We also wanted to understand who these new residents would be. We were there to carry out research as part of an on-going art project under a public art strategy by Futurecity for Countryside’s Great Kneighton development: to explore the integration of the new residents with the existing surrounding communities, and their relationship and influence on the future character of this new development.
The site was in mid-construction when we arrived and completely devoid of any inhabitants. We were greeted with developers’ glossy hoardings that promised real life, with real people, in a real community. The place was dotted with show homes, arranged to clearly demonstrate how Great Kneighton would be occupied and by whom. Fittingly, the site was originally home to the Royal Show – the principal UK agricultural show of 1951, 1960 and 1961 – so we started referring to it as “the Showground”.
With the promise of real people in mind we searched the display homes. They were meticulously staged for potential inhabitants to experience the stunning interiors, and carefully placed household objects acted as gentle cues to expose and perform personal preference and similarities. We talked about how interpreting and creating a sense of home can be central to people’s identity, and also how the show homes take advantage of this. Feigning immunity, we were drawn in: Who uses Ecover over Persil? Organic coffee beans over Fair-trade ground? Or vice versa? The person who lives here will bake apparently, and there is no microwave...
And there was an offer of detail variation in the ‘choice room’ – yes, there was a room in which to make choices – whereby choosing from a selection of textile samples you may be able to adapt the tone of your home through the upholstery. Even amongst the subtle preferences and variations presented in Great Kneighton, we could clearly perceive the residents who were to occupy the place.
In fact, I can still picture some of them now, flicking through the stylish heavy coffee-table books near their three-piece suite: The Perfect Gentleman. They have breakfast in bed, from a wooden tray with a cafetière of fresh coffee, to be sipped out of a white bone china cup.
A dining room was arranged to show us that there would be four-course meals under a hanging chandelier. We could glimpse the panache of the lady-of-the house, because we know she wore that grey designer dress on the bed and we could see she would be a slim UK size 10. Maybe she’d wear it for the quick jaunt into Cambridge city centre, which is certainly quick with the new guided busway. Or maybe she’d put it on to entertain the guests who’d come for the dinner party downstairs. And we could see Addenbrooke’s Hospital across the fields and we thought, that is where a potential Great Kneightan would work. They may not ever need to take their car from the connected garage at all – it is the perfect location indeed. Just a few minutes bicycle ride away. And is it here that we are told we can locate this real life, real people and real community?
This plot of homely possibilities, now part occupied, hovers over what we refer to as Trumpington Village, a much more tenuous display of living. Firstly, its inhabitants were already very much present when we arrived. There is a low-rise housing estate surrounding a green, and in the late 1940s this was the plot for potential new residents. There are allotments, with chickens and orchards; untended gardens and well-tended gardens, but it seems all houses have gardens; a house with a wind turbine on the roof and one with a caravan outside. There are large stately homes too, white houses and blue houses, red brick and stone houses. There are net curtains, extensions and chimneys. There are many speed bumps and on-road parking, and there is a little old church and a pavilion, where over-60s bingo is played on a Wednesday afternoon.
In Trumpington Village there is a network of pathways connecting long-existing inhabitants to newer residents. There are various generations with narratives that are physically manifest in the land and its existence as ‘the housing estate’, ‘the village’ or ‘the manor’. Trumpington, we were told, was just a road with a Waitrose on the end, a re-evoked ghost of the past with an unpleasant estate, a thoroughfare for the Park & Ride, home of the famous Maris Piper potato, to Lord Byron and halls of lords, an Anglo-Saxon stronghold and an archaeological utopia.
We were told many versions of Trumpington – from Tramp-ington to Lord Byron-ton. Show houses and marketing apparitions now enfolded it. In harmony or in conflict, Trumpington will soon become part of a new larger community. We cannot help but start speculating on what new versions of Trumpington might look like.
In many ways we sensed that Trumpington Village was vocally clumped together, as antagonist to the impending giant of Great Kneighton and the surrounding developments. In the absence of people, they delivered real living as community through a situation where interests, or interior design preferences, are agreed. Through the impeccable and completely made-up residents of the staged show homes, a community based on taste and lifestyle, similarities and agreements, was conveyed.
Yet communities fundamentally occur in individuals sharing proximity and land. They come from people living together and are indeterminate by their very nature. How can we, or should we, even imagine harmony between so many (17,500+) disparate and entangled histories and interests? It is apparent that real living also involves real differences, not a constant search for similarities and shared interests.
Near the beginning of our research, in the middle of Trumpington estate, Ceri Galloway unintentionally started telling us of her grief over the poplar trees being felled. Just a short encounter with her on the street, and just a snippet of personal narrative about the trees she looked out on every day, revealed the real emptiness of the show homes and the real impossibility of selling living through sameness and generalities. Like this, particular accounts, versions and conflicts from residents came to us through other personal narratives, which generated the idea of Habitorials. We met local people who invited us into their homes and told us their stories. This complex network of narratives revealed to us the tangled messiness of real living. All the people who gave their stories also gave many views of what it means to have a place in common. Thank you for your generosity.
As narratives, Habitorials are inherently conflicts, connecting the past to the future from the position of the present, of Trumpington and Great Kneighton. These Habitorials could be considered a presentation of real life, with real people, in a real community, whilst searching for some sort of a common.
The ‘commons’, after all, is an Anglo-Saxon term for arable land jointly owned by all village members, removed from social status. Such a space that we can call ‘common’ is still an essential space, where all individuals have power to make quotidian yet radical contributions. Through their generation, these Habitorials have the potential to help bring together individuals and their differences. They do not promise consensus or negotiation through shared interests. They offer a space that allows conflict to surface and for us to begin discussions. Here, we offer a showground for differences and – a discursive space for genuine questions to be asked. What do you want, for a space of real living in a real community?