Reimagining The City


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When the writer Nik Cohn was 10 years old, while on holiday in London, he visited a bookshop and found a copy of Alan Lomax's book on Jelly Roll Morton, the famous New Orleans musician. It had photographs of Jelly Roll's hometown - "the city of dreams" as it seemed to Nik. He fell for Jelly Roll Morton's vision of the city "hook line and sinker".

Sitting in the rain in a school room back home in Northern Ireland, New Orleans became a place of magical possibilities. It would be another decade before he finally got to visit it, but it has become a place he returns to and re-discovers constantly.

"Re-Imagining the City" is a series of four programmes in which we're offered a different vision of a city which can feel familiar. In this first programme, Nik takes us to the city he's had a love affair with all his life. "Music is just here" he says, "it's all around the city". Nik muses on what makes New Orleans so different, so special. The beauty, the music and the food are all part of it, but living under sea level also has an impact on anyone who spends proper time in the city. It's still his city of dreams.

Produced by Rachel Hooper

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.


When the writer Joseph O'Connor was a child, his mother would take him for walks around their Dublin neighbourhood, and point out where James Joyce and John Synge had lived and worked.

"I grew up in Dun Laoghaire, a coastal town 8 miles south of Dublin city where there was a pier and a waterfront, and the nightly entertainment in the summer when you were a teenager was to walk down the pier and look at the boats and the ferries leaving for London and wonder to yourself would you go to Manchester or Coventry. There was no notion that you'd stay in Dublin..

But my parents would say to us you know, this little rainy sad place on the western outshores of Europe where we don't do many things brilliantly, this is the country of Yeats, and Patrick Kavanagh and Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.

The ghosts of these great writers are part of the fabric of the city."

In Re-Imagining the City: Dublin, Joseph O'Connor offers us a new story of Dublin. He grew up knowing that this city was the setting for so many literary masterpieces - it was like living on a film set. But gradually the suburbs of Dublin became a place of change, where new voices were heard, new sounds and ideas of Dublin created an alternative view of the city.

Produced by Rachel Hooper

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.


In her twenties, the writer Elif Shafak moved to Istanbul. "The city called me," she says. She moved there, knowing no-one, hoping to become a full time writer. She found her subject matter.

"In Istanbul, you understand, perhaps not intellectually but intuitively, that East and West are ultimately imaginary ideas, ones that can be de-imagined and re-imagined."

Elif offers us her vision of Istanbul; a city that's never quiet, always moving and wrestling with itself.

Produced by Rachel Hooper

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.

Producer: Rachel Hooper

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In the last programme of this series, Pauline Black takes us to Coventry - the city she's adopted as her home town.

The first time Pauline stepped off a train at Coventry station in 1971, she felt at home. A mixed race child adopted by a white family in Essex, she grew up the only black child in her school and neighbourhood.

The multicultural environs of Lanchester Polytechnic in Coventry offered her a place full of new people, new music and new possibilities. "It felt like the centre of England..most people were passing through, but I wanted to stay."

Coventry became the portal that opened up a world of possibilities to the aspiring musician, as she became a proponent of the Two Tone music scene and the lead singer in The Selecter.

Produced by Rachel Hooper

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.



Musician Soweto Kinch offers a different vision of a city he's loved all his life - Birmingham.

Soweto often gets a surprised response when he tells people he's from Birmingham. For one, he doesn't have an accent. But also, as a successful jazz musician and hip hop star, the expectation is often that he should be living in London or New York - or almost anywhere except Birmingham.

But, for Soweto, Birmingham is a place of artistic endeavour and cultural significance on a par with any other major city. The city is where he served his cultural apprenticeship in jazz and hip hop. "The saxophone called me. I've never seen so many shiny keys. And the love affair continued from there."

He left to study history at Oxford but chose to make Birmingham his home. "The fact that I've stayed in Birmingham sets me apart from the other musicians in London - I can do everything from here. There's a camaraderie and respect that other musicians have for each other in Birmingham."

Soweto lives in a tower block in Hockley - it's been a place that's given him creative input for his albums and music. From his window he can see the Hockley Flyover, a space which was the scene of gang fights and crime. Five years ago Soweto decided to turn it into a festival venue.

"I've been proud of the fact we've redefined peoples' relationships to this space. It's a neglected area. I felt that more than any other area this expressed a lot of the innate contradictions we face in the black community in Britain. I wanted to reclaim the space and reclaim the stories."

Produced by Rachel Hooper

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.



"The city is about light and water for me because it interrupts them, it interrupts light and it interrupts water and when something is interrupted it reveals itself to you".

Lavinia Greenlaw is perhaps unusual in that she has lived in the same part of London for most of her life. Walking up Hampstead Heath in the first light of a winter's morning she explains how the Heath is her childhood landscape where she played with her siblings.

But it's also the point where the city and the suburbs meet: "Although there's no clear edge to London I feel that the lip of the bowl where it sits is defined by the Heath which starts out being in the city and quickly ends up in the suburbs - a very different place. I was born on the border and used to feel that I was operating in two countries".

Here she crosses the river, climbs towers and walks through the Heath to reveal her unexpected and surprising vision of London.

Produced by Rachel Hooper

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.

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In 1999, the novelist Amit Chaudhuri moved from England back to Calcutta. It was a place he had loved in his youth and the place he made his name writing about.

Growing up in Bombay, Amit Chaudhuri used to feel a charge of anticipation on visiting Calcutta. For him, it was his first taste of modernism, of a completely contemporary city.

"This is what I must have had an intuition of, even as a child. And this is why I feel, even now, that the most revealing places in Calcutta are not the museums or the monuments - there aren't many of those - but the houses and lanes."

That Calcutta was one of the great cities of modernity for Amit. He found himself changed by his encounters.

"By modern, I don't mean new or developed, but a self renewing way of seeing, of inhabiting space, of apprehending life."

A colleague of Amit's told him that he loved the city because "you can feel that something happened here".

Amit takes us on a guided tour of the city, and explores whether that city of his childhood still exists or is just a realm of his imagination.

Produced by Rachel Hooper

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.