5 ways London’s waterways will be shaped by the Canal & River Trust’s new mooring strategy

People gather on the banks of Regent’s Canal, undoubtedly to complain about the CRT service facilities. Image: Getty.

Anyone without a vested interest in the canals, bear with me here; I’ve got big news. The Canal and River Trust (CRT) has released its new mooring strategy for the London area. I accept this may sound super boring but trust me, it’s not.

Even if you don’t have one foot in the water, so to speak, the canals are a public asset and CRT’s report affects everyone's access to them. The plans will shape the way the capital’s waterways are used for the foreseeable future.

The CRT is the completely-not-unwieldy privatised charity that took over from the erstwhile publically owned British Waterways. It is hoping to address the fact that the number of boaters using the canal network has ballooned over recent years, placing new stresses and strains on a vast and largely neglected network.

 
CRT’s figures for boat numbers in London, taken from the Mooring Strategy.

With the CRT predicting a further 1,500 boats on London’s waterways by 2022, this report attempts to prepare the 100-mile network for the foreseeable future.

Having sifted through the benevolent buzzwords such as ‘fair sharing’, ‘balancing’ and especially ‘vision’, which one three-page supplement managed to use ten times, here are five things we’ve learnt from the CRT’s 2018 London Mooring Strategy.

1. The New Space Race

There’s a perception of a zero-sum equation when it comes to usable space along the waterways, leading to fears that this surge in boat numbers will lead to London’s canals clogging up.

Matthew Symonds, the CRT’s boating strategy and engagement manager, warned of the “enormous amount of pressure on what is, after all, a finite space.” The report stated that “If numbers continue to rise in line with recent years it will be to the detriment of all users of the waterways.”

But is there really a lack of space? While the central London and East End canals have seen huge increases in the number of boaters, there has only been a slight swelling in west London. West of Kensal are miles and miles of canals (with convenient transport links) that remain unmoored most of the time.

 
Numbers of boats in different areas of London over time. Click to expand.

Within a short walk of Tottenham Hale station, one of the best connected stations in London, there is about a mile of towpath that is un-moorable due to underwater obstructions.

If the CRT was so concerned by space, you would think more energy would be put towards making proper use of existing space – rather than fearmongering that something (or some boaters) is going to have to give

2. The elephant in the room that’s probably going to mug you

Long unlit urban paths are always going to be a safety nightmare. On one night earlier this year, eight boats around Victoria Park were broken into. Last winter there was a particularly long spate of muggings along the Clapton stretch of the Lea. With similar stories heard across London you’d be forgiven for expecting that the CRT would suggest some sort of solution.

Yet in literally the last sentence of the report it merely suggests founding a “Canal Watch”, apparently oblivious to the fact that such a scheme was set up by boaters following the east London break-ins.

Nobody’s asking for the CRT to start arming hordes of retiree volunteers, but some sort of proposed anti-crime battle plan would be nice.


Canal Watch. The grass roots one, not CRT’s. Image: author provided.

3. It’s not all rubbish

If you’re looking for a way to strike up a conversation with a boater in London, just start complaining about the CRT service facilities and off they’ll go.

Key talking points include trickling water points, broken sewage pump-outs, and overflowing bins. And when there’s rubbish strewn across towpaths and in canals, it’s about time the issue was addressed.

Luckily, nine new rubbish disposal sites are being brought in across the network; with more water points, better sewage disposal facilities and even waste oil disposal facilities.

While this looks promising, only time will tell if these will be delivered effectively or will even be sufficient.


4. Innovation on the canals

For a charity and local council partnership, you wouldn’t imagine innovation to be top of the agenda, yet there are some interesting schemes to be piloted.

A patch of “eco-moorings” are intended to address on-going issues with pollution from boats and their trusty solid fuel stoves. This will see greater policing of boaters in the Kings Cross/ Angel area, which is coincidentally right by some of the most expensive canal-side property on the network. But that is definitely just a coincidence, right?

The CRT has rightly taken notice of the new types of industries flourishing on the canals, from bookshops to bakers, and ice cream boats to community spaces like the formidable Village Butty, a floating village hall.

New permanent business moorings are to be setup across London, but more interestingly ‘Roving Trader’ moorings are going to be tried out so travelling canal boat businesses can ply their trade in the big city.

5. Opening up the canals

The CRT is gunning hard to ensure “access to the water for all”. Although this sounds like a crowd-pleaser, it’s controversial among boaters; when you’re trying to steer an unwieldy 15 tonne barge through London’s narrow waterways, the last thing you want to worry about is kamikaze kayakers getting tangled in your propeller.

The CRT will be encouraging more spaces for water sports and fishing by imposing restricted moorings on certain areas of London, which, despite being at the expense of boaters, will probably be worth it if it brings more of the public to the canals.

But one things for certain from the report: the CRT’s move towards being a “wellbeing” charity as well as one that actually manages the waterways is being treated with healthy amounts of scepticism after it blew £60,000 on a rebranding that included a significantly inferior logo. So we’ll just have to see how this plays out.

 
 
 
 

Canada’s gay neighbourhoods are struggling. Can queer pop-ups plug the gap?

Vancouver. Image: Getty.

Queer life was highly visible in Western Canada last year. In May, Vancouver declared 2018 the “Year of the Queer,” celebrating decades of service that the city’s cultural organisations have provided for lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer and two-spirit (LGBTQ/2S) people across the region.

Yet 2018 also saw the loss of multiple queer venues and gay bars. While economic forces, such as rapacious gentrification are part of the story and struggle, our research shows that something creative and generative is happening in the city as well.

In the face of changing urban landscapes, economic hardships, and more straights moving into historically gay neighbourhoods, queer pop-ups — ephemeral gathering spaces whose impact lingers among revellers long after the night is over — now play a large role in the fight for LGBTQ/2S equality.

Scattered gay places became neighbourhoods

Queer life germinated in “scattered gay places” across cities in North America from the late 1800s to the Second World War. Inside cabarets, bars, theatres or outside in public parks, washrooms and city streets, queers found spaces which could hold and celebrate transgressive sexual connections while also providing respite from daily experiences of discrimination and social exclusion.

After the Second World War, scattered gay places congealed into permanent gay bars and residential “gaybourhoods” in a period anthropologist Kath Weston calls “the great gay migration.” Queer people flocked to urban centres and sexual subcultures flourished in cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Toronto.

The formation of queer community spaces has always been controversial. Cultural and legal backlashes marred early developments. A host of laws and regulations tried to suppress and contain homosexuality in North America by limiting its presence in the public sphere.

These measures resulted in frequent hostilities, police raids and violence. Queers congregated together not just to find love or community, but to protect themselves, to protect one another and to find refuge. Pride parades, now celebrated worldwide, commemorate these early turf wars.

Pop-ups revitalise queer spaces

Researchers have written a great deal on the cultural and political importance of gay districts in urban centres, and they have grappled with concerns that these areas, along with the establishments they house, are fading.

But innovative urban forms challenge arguments about the death and demise of queer spaces in the city. Our research suggests that queer pop-ups, or temporary cultural gathering spaces, cater to diverse and often marginalised queers.

Some gaybourhoods are dwindling in their residential concentration and gay bars are dropping like flies. But new queer place-making efforts are emerging.

Two of the authors at the queer pop-up in 2018 at East Side Studios in Vancouver. Ryan is on the far left, back row, Adriana is on the far right of the back row. Image: author provided.

Unlike gaybourhoods and gay bars, pop-ups are intentional in how they address persistent, intersectional forms of inequality. Queer pop-ups offer patrons a space to explore non-binary forms of gender and sexual identities, and especially a place to experience collective effervescence among queer people of colour, and femme lesbians.

Some pop-ups create environments that are explicitly trans-inclusive, consent-focused, and sex-positive. Pop-ups are not panaceas for queer life. Pop-ups can also be places where issues around socioeconomic status, gender identity and expression, and racial inequality are called out.

Yet these spaces directly and indirectly encourage dialogue on inequalities within the queer community, conversations that help produce safer spaces for marginalised queers to find each other and forge enduring queer consciousnesses.

Turf wars

Queer pop-ups show similar trajectories of infighting and compromise that the LGBT social movement encountered from the late 1970s through the early 2000s when trying to forge a collective consciousness, gain social visibility and win legal rights.

These turf wars, expressed as contests over space and inclusion, are generally sparked over three perennial concerns: privilege, race and gender. One interviewee, a 20-year-old self-identified queer, trans person of colour (QTPoC), who spoke about Vancouver’s gay district told us:

“I tend to avoid the gay bars on Davie [because] a lot of the gay bars there have now been taken over by cis-gender, heterosexual people. I’ve [also] heard from a lot of QTPoC friends that they are often uncomfortable going to gay bars on Davie, because it’s usually very dominated by cis-gender, white gay men.”

A 28-year-old white, cisgender, queer male found pop-ups more politically and culturally radical than gay bars. He put it this way:

“It’s very rare that we’ll ever have a conversation about politics [in gay bars]. It’s just about partying and things that we kind of see as very stereotypical portrayals of gay culture: like going out, dancing, drinking, fucking.”

Historically, gaybourhoods have served an important role in the fight for LGBT rights, but they have also developed to cater to a specific cis-gender, white, middle-class, male sensibility. One 30-year-old, white, trans DJ put it bluntly, “the mainstream scene is just not welcoming to trans people, in my experience,” adding that verbal transphobic harassment is common in the streets of Vancouver’s gaybourhood.

At Vancouver Pride this year we were reminded of this schism at a local pop-up event. “Gay men won’t come here, it’s too trashy,” shouted a white Australian lesbian playfully to friends over loud music. We were at Eastside Studios, a large warehouse turned into the newest collaborative queer venue in Vancouver.


The comment was striking because it highlights the visible bifurcation occurring in queer life and queer consumption in Vancouver. Many gay men tend to patronise businesses and events in the West End, Vancouver’s official gaybourhood; whereas, other members of the LGBTQ community are scattered across the city at events and venues that are far less permanent. Eastside Studios attempts to break through the homonormative bent some gay bars perpetuate. It is a space that generously houses some of the struggling pop up events who lost space to gentrification in Vancouver’s out of control rental market.

Historically, pop-ups arose as the first signs of urban sexual transgression. They continue to emerge as spatial innovations which nurture transgressive queer diversities that do not have space or representation in the gaybourhood. Weekly social media blasts via Facebook or Instagram and word-of-mouth dissemination play an important role in linking queers around the city to these events. Pop-ups take different tones and establish different vibes among patrons. Collectively, pop-ups highlight the many important projects local queers are undertaking to increase the plurality of what queer life looks like and how it is expressed.

Struggles for equality

Marriage is the leading story in many headlines these days, but queer struggles for equality were never only about relationship recognition or acceptance into the mainstream.

Queer struggles are also fights to resist oppressive normativity, to end racial inequality and white supremacy, to end sexualised violence, to reconcile generational traumas associated with colonialism.

Continuing these fights is perhaps what makes queer pop-ups unique. Organisers of these events are intentional and responsive to such concerns. They seek to create new worlds that soften the impact of inequalities, both in gaybourhoods and in other parts of Canadian cities as well.

Pop-ups nourish queer lives; they emerge as temporary meeting grounds where diverse, oftentimes marginalised, queers flock for community and collective, momentary release. Here an image from a Man Up pop-up event in Vancouver. Image: Shot by Steph/Facebook/The Conversation.

Many of these spaces are an opportunity for patrons to travel in a re-imagined world, even if only for the night. While not all pop-ups that appear survive, the ones that do matter, fundamentally, because they create spaces that resist heteronormative culture and homonormativity, address intersecting inequalities, assert and anchor queer cultural and political identities, and promote well-being for a wider portion of the community in ways that gaybourhoods used to and have always had the potential to.

Pop-ups nourish queer lives in ways that gaybourhoods and gay bars historically had. They emerge as temporary meeting grounds where diverse, oftentimes marginalised, queers flock for community and collective, momentary release. They allow patrons to dance and comfortably explore the implications of their gender and sexual identities around like-minded individuals. At times they are more than friendly social gatherings, becoming sites where the moral arch of the community is shaped through demonstrations on urgent issues impacting queer lives and the surrounding community.

Queer pop-ups are vibrant locations that work to push forward the unfinished projects of social justice first envisioned during gay liberation.

The Conversation

Ryan Stillwagon, Ph.D. Student, Sociology, University of British Columbia; Adriana Brodyn, Ph.D. Candidate, University of British Columbia; Amin Ghaziani, Associate Professor of Sociology and Canada Research Chair in Sexuality and Urban Studies, University of British Columbia, and D. Kyle Sutherland, PhD Student, Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.