Anywhere in Leeds
Two weeks ago, I took part in a circular walk around the medieval boundaries of Leeds, as part of the Terminalia Festival, to commemorate Terminus, the Roman God of landmarks and boundaries. Along the walk, I was commenting with my friend Davide about how we both – as foreigners from Italy and Mexico – saw Leeds when we first arrived, and how we see it now. We agreed that this is a city of unhidden secrets: it appears plain and transparent at first sight and doesn’t seem to be hiding much. After a few weeks you feel like you’ve figured this place out already, but there’s more to Leeds than meets the eye. This town holds so many little gems, concealed in plain sight, waiting to be discovered by whoever’s willing to walk with open eyes.
I first arrived almost three years ago, as part of an exchange programme between Leeds Metropolitan University and the University of Monterrey, in Mexico. I confess I knew nothing about the city before getting here, except it had a football team called Leeds United and it had once been an important industrial hub (now I know it was more about wool manufacturing). Basically, I was in an unknown place, with no idea about anything, but with a lot of excitement to travel, wander and explore. I admit that after a few weeks in Leeds – just as I commented with Davide – I stupidly felt I had figured it all out and there were not very many things left for me to discover, so my wanderlust started leading me to places further and further away, around the UK and the rest of Europe, until I even ended up in Jordan for a long weekend, without even having visited the Leeds City Museum or had a pint at Whitelocks pub.
I left Leeds in the summer of 2012, with a bit of regret for not having explored the city as much as I had initially wanted to, and almost as soon as I returned to Mexico I started thinking of a way to come back. Along the span of one year and a half, my feelings of guilt for trying to find the unusual in every possible place except the one right in front of me and my interest in information design, as well as public intervention led me to devise a plan to make my degree project site-specific to the city of Leeds. After a lot of effort convincing my home university to support me, I managed to come back in January, and since I first stepped off the train I have been making every possible effort to walk with my eyes open, in order to find all the city’s details which make it unique.
The project that has brought me back to Yorkshire consists of designing an alternative, playful guide to the city of Leeds in an attempt to make Loiners (both native and adopted – like me and Davide) rediscover and engage more with the city they inhabit. This guide will take form in an online map and a printed version to be released during April, and will initially consist of three routes: history, culture, and fun facts. There will also be actual signs – think blue plaques, but with a twist of fun – scattered around the city so that pedestrians can stumble upon them and learn unusual things about Leeds. As well as all this, there will be hidden surprises along the way, to make the whole thing more exciting for young and old alike.
Along my walks, the conversations I’ve had with students, tutors and friends, the books, and Internet sites I’ve read, as well as an online survey I recently conducted, I have found that indeed Leeds holds many unhidden gems, such as an original iron Templar Cross in The Packhorse pub, an overlooked mural, and two golden clocks adorned with mysterious tortoises, yet the average person doesn’t seem to even stop for a moment to appreciate his or her surroundings. I wish to challenge this attitude with this project, which I have named ‘Anywhere in Leeds’, with help from the lovely 292 people who answered my online survey.
The reason I am so passionate about this venture is not just because I wish to rediscover Leeds and pass on this enthusiasm for discovery to fellow Loiners, but because I am convinced that only by really getting to know our surroundings are we in full capacity to change and improve them. The ‘Anywhere in Leeds’ routes might just be playful and quirky activities to do on a weekend, but I believe they can be a starting point to something bigger, where the community can get involved in shaping the future of this city, in order to transform it into a more human-centered place.
I wish to be able to replicate this scheme in other cities, making it grow and develop along the way in order to encourage the everyday person to become an explorer in his or her own hometown. The reason I have made Leeds first on the list is because of its compact size and walkability; I will then expand the scale of the challenge by returning to Mexico and continuing with Monterrey and Mexico City, in order to complete the three places in the world that I call home. After that… who knows!
If you wish to receive more information about this project or contribute to it, don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected] or @malu_colorin. Also, if you know the origin of the mysterious golden tortoises in the Civic Hall clocks, please do get in touch!
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