Right of Way

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London England, Summer 2012, taken by Tanya Nielsen

I have been rereading some of the previous posts in this blog, and found inspiration in Sonja Boon’s post Water Stories. She mentions that the difference between a young river and old river is that a young river is straight and an old river bends and bends (Boon, 08/28/15). I have been thinking about how water shapes and changes the landscape it occupies, and I remembered something about how people shape and change the landscape they occupy.

While I have traveled to and seen locations of changing landscape, England is the one that I think of the most. I felt like a time traveler while I was there, the way the old and new sit side by side, pressing up against each other like they’ve always been together. London is a city thousands of years old; it has been built and rebuilt so many times and remnants of the past are not torn down but remain standing.

One can walk around the city and see pieces of the London Wall (built 200 AD ca.) next to apartment buildings, and even in a car park. The featured image for this post is of St. Paul’s Cathedral, built in 1675 by Christopher Wren; it was taken from shopping centre One New Change, completed in 2010 by Jean Nouvel. History is everywhere, and so are dreams of the future.

While architecture and structure define the landscape of the city, people are defining the landscape of the rest of the country through the right of public space. England and Wales passed the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000, which secures footpaths, the right to roam in public spaces, and prevents the privatization of certain areas if there is a local tradition of access (see here).


Avebury Pathway, Avebury England, Summer 2012, taken by Tanya Nielsen

Paths that have been around for hundreds of years needed to be protected from progressive building developments and privatization of public spaces, and new paths are being created where they are needed to preserve areas for public use. People cannot build on, or prevent people from accessing these areas, so they have to build or privatize around them.

This was mainly designed for places outside of London, but people have been pushing for the same consideration in the city that has been developing for over a thousand years. In doing so, the architectural landscape has these empty spaces that have been left alone. There are walkways through buildings, and alleys that bend and bend, like an old river.

I found it interesting that I was walking along the same paths that other people had walked for centuries beforehand, that I had a right to walk through fields, back alleys, and buildings because there needs to be a path there. Now, I find it fascinating that English landscape can be defined by what is not there, as much as what is.

A gap between structures can be a path, like a crumbled piece of stone was part of a wall. An open area can be as corporeal as if it were a building, because it is protected and that protection effects the geographical landscape. My right to an area means that I change a landscape through my use of it.

© Tanya Nielsen (tjn710@mun.ca),  2016



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