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Why Does the Past Matter? Emotional Attachments to the Historic Urban Environment

October 25, 2017

When: October 25, 7 p.m.

Where: SFU Vancouver, 515 West Hastings St. (Harbour Centre). Room 7000 

Cost: Free, but registration required. Register here. Or register for the free webcast here.

Decisions to retain or demolish historic buildings are often driven by functional and economic imperatives, yet this approach obscures the profound relationships between people and places. This talk will examine the ways in which emotional attachments develop between people and their historic urban environment and how this influences the processes of urban redevelopment. Dr. Madgin will do so by bringing together literature from cultural geography, environmental psychology, and urban history with empirical evidence drawn from British cities.

The main case study explores the tagline, 'You Can't Move History: You Can Secure the Future', which encapsulated the battle at the heart of the campaign to retain the Southbank Undercroft (London, UK) in the light of planned redevelopment of the Southbank Centre. The Undercroft is an organically created skate spot located within the supporting structures of Southbank Centre and has been skated since 1973. However, plans to relocate the skate spot to a purpose-built skate park 120 metres away caused outrage amongst the generations of skaters of the Undercroft. The "Long Live Southbank" (LLSB) campaign to resist relocation revealed deep emotional attachments to the urban environment. These attachments were generated through embodied experiences of, and everyday practices within, physical spaces. Dr. Madgin's talk examines the type, nature and intensity of emotional attachments to the Undercroft and how the LLSB campaign revealed the reasons for emotional attachments between people and historic urban spaces. In doing so, she explores the need to better understand the intangible elements of place that are embedded within the built environment. Dr. Madgin will argue that tangible spaces are only one part of a much deeper intangible archive of emotional attachments, embodied experiences, and everyday practices. Interrogating this living archive is central to understanding why historic spaces retain a contemporary significance and more broadly to understanding sites of belonging within the city.

Rebecca Madgin

Dr. Rebecca Madgin is senior lecturer in urban development and management in urban studies, University of Glasgow. Her work focuses on the values of urban heritage during the process of urban redevelopment and place-making initiatives in the late 20th and 21st centuries. She has recently been awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council Leaders Fellowship to explore emotional attachments to the historic urban environment. Her work brings together theories from cultural geography and environmental psychology with empirical evidence drawn from in-depth urban case studies. She retains an international focus on her work having examined examples from Europe and Asia and has recently co-edited a book with Nicolas Kenny entitled Cities Beyond Borders, which examines comparative and transnational approaches to the study of urban history. A distinctive feature of her work is the ways in which the urban past influences contemporary urban policies and practices and as such has worked with a range of local and national organisations drawn from across the built environment sector and is an associate member of the Royal Town Planning Institute and a member of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation’s professional journal, Context.

Co-sponsored by the SFU Department of History.