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Deciphering The City

My name is Helen Blejerman; I was born in Mexico City and have lived in Sheffield for four years. At this point of my stay I still feel that I haven’t found or grabbed in my hands the tangible essence of the ever changing city of Sheffield.

I wonder if a metropolis is at all something one could decipher. If it is, how to discover its real substance, the centre of its real essence? I wonder if the truth of a city is based on its history or does it lie in its own present. Perhaps it becomes projected onto what others perceive or it is reflected in what it inspires in others.

Those that are ‘in the know’ say that images from films and literature influence the collective image of a place but Umberto Eco says in his essay The Line and the Labyrinth “Culture is not possible without recognizing a border”. This makes me think, perhaps one clue deciphering a city lies in the history of its own borders. I think one possible way to disentangle the essence of a city could be defined then by what ‘the one outside the border’ perceives. So, in those terms, would it be possible to decipher a metropolis through the notes of a stranger, an outsider…a walker? Would it be an eye with enough distance a feasible way to gain understanding of what a city is made of? Would the understanding of the borders or local places that represent frontiers, approach us to the soul of a city?

In an attempt to answer these questions, I am initiating a search for the soul of the City of Sheffield. My aim is to try to understand the fifth largest city in the UK through notes that I will be taking as a traveller, as a walker. I’ll walk Sheffield and I will stop in several places. Then, I will bring with me the impressions and we will broadcast them over the radio. In this way all the notes will return to the urban landscape where I believe they really belong.

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Part 4: Psalter Lane Campus

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Today’s stop is different to the previous ones. In contrast to the others, today I am in a ‘non place’. I am standing in front of what was my art school, of what was the Psalter Lane campus, but now it is just rubble. Is it possible to understand a city like this that changes so rapidly? Maybe the very essence of the city  does not change. Like the stable and still eye of a hurricance, is this where I am now?

Part 3: Heeley City Farm

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There are places that bring us closer to the urban essence for their speed, movement, plurality and capacity for change, and there are other sites that get us closer to the ultimate substance of a city by paradox and opposition, experiencing other types of priorities, where plants, animals and people are obviously part of the same order.This brings me to my third stop, a place within the city but also, a great contrast to it. This place is Heeley City Farm.

Part 2: Sheffield Train Station

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Walking Sheffield from West to East, I couldn’t help but stopping where I feel is generally one of the most relevant places of a city, the point that both welcomes and bids farewell to visitors, commuters and locals. I have decided to stop by the main and central Sheffield Train Station. Once it was a little terminal dramatically surrounded by green fields but today it is the first arrival point of a city that welcomes students from more than one hundred and twenty countries from Azerbaijan to Zambia, as well as the witness of more than eight million annual passengers.

Part 1: Bole Hill Recreation Ground

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I looked at Sheffield on a map and realised that its shape is nestled in the countryside. It looks like it is supported by or relaxed on the big green area. This large area of green even looks a little ‘motherly’, supporting Sheffield on the map. This threshold between the city and the countryside brings me to the one of the most western borders of Sheffield. I have decided to begin my journey here, in an open area used by the community for recreational purposes: the ‘Bole Hill Recreation Ground’.