Renewal & Exclusion in London’s Southbank

During the final week of the University of California’s fall semester program in London, participating students took part in an insightful and engaging walk through the Southbank area of London, led by professors Sarah Wise and Michael Owens. The on-site lecture was part of London: Society and Space, a core module required of all students in the custom semester program, focusing on the development of modern London through the lens of public and private spaces, landscapes of power and inequality, and the challenges and transformations that modernization entails.

The two-hour walk, entitled “Remaking the Southbank: People, Place and Politics in Contemporary London,” explored the topics of urban regeneration, the politics of place, consumption and the city, and social exclusion.

As the faculty explained, the dynamic Southbank area is rich in history and has been subject to rapid postwar regeneration. During the 1980s, the area was little more than a derelict industrial wasteland – even the now-famous Tate Modern was once a factory – but since city developers and investors gradually tapped into the potential of this centrally-located area, Southbank has become one of London’s defining cultural hubs.

As the students have been studying these transformations in modern London over the course of the semester, the walk offered a rich opportunity to put their research and knowledge into practice against the living backdrop of the city. The faculty requested that the students carefully observe and engage with what they saw around them, turning these observations into data that could form part of their own research assignments – not to mention inform responses on a written exam that would take place in just a few days’ time.

The response from the students was overwhelmingly positive, as they saw first-hand how the regeneration of the area has not been without friction from different areas of society. Tremendous cultural and financial wealth have been pouring into the area over the last few years, with London institutions such as the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the Royal Festival Hall taking up residence in the area. These changes have only brought to light the subsequent exclusion of older residents, key lawsuits over landownership, and the central question of whether anyone can truly own a space that is so unique and dynamic.

During the group’s final days in London, this on-site lecture underlined the value of topical and experiential learning, taking the students out of the classroom to explore and observe London’s changing spaces first-hand.

Accent partners with U.S. colleges and universities to design and support customized semester programs characterized by topical and experiential courses developed through dynamic exchange between study abroad leadership, campus departments and academic advisory boards, and local Accent faculty.