the design of benches in urban public space. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 43(2), 284-298. View this article in WRRO
- The transnational Gulf City: Saudi and migrant values of public open spaces in Jeddah. Landscape Research, 43(7), 939-951. View this article in WRRO
- Ethnographic understandings of ethnically diverse neighbourhoods to inform urban design practice. Local Environment, 23(1), 36-53. View this article in WRRO
- Place Attachment and Memory: Landscapes of Belonging as Experienced Post-migration. Landscape Research, 38(2), 160-178.
- FLEXIBILITY IN PLACE AND MEANINGS OF PLACE BY FIRST GENERATION MIGRANTS. TIJDSCHRIFT VOOR ECONOMISCHE EN SOCIALE GEOGRAFIE, 103(1), 69-84.
- Flexibility in place and meanings of place by first generation migrants. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie.
- The Humane Metropolis: People and Nature in the Twenty-first Century City by Rutherford Platt (Ed.). Journal of Urban Design, 14(4), 572-574.
- Novelty and nostalgia in urban greenspace: Refugee perspectives. TIJDSCHR ECON SOC GE, 97(3), 281-295.
- Engaging with marginalised groups in public open space research: The potential of collaboration and combined methods. Planning Theory and Practice, 7(1), 27-46.
- Ethno-cultural representation in the urban landscape. Journal of Urban Design, 9(3), 311-333.
- Ethnic minority groups and the design of public open scape: An inclusive landscape?. Landscape Research, 26(4), 351-366.
- Contextualised Convivialities in Superdiverse Neighbourhoods – Methodological Approaches Informed by Urban Design. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 1-18.
- Public Open Spaces in Bahrain: Connecting Migrants and Urban Heritage in a Transcultural City, The Urban Book Series (pp. 9-20). Springer International Publishing
- Articulating transnational attachments through on-site narratives In Manzo L & Devine-Wright P (Ed.), Place Attachment: Advances in Theory, Methods and Applications (pp. 100-111).
- Transcultural Cities Routledge
- Everyday Place that Connect Disparate Homelands In Hou J (Ed.), Transcultural Cities
Conference proceedings papers
- A multi-cultural perspective on urban green space. URBAN LIFESTYLES: SPACES - PLACES - PEOPLE (pp 287-288)
- View this article in WRRO Design for Diversity: Intercultural Outdoor Places
- View this article in WRRO Benches for Everyone. Solitude in public, sociability for free.
Theses / Dissertations
- Research group
See scope of my doctoral research group Transcultural Urban Outdoors, this is my primary area of research supervision.
Secondary interests with regard to research supervision are:
- Public open space as a resource for integration and wellbeing of refugees
- Experience of landscape by people from ethnic community backgrounds
- Social experiences of landscape: walking, conversations, resting, sitting
- Creative and inclusive practices in research methodology
Funding and awards
As Principal Investigator:
- #Refugeeswelcome in Parks: Wellbeing and Inclusion in Public Open Space
Arts and Humanities Research Council under the Connected Communities programme, 2017, £100,000
The Un-Sociable Bench, and other urban micro-territories of encounter and intimidation. 2015. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. £100,000.
Walking Voices: first generation migrants' experiential attachments to urban neighbourhoods. 2006. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. £100,000.
Urban Greenspace Re-visioned - Refugee Perspectives. 2004. £17,000.
ESRC Case Studentship 2002 – 2005. Secured and supervise PhD studentship entitled Longevity of public involvement in community landscapes. (Andrew Hinchley)
Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature: integrating green/blue infrastructure and health service valuation and delivery. (2016-2019) Joint UK Research Councils. £1.3 million. Work package lead on work package 2: “Understand the diversity of people's understandings of nature, natural environments, nature experience, natural beauty, connectedness to nature and H&W, together with the underlying values that influence these understandings”
Immigrants, Place and Cross-cultural Understanding. (2011) World Universities Network. $20,000
- #Refugeeswelcome in Parks: Wellbeing and Inclusion in Public Open Space
- Teaching interests
My approach to design teaching is one where students are encouraged to set their own questions and challenges, learning through ongoing experimentation. The shared context of the studio allows us to analyse, collaborate and support each member’s ideas and skills.
I integrate peer and self review, self-directed research, private reflective writing and public exhibitions into each module to emphasise the importance of integrating making and thinking, and to give critical status to design craft.
I am a strong supporter of on-site work, direct engagement with the texture, seasons, peculiarities and potential of each site, and the need for ‘ongoing professional development’ in exploring as many places as possible in Sheffield and beyond.
Research and Teaching Interface
The interaction between research and teaching, and research ‘on’ teaching, is important to me. My research focus on cultural interpretations of place is equally relevant to a department with an international outlook and student cohort, tacking landscape sites in socially diverse contexts.
The innovation in methodological approaches to my research projects also stimulates new ideas for how students may investigate sites and communicate their own responses and values.
I also have conducted research on teaching practice through undertaking a two year M.Ed, and this has led to initiating a number of departmental and university projects which share a common emphasis in supporting students in independent research.
Masters in Teaching and Learning for University Lecturers (2007), including dissertation: ‘Field Trips: learning and teaching on the outside’.
University CILASS Academic Fellow 2008-9. Conducted research and project development for the Centre for Inquiry-Based Learning on a 20% contract. Involved in setting up the initial year of SURE (Sheffield University Undergraduate Research Experience).
Rishbeth, C. (2009) ‘Blurring the boundaries of the curriculum to shape professional identities’ in symposium: ‘Learning beside / outside / before the classroom’. Society for Research in Higher Education annual conference.
Initiated, recruited and co-ordinated a Student Volunteer project for Women’s Refuge (2011). The project involved 6 UG and PG students over a four month period who consulted, designed and implemented improvements to the outdoor spaces around the refuge. The project incorporated a research component as a 2nd year team member also took part in the SURE scheme.
- Teaching activities
Modules I lead
- LSC234 Studio Design 4: Exploration and Intervention
- LSC 6111 Landscape Architecture: Nature, Design and People
Modules to which I contribute
- LSC 6112 Urban Ecological Design and Management
- LSC 6026 Special Project: Research and Development Study
- LSC6005 Special Project
- LSC 4140 / LSC6140 Dissertation supervision. Research report / Dissertation.
- Professional activities
- Director of External Relations, Engagement and Impact
- Place, Inclusion and Equity research cluster chair
- Achieve More department champion
- Post graduate personal tutor
- Department Research Committee