This collaboration with Johana Hartwig brings an urban design practise perspective to research and development for the Ascension project, funded by Arts Council Wales. Urban Habitats’ study of the River Rhymney, Cardiff’s only tidal river, as it joins the Severn Estuary and analyses access to the river from the perspective of physical and visual barriers. With rivers sometimes exclusively perceived as risks: the river is also considered as a resource for social value including wellbeing. The report can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.
This project is particularly exciting for Urban Habitats as a test bed to support people, both residents and workers, near the river to share their experiences and for their views to be represented in the work. Using clear methods for sampling participants and collection of data allows a rigorous approach to be demonstrated. This evidence can then be considered alongside more traditional desktop and fieldwork data. Fieldwork including interview artefacts are hosted on the Ramblr mobile application and can be heard and seen at this link.
The project identifies that public bodies do acknowledge the value of rivers as blue infrastructure at a policy level, particularly planning policy. This recognition of value however seems to breakdown when translated into strategies on the ground, indeed sometimes they seem to work against it. Resident and worker views demonstrate in depth knowledge and understanding of the value of the river, its wildlife, and habitats and this evidence could be used to address this issue and supporting community agency at the same time.
What we learned on this project is the value of speaking directly with workers and residents and also how rarely this is done in a transparent way that seeks to address power imbalances. This made access challenging, particularly for residents, however we believe the methodology which was presented in full in the output report can be built on in future both on this project and in other contexts too.
We also learned that the River Rhymney is truly special, it has multiple protections including for geological interest and sits within a prehistoric landscape of great historic and cultural importance. This environment is recognised internationally for its importance in migrating birds and as a habitat for endangered species. Considering the health and wellbeing benefits of access to nature including rivers it is a truly remarkable resource.
Fieldwork: Ramblr link