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What attracts you to a space?


In her recent lecture “Measuring Pubic Space: The Star Model” by Dr Georgiana Varna, she talked about the five dimensions of publicness (through the star model) and how to measure the publicness of public spaces.[1] The aspect that intrigued me was when she discussed Jan Gehl’s measurements for the quality of the urban environment.

The Domino Effect

Jan Gehl, a Danish Architect, characterised activities into three categories; Necessary, Optional and Social.[2] He described optional activities as activities such as going for a stroll, standing around and enjoying life or sitting.[3] These are by far more likely to occur when the urban environment (place) lends itself to them as they become more enjoyable and sociable.

A contemporary of Gehl’s, William Whyte, also thoroughly researched for a period of 16 years what attracted people to places.  He noticed that when people occupy a place such as a park or plaza, it attracts other people to the same place. “The best-used plazas are sociable places…in absolute numbers, they attract more individuals than do the less used spaces.”[4]

So, what are public social spaces?

In her lecture, Georgiana Varna described these spaces as “…well connected in the surrounding urban grid and designed according to principles that foster activity and social interaction, used by a large and diverse public in a variety of ways…”[5]

Figure 1: People enjoying sunny Ouseburn
Figure 2: During Evolution Emerging, 2015

According to Gehl, activity attracts people. “When the quality of outdoor areas is good, optional activities occur with increasing frequency. Furthermore, as levels of optional activity rise, the number of social activities usually increases substantially.”[6] This results in more activity, which consequently results in more people. It is a human scale domino effect.

Ouseburn Valley

Ouseburn, the go-to place for most students of this generation within Newcastle, has become a thriving and exciting place to be both day and night, all year round. The once run-down area which had nothing to offer, is now on the social map as an exciting and lively community, which truly strives to cater to everyone’s needs.

Figure 3: View from Cluny with Ouseburn Farm behind fence, 1985

Over the past 30-40 years there has been a slow-burn bottom-up approach to the regeneration.[7] It has seen numerous attempts by the local council and government, professionals and the community alike to regenerate and bring life back to the valley; even adopting Conservation Area status in 2000.[8]


Figure 4: Seven Stories with Cluny to the right, circa. 1980’s
Figure 5: Ouseburn Valley, circa. 1960’s

It became the home to many local artists and creative industries alike who began occupying the buildings as they were restored.  Some of the best examples include Cobalt Studios on Bond Street, Trade Union Printing Services which become Seven Stories (the home for the National Centre for Children’s books) and the old Ouseburn Board School Which was converted into a space where local start-up businesses could locate themselves. The list goes on and on with Toffee Factory, Kaleidoscope HQ and Biscuit Factory to name a couple more. As more and more businesses move to the area, as with the people, more are likely to and hence a domino effect happens once more.

Figure 6: View of Toffee Factory before and after

Ouseburn Trust developed 5 key objectives as overarching principles throughout the entirety of the regeneration works. One objective, in particular, was “to support the improvement of the physical, social and economic environment of the Ouseburn Valley.”[9] Now, with places like Ouseburn Farm and Seven Stories for children to The Cluny and Tyne Bar for the adults, activities-wise Ouseburn offers a varying amount.

Alongside the building restorations which offer a variety of activities, Ouseburn is the hub for numerous social events throughout the year such as Evolution Emerging and Hit The North (music events) to Open Studios (local creative events) to The Late Shows (city wide event). All of these provide ample opportunity for socialising in places designed exactly for that purpose. Even forgetting about all of these, the urban design of the area provides plenty of spaces to simply go for a walk or hang out with your friends, fitting into both the optional and social activities Jan Gehl outlined.


Yes, gentrification can have very negative connotations, but in some respects, it can definitely bring positive ones too. With the example of Ouseburn Valley in mind, the once derelict buildings now house small independent and local businesses bringing jobs to the area.[10] The opening of the new pubs and social spaces bringing life and activity back to the neighbourhood. Ouseburn Regeneration was about restoring the character back to the area and enriching the architectural features which had been lost, such as re-opening the Victoria Tunnel. That’s why when the Wimpey Tower bid for a 32 storey tower block was proposed, it faced strong opposition and eventually had to be dropped.[11]

Figure 7: Victoria Tunnel after re-opening, circa 2010

With all of this in mind I think, therefore, the regeneration of Ouseburn Valley has been invaluable to both the city of Newcastle and the people that live in it.


[1] Georgiana Varna, “Measuring Pubic Space: The Star Model” (October 31, 2019).

[2] Jan Gehl, Three Types of Outdoor Activities, in The City Reader, 1987. Pg. 532

[3] Gehl. Pg. 532

[4] William H. Whyte, The Design of Spaces, in The City Reader, 1988. Pg. 512

[5] Varna, “Measuring Pubic Space: The Star Model.”

[6] Gehl, Three Types of Outdoor Activities, in The City Reader. Pg. 533

[7] Dave Cross, Ed, “Ouseburn Trust: A Short History,” September 2015, [Accessed: 11th January 2020]

[8] Newcastle City Council, “Ouseburn Valley Urban Design Framework” (Newcastle City Council, n.d.), [Accessed: 10th January 2020]

[9] Cross, Ed, “Ouseburn Trust: A Short History.” [Accessed: 11th January 2020]

[10] Ouseburn Trust, “A Celebration of 30 Years of Ouseburn Regneration,” 2012, [Accessed: 10th January 2020]

[11] Ouseburn Trust. 2012 [Accessed: 11th January 2020]

Image References:

Figure 1: People enjoying sunny Ouseburn – Beadle, K.

Figure 2: During Evolution Emerging, 2015 –…25710.26344..27177…0.0..1.385.1202.1j1j2j1……0….1..gws-wiz-img.pZ8wn81IcPo&ved=0ahUKEwj9-7S0jv7mAhVzSRUIHRfMDGIQ4dUDCAc&uact=5

Figure 3: View from Cluny with Ouseburn Farm behind fence, 1985 –

Figure 4: Seven Stories with Cluny to the right, circa. 1980’s –

Figure 5: Ouseburn Valley, circa. 1960’s –

Figure 6: View of Toffee Factory before and after – Paul J, White –

Figure 7: Victoria Tunnel after re-opening, circa 2010 –

One response to “Domino Effect: From Run-down to Social Town”

  1. Thank you, Lucy, your blog is very informative and I found the progression from public space to gentrification of the Ouseburn very interesting. Within the UK, gentrification is about the “… mixing of low-income and middle-income communities is therefore a necessary part of the British government’s programme to reduce social exclusion.”[1] The contrast of what is in the area is very unique to this area of Newcastle as there are; independently owned business, hipster bars, architecture practices, workshops all give the impression of gentrification, however because of it’s location next to Byker and especially Byker wall it’s not as if the prices of living within the wall will increase as this would cause an uproar so it could actually be argued that one of the only places gentrification can work is in fact in the Ouseburn itself. Although other housing may increase, because of the position of the social housing being so close by there could be a real mix of people from different social classes. There seems more likely to be a separation of students and residents rather than social class. From what I understand the intention of gentrification is that the benefits would “…‘trickle down’ to the lower and working classes…”[2] and “… has long been associated with appeals to diversity and difference, to social mixing.”[3] However, even though this is something that actually seems applicable within the Ouseburn, because of it’s location, surroundings and mix of people around being completely different, the effects of gentrification in the rest of the country seem to suffer. In other parts of the country and world gentrification showed that it cause “… social segregation, social polarization and displacement.”[4] This is due to the fact that people are forced together and the fact of the matter is some people simply don’t want to make an effort to integrate from both sides of the social class. However, from what you’ve pointed out in your blog, the social space creates an area for people to be attracted to that space. A quote from someone in the area can explain just how diverse everything in the area is;

    “What to say about this fabulous ‘urban village’? Teeming with creatives, it has iconic bar/venue the Cluny, an urban farm, Seven Stories children’s book venue, 36 Lime Street with artists’ studios that open up twice a year with a selling exhibition. Eat and drink at cool bar Ernest, browse fine art (and eat) at the Biscuit Factory.”[5]

    From this quote we can understand the enthusiasm people have for the area and the vast range of people the Ouseburn caters for. From the pictures you have shown we can see just how busy the space outside of the cluny actually gets and how this space attracts so many people. From this draw of people to the area surely it will cause more business but I guess the danger is that right now a lot of the Ouseburn is disjointed with what is happening there, with distance in between the nucleus around the cluny and other places such as the toffee factory, will prices raise so high that people of lower income will no longer be able to afford to enjoy this space and it be over run by the middle class? Lets hope not.

    [1] Lee, L 2008, Gentrificaiton and Social Mixing: Towards an Inclusive Urban Renaissance?, Urban studies Journal Limited, p2453
    [2] Lee, L 2008, Gentrificaiton and Social Mixing: Towards an Inclusive Urban Renaissance?, Urban studies Journal Limited, p2449
    [3] Lee, L 2008, Gentrificaiton and Social Mixing: Towards an Inclusive Urban Renaissance?, Urban studies Journal Limited, p2450
    [4] Lee, L 2008, Gentrificaiton and Social Mixing: Towards an Inclusive Urban Renaissance?, Urban studies Journal Limited, p2450
    [5] The Guardian, Let’s move to Ouseburn: if Newcastle upon Tyne had a Shoreditch, this would be it, accessed 14/01/2020 <>

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