Monthly Archives: March 2012

‘Skeletons in the closet’: Forgetting the past in an urban present

by Kostas Arvanitis, Museology, School of Arts, Histories and Cultures

The past is closer to us than we sometimes think, says Susan Pearce (1990) and this cannot be truer than in Greek cities. A number of them, built layer upon layer on medieval, hellenistic, classical or prehistoric settlements have ‘deep roots’ in the land they occupy. These ‘roots’ are often visible in the material traces of past environments, such as archaeological monuments, sites or remains, that still stand or lie around the city.

In recent years, archaeological and museological research and practice in Greece has been concerned with the display in situ of such antiquities. However, this is often limited mainly to high profile sites, such as the antiquities excavated in the construction of the Athens Metro (images 1 and 2), or in the foundations of the new Acropolis Museum (images 3 and 4). Their preservation and display have been seen as the contemporary city ‘paying respect’ to the ancient city; a statement that today’s urban development won’t scrape away the material evidence of a shared history and identity. The state, through its strict legislation and powerful Archaeological Service turns the in situ antiquities to permanent reminders of a cultural and national past. In turn these ‘celebrity’ antiquities located in their busy and visible public spaces become the signposts of public memory.

Image 1: Displays of antiquities in Athens Metro

Image 2: In situ preservation and display of antiquities in Athens Metro (flickr: artandmale)

Image 3: Acropolis Museum, Athens

Image 4: Archaeological remains at the Acropolis Museum, Athens


However, in my research I have been focusing on archaeological sites or remains that exist ‘out of sight’, beneath modern developments (usually blocks of flats) in Greek cities. Those archaeological remains are found during construction processes and due to their archaeological significance they are preserved in situ, usually in basements of buildings. The local Archaeological Departments of the Ministry of Culture are responsible for safeguarding, preserving and monitoring the remains, the majority of which are not accessible to the public. In fact, the ‘public’ (locals, visitors or tourists) may be unaware of the remains’ existence. Locked away in basements (image 5), hidden behind walls or underground (image 6), or blending in everyday environments (images 7 and 8), these antiquities become almost ‘invisible’. They are also invisible inasmuch they are not published in e.g. guidebooks, museum exhibitions, etc.

Image 5: Roman remains in a basement (Veroia, Greece)

Image 6: Tomb under a street (Veroia, Greece)


Image 7: Roman remains in a furniture shop (Veroia, Greece)

Image 8: Roman remains in a furniture shop (Veroia, Greece)

This notion of the remains’ ‘invisibility’ links to issues, processes and practices of urban, public and national memory and identity construction and professional ethics in archaeological and heritage management. However, this process of making the remains invisible does not function like e.g. the public veiling of the Reichstag (image 9), whereby the veiling functioned ‘as a strategy to make visible, to unveil, to reveal what was hidden when it was visible’ (Huyssen, 2003: 37). It does not form a space for reflection, contemplation and public memory; quite the opposite. The act of covering, hiding or ‘locking away’ the archaeological remains represents an act of separating them from their metonymic relationship with a heritage past and so actively excludes them from the city’s and nation’s ‘social and cultural memory bank’. Ultimately it is an act of selectively forgetting (about them), even before they become memory.  If memory is a mode of representation (Huyssen 2003), then the hidden away archaeological remains are excluded both from memory and their effect on the self-representation of residents and professionals alike.

Image 9: Christo, Wrapping of the Reichstag (Image from

But one can of course challenge to what extent remains of a Roman or Byzantine street or building can find a place in people’s processes of constructing their identity or ‘forging’ their memory. Although the 19th century discourse of the monument as ruin (Huyssen, 2003) has inspired and ruled (still does) archaeological heritage management and public perception of archaeology in Greece, yet it does not always define people’s interactions with archaeological monuments or ruins. One can argue that an ‘antiquities fatique’ has built up the last 50 years or so in Greece, during which an intense property development in cities met with the professionalisation and state centralisation of archaeological practice.  The meeting wasn’t a happy one (still isn’t). The proliferation of ruins and remains in building constructions has led to local people’s over-familiarisation with the symbolic past, yet an estrangement from its material counterpart. This estrangement has become greater as residents have constantly been excluded from any involvement in the uncovering and managing those remains. As Laurajane Smith stresses, ‘embedded within this discourse is the idea that the proper care of heritage, and its associated values, lies with the experts, as it is only they who have the abilities, knowledge and understanding to identify the innate value and knowledge  contained at and within historically important sites and places’ (2006: 30). In practice, this exclusion has led to a lack of (symbolic) ownership and the remains are seen as ‘intruders’ not only to people’s lives, but also people’s cultural identities.

These archaeological remains are in a liminal state: between public and private; cultural heritage and cultural rubbish; visibility and invisibility; selective accessibility and general inaccessibility; knowledge and ignorance; acknowledgment and forgetting. They have become a fetus of an unborn public memory, disregarded traces of a city’s heritage identity and cultural imagination and self-perceived guilt of an aspiring professional archaeological practice. They are ‘skeletons in the closet’; prisoners in an in-betweeen space and state that yet expose the characteristics, perceptions and boundaries of archaeological heritage management and people’s relationship with the city’s built heritage.


Related Project: ‘Curators in Residence’: Hidden archaeological sites and ‘virtual curating’

This research aims to engage residents in Veroia, Greece with the interpretation and presentation of antiquities preserved under modern buildings via the use of digital media. Through the active involvement of residents and the application of digital technologies, the project aims to develop a network of volunteer ‘virtual curators’ that would contribute towards a collaborative, localised and personalised presentation of the ‘hidden’ archaeological sites. The project aims also to explore whether through participation in the presentation of built heritage, residents develop a sense of ownership and stewardship of the antiquities and how their process of ‘heritage memory’ is enhanced, disrupted or challenged through that process.


Huyssen, A. 2003. Present Pasts. Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Pearce, S.M. 1990. Archaeological Curatorship. London: Leicester University Press.

Smith, L. 2006. Uses of Heritage. London and New York: Routledge.


Telescopic Urbanism and the Poor

By Prof. Ash Amin, 1931 Chair in Geography, Cambridge University

Prof. Amin will be giving a lecture at the University of Manchester on Wednesday 14 March, as part of an afternoon of global urbanism lectures and events. All welcome!

Slums, Mumbai - image wallygrom on flickr

As globalization turns cities into complex, stretched entities with multiple geographies of affiliation, it becomes easier for some to make the self serving argument that any internal integrity to cities disappears, that there is no innate reason why their parts – social and geographical – can or should hold together.  The result is a divided optic – a telescopic urbanism – that projects only parts of the city, eschewing any need to think the city a field of shared life and common rights and obligations.  The city returns only as a space of discrepant juxtapositions and severed obligations, a provisioning for some and not others.

Two powerful projections reinforcing this optic, I wish to claim, have risen to the fore, one from a colonising minority with powerful allies, and the other from advocates of a bounded majority, both ironically tracing similar subjectivities of survival and reward.  One is the ‘business-consultancy’ projection, supported by powerful allies, for whom the urban poor are a mere encumbrance and embarrassment, while the other is the ‘human potential’ projection, sold to the poor by their allies that the only way forward is to build capabilities and other means of entrepreneurial advancement.  My argument is that such telescopic urbanism is centrally involved in preventing the growing scale and severity of human struggle, particularly in the cities of the South, from being seen as anything other than a problem of autochthonous development.

My claim is that the urban imaginary will need to change radically for things to be different, and a start would be to think the city once again as a provisioning and indivisible commons.  It would be easy to dismiss such a premise as unworkable let alone too idealistic, by pointing to the omissions that follow from entitlements being defined by the legal rather than existential status of urban inhabitants (therefore excluding the majority city of illegals and non-citizens), the biases arising from hamstrung, inefficient or corrupt public authorities captured by the rich and the powerful, the organisation of elites, interests and communities who benefit from the apportioned and appropriated city, the sheer magnitude of need in the city of endless migration from the countryside and increased reproduction.  But without an optic that sees the whole city, and as a shared commons, the rudimentary response of telescopic regimes to a 21st century problem of bare survival for a very large chunk of humanity on the urban fringe will remain unchallenged.

Thinking in this way leads me to suggest that the state of the world demands once again a politics of large-scale social engineering, but of a distinctive sort.  Junking the totalising ideals of old-style socialist modernism or the brashness of modern capitalist colonisation of desire, a place to start is to commit to the universal distribution of the basic staples of human development and association, from access to shelter, clean water and sanitation to the means to access the rest of the city and its public goods.  Without extending the ‘infrastructural’ rights of the poor, business consultancy urbanism will take over the city, as it has already begun to do in parts of the world aspiring to world-class city status.   Here, the elites are on the march, bent on clearing slums and people of an unpleasant bearing to make way for business-consultancy city, with its shiny buildings, glitzy consumption, fast highways, clean and safe streets, plentiful real estate, a pro-business state, global connectivity, and an investment-tourism-consumption-knowledge friendly environment.

In aspiring world-class cities such as Delhi and Bombay the cleansing elites are already getting their way.  Here, even the affordances of the concessionary state to the poor in response to their organisation as a claims-making rather than rights-bearing body, are being choked off, fanned by a paranoid rhetoric from behind gated communities of bad life in upgraded slums whose real estate ought to be handed over to the prosperity-bearing middle classes.  Other cities of the post-colonial world will choose to follow suit as rumours of rich pickings from business consultancy urbanism spread.  They too will want their place in the sun in the unfolding post-occidental modernity, by letting the poor roast in the sun.  It may be time to rove the telescope to police the colonising urban elites, to insist on the basic infrastructural rights of the poor, without qualification.

Prof. Amin’s  book Land of Strangers, which examines the biopolitics of belonging in the contemporary West, is published in 2012 by Polity. An interview with Ash about Land of Strangers can be found on

Market Forces and Education in Manchester

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 13 March, 6pm at the Anthony Burgess Foundation on ‘Using Market Forces to improve Education in Manchester: Possibilities and Challenges’. The event is free (but please book your place here) and will be followed by a drinks reception.

Education revolution or recipe for disaster?

The 2010 Academies Bill was launched with much talk of the Coalition Government’s hopes for an ‘education revolution’.  One argument in favour is that independent state schools (i.e. academies and free schools) can raise overall standards and inject new energy by creating a more competitive education ‘market-place’. There are, however, fears that this approach will further fragment the state education system and compound the disadvantage faced by children and young people from poorer backgrounds.

How have the changes played out in Manchester? What does the academic evidence say about the claims, both positive and negative? What are the options for working within this system? Our panellists – all of whom work in the field of education – will give us their perspectives on these issues on Tuesday. A short preview is given below.

Aneez Esmail (Chair of Governors, Chorlton High)

Chorlton High is currently in a consultation with parents and staff about becoming a converter Academy. Aneez will talk about the issues that the school faced in coming to a decision to consult and the concerns amongst parents and staff about the marketisation of the education system. Chorlton High School is successful because it is a comprehensive school and he will talk about the impact on the school of recent market reforms and how these have impacted on the schools ability to maintain its comprehensive ethos.

Helen Gunter (School of Education, University of Manchester)

There is a game that both children and adults play where one person puts a word on a piece of paper, and then folds it over, and passes it on. At the end of the circulation the paper is unfolded and read out. The disjuncture between the words can be simultaneously creative and ridiculous, and so the game is actually called “Exquisite Corpse” because the first time it was played the sentence that emerged was “The exquisite corpse drinks the new wine”. I wonder if we played this on Tuesday evening and began with ‘urban education’ what the outcome might be? Would we have a sentence that necessarily led to academies and free schools, what other words might we include and what imaginings and descriptions might we create in our discussions?

It seems to me in following the debates about the Academies Programme that the claims made often make as little sense as the exquisite corpse. There was no evidence in 2000 for this major change to the provision of public services, there is still no evidence in 2012 to support any continued investment in this provision. While ‘working in the interests of children’ is often used to justify the modernisation of eduction, I will make the case that the privatisation of education is not in the interests of children, but it is in the interests of those who are seeking to move to for profit services.

Stuart Leeming (New Islington Academy and Deputy High Master, Manchester Grammar)

Is the misunderstood child coming of age? Two years ago, the first applications to open Free Schools were submitted to DfE amidst much suspicion, avid scrutiny and sensationalist publicity. Everyone ‘knew’ that free schools are the province of the lunatic fringe; if you want to open a school in the attic teaching your pet dogma, that’s how you do it. Local authorities were hostile and pundits were convinced the concept wouldn’t work. What a difference twenty-four months makes!

Free Schools are the ultimate demand driven institutions; if you can’t demonstrate demand for a school that relates to real children, you can’t open a Free School. If you can demonstrate that demand, then anyone with the drive and determination has the opportunity to bid to open a school funded by the DfE.

New Islington Free School in Manchester is the progeny of an alliance between the visionary developer, Urban Splash; the education pedigree of the Manchester Grammar School; the foresight and pragmatism of Manchester City council and the commitment and support of the Homes and Communities Agency. Together, this group comprise New Islington Free School, a company limited by guarantee that is hoping to establish and run an exciting new school in the heart of the city.

Kieran McDermott (CEO, One Education)

The Academy Act and the 2012 Education Act are statutory evidence of a changed relationship. The Government’s aim is that within the lifetime of the current Parliament every school in England will be an Academy. Nearly half of all secondary schools have converted already or are in process to do so. While it remains to be seen whether this target will be achieved, all schools, regardless of their funding status, are now responsible for their own continuous improvement and have increasing autonomy and control of budgets and resources. The post code lottery model of local authority services has been found wanting and schools routinely exercise choice in sourcing services from a wide range of providers.

The market for school improvement is long standing but has becoming increasingly competitive and complex with national and multi-national organisations competing for business. One Education was established to meet the challenge faced by schools as local authorities faced with significant financial challenge are reducing traditional services or pulling out of supporting schools altogether. One Education is an ethical, commercially viable, school support company. We push hard to innovate in everything we do, reduce costs wherever we can and make a real difference to the schools and academies we serve. We know that every penny a school spends must make a difference.

Academy chains are growing rapidly across local authority boundaries and many have already acquired national profiles. The question is regularly asked; whose schools are they? The argument has been won about giving school leaders freedom from the “dead hand of bureaucracy”, but few are advocating that schools should be unaccountable to the communities they serve. But as this new and diverse education ecology emerges, all of us involved in education will need to be more open to new ways of working, new partnerships and new accountabilities, if we really want to create the kind of education system that a fulfilled and successful future for our children demands.

Julie Thorpe (Co-operative College)

Co-operation – an idea which spread widely as basis for economic and social organisation in the nineteeth century – is back in fashion. Providing a tried and tested model, it offers a response to the vacuum which has arisen since the financial crisis called into question free-market economics approches to the provision of goods and services, and the consequent structures of our towns and cities. Not only the ‘flavour of the month’ in policy circles, there is also a growing body of scientific study suggesting that it might be our best bet for a sustainable future. Education has always been a key principle of the co-operative movement and we are currently experiencing an explosion of new co-operative approaches within the mainstream school system.

The debate will be chaired by Gillian Evans (University of Manchester)

For full details of this and other cities@manchester Urban Forums please see our website.

Fragrant Cities – Relationships between smell and urban environments

By Victoria Henshaw, Architecture, School of Environment and Development.

When people hear about my research examining the sense of smell and the city, they frequently question why it might be important that we consider the role of this elusive sense in urban environments. Many go even further, suggesting that we’d be better off if we couldn’t smell the pollution, the rubbish bins, the cigarette smoke or the sewers. At first, such comments used to surprise me, but over time, I’ve come to appreciate these as symptomatic of society’s preoccupation with the way things look (people, environments and objects) and, to a lesser extent, the way they sound. Such views are further reinforced by some of the special characteristics that our sense of smell possesses. I therefore attempt to respond to these comments with a number of key points.

Manchester China Town

First, I highlight that as much as we try and distance ourselves from our inner animality, as human beings we are in fact living, breathing masses of flesh, nerve, muscle, bone, sinew, sense and instinct and as such we rely on all of our senses, and there are many not just the traditional five[1], to come to understand and gain meaning from the world around us. Second, the very way that the sense of smell operates means that it frequently isn’t until people lose their sense of smell that they come to appreciate the important role and influence it has in our everyday lives. I know a philosopher in Barcelona who has congenital anosmia, meaning that she was born without a sense of smell, and she has concluded in her investigations into aesthetic experience that the world ‘is both a less beautiful and a less ugly place without a sense of smell’[2]. In this respect, the sense of smell becomes a quality of life issue and certainly all the evidence I have collected over the years, have supported this idea and indicated that the perception of environments, and their odour, are significantly related.

Thirdly, given its important role in self-preservation, the human sense of smell has a special relationship with memory, allowing us to transport across space and time to people and places often long gone. How many of us have detected smells that have taken us back to childhood memories that we thought long-forgotten? One research participant informed me that the combined odour of a specific perfume with cigarette smoke always reminds her of her mother, now deceased. The same unique combinations of scents are true for places and cities too, stored in the back of our memories for long periods of time for places we have visited in the past, and frequently at the forefront of our consciousness when first visiting unfamiliar territory.

Finally, the study of smell in the urban environment allows us to think about cities, societies and the challenges they face, in a new way. Just as the feminist movement placed an important emphasis on the study of the everyday in revealing new perspectives on the social world, the study of people’s everyday experiences of odour, similarly draw attention to key urban issues such as air quality, public health, social inclusion and the fine balance between public and private space in the city.

But before I elaborate further on city odours today, allow me to briefly summarise some background to this line of enquiry. The term ‘smellscape’ was first coined in 1990 by geographer J. Douglas Porteous, in his book ‘Landscapes of the Mind: Worlds of Senses and Metaphor’[3]. Similar to the term ‘landscape’, or more recently that of ‘soundscape’ which can be traced back to the work of Shaffer[4] and colleagues on the World Soundscapes Project, ‘smellscape’ is used to describe the smell environment surrounding us; both its individual component odours and its totality[5]. Indeed, it was the interesting work on urban soundscapes carried out at the University of Salford’s Acoustics Research Centre, and specifically that investigating the positive role that sound (as opposed to noise) plays in urban experience and perception, that first wet my appetite or rather tantalised my nostrils, and got me thinking about smell and the city.

Cities have historically been thought of as dirty, smelly places fuelled by the gathering of large numbers of people in concentrated areas, supported by a cycle of food and goods supply, waste production and removal. Pre-industrial towns and cities across Europe were extremely odorous places by today’s standards. Laden with excrement, mud, de-composing animals, meat, vegetables and blood, the pigs that routed around in the street for organic matter offered only small comfort in reducing the filth within which urban dwellers went about their daily lives[6].

Industrialisation, dubbed by Barbara and Perliss[7] the ‘excremental age of architecture’ (2006, p30), brought pollution of urban air as a by-product of burning coal in the home and industry, however it was the smell rather than the smoke that people disliked most as diseases, believed to be carried in the air through foul smells, were feared more than respiratory illnesses[8].

Academic research and popular programmes such as the BBC’s recent Filthy Cities series[9] have increased awareness of historical urban smellscapes; however few studies have examined contemporary urban smell environments. Difficulties experienced when measuring or describing odours undoubtedly contribute towards this gap in knowledge, although techniques such as gas-chromatography[10] or technologies such as augmented noses[11] are starting to emerge. Furthermore, it wasn’t until the publication of Buck and Axel’s paper on the function of the smell system in 1991, for which they went on to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2004, that the scientific community gained a degree of consensus regarding how our sense of smell even works.

Moreover, modern architects, urban designers and planners have been widely accused as preoccupied with visual aspects of the environment, argued by Richard Sennett[12] to result in towns and cities that deprive the senses, creating, “…the dullness, the monotony, and the tactile sterility which afflicts the urban environment”. My research attempts to gain insights that might assist in overcoming this bias, through the investigation of everyday experiences of smell in the contemporary city. Through undertaking smellwalks, a practice where I walk with participants in defined areas and ask them to focus upon what they can smell, I have examined what odours we detect in cities, how we perceive these and in turn, what relationship odours have with our perceptions of the places in which we detect, or associate, particular odours. There is also a practical side to my research, a hangover from days spent as a practitioner delivering large scale urban realm projects, where I identify tools by which planners, architects and urban designers might better accommodate considerations of smell within their work.

So what factors influence the smell of our cities today and what smells might we expect to detect? Clearly, the smellscapes of towns and cities today are very different from those of the past, largely a result of conscious and unconscious odour management strategies that have attempted to: separate smells away from the city (e.g. heavy industries, waste water treatment facilities, abattoirs) or away from source such as through elaborate ventilation systems such as those in the alleyways of Manchester’s Chinatown; deodorise environments by introducing sophisticated waste management systems and cleansing activities that remove or wash away odours; mask existing odours with other odours that prevent or change the perception of those existing in the smellscape (e.g. odours of traffic overlaying those of local vegetation); and scent urban environments, (e.g. the use of scented cleaning fluids in public areas and car park stairwells or synthetic odours in outdoor commercial advertising campaigns).

Perfumed Fountain (Grasse, South of France)

Perfumed Fountain (Grasse, South of France)

The impact of these various strategies can be felt wherever we wonder; the expectations we have of what we might smell in contemporary cities and the different types of areas within them, varies significantly from expectations of the towns and cities of twenty, fifty, one hundred years ago. And what smells do we actually detect in the contemporary city? A much wider variety than we might initially think. When I ask people to name the odours that they expect to detect in the city, they usually highlight those stereotypical urban odours of traffic pollution, waste, cigarette smoke and coffee, and admittedly such odours do feature as important components of urban smellscapes. However, there are many other odours that are also frequently detected, ranging from local vegetation, materials, construction and key environmental features such as rivers, canals or the sea, through to markets, restaurants, ventilation emissions, street vendors and people. Factors such as the physical place we inhabit, our previous experiences, and the time of the day, week or year when we detect an odour, will likely influence our perception of that odour as well as the odour also influencing our perception of that place. So next time you walk down the street, have a sniff and see what you can smell; you might be surprised!

Smell advertising in London, February 2011

Along with colleagues in Geography and the Manchester Business School, Victoria is organising an inter-disciplinary workshop on Smell and the City, to be held on Monday the 19th March 2012, 12-4.30pm at the University of Manchester. Places are strictly limited so to find out more or reserve a space, please email Victoria will also be organising a series of smellwalks in Manchester in April and May, so please let her know if you would like to participate.

To find out more about Victoria’s work, visit, follow her on twitter @VictoriaHenshaw or alternatively you can download a podcast of a recent radio interview with her, on American Public Media  (3rd March 2012 edition of the show).

[1] The most widely recognised senses in the western world are those of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch (including haptic elements such as vibration) however, the scientific community also identifies the vestibular and proprioceptive senses (also referred to as kinaesthesia), see for example Lackner, J. R. and P. DiZio (2005). “Vestibular, Proprioceptive, and Haptic Contributions to Spatial Orientation” Annual Review of Psychology 56: pp.115-147

[2] Tafalla, M. (2011) Smell, Anosmia, and the Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature Presented at the Sensory Worlds Conference at the University of Edinburgh, 7th – 9th December 2011

[3] Porteous, J. D. (1990) Landscapes of the mind – Worlds of Sense and Metaphor. Toronto, University of Toronto Press.

[4] Schafer, R. M. (1994). Our Sonic Environment and the Soundscape – The Tuning of the World, Rochester.

[5] Porteous, J. D. (1990). Smellscape. Landscapes of the Mind: Worlds of Sense and Metaphor. Toronto, University of Toronto Press: pp. 21-45.

[6] See Classen, C. (2005). The Sensuous City: Urban Sensations from the Middle Ages to Modernity. Sensing the City: Sensuous Explorations of the Urban Landscape. Canadian Centre for Architecture; Cockayne, E. (2007). Filth, Noise & Stench in England. London, Yale University Press.

[7] Barbara, A. and A. Perliss (2006). Invisible Architecture – Experiencing Places through the Sense of Smell. Milan, Skira.

[8] Cockayne (2007)

[9] See The programme was launched with an accompanying scratch and sniff postcard of historical city odours such as those of XXX

[10] See Buchbauer, G. (2011) Flavour and Fragrance Chemistry: An Overview. In Diaconu, M., E. Heuberger, et al., (Eds). Senses and the City – An interdisciplinary approach to urban sensescapes. London, Transaction Publishers. P139-143

[11] See products such as the ‘Nasal Ranger’ which measures the dilution level of specific smells (Weber, C. (2011). “Augmented nose sniffs out illegal stenches” New Scientist. Issue2799)

[12] Sennett, R. (1994). Flesh & Stone – The Body and the City in Western Civilization. London, W.W. Norton & Company. P15