Even though Europe’s population is growing more slowly than that of other continents, in the last twenty five years the European urban/rural divide has become evermore difficult to define as many urban dwellers choose to live beyond the city suburbs, thereby extending and blurring suburban boundaries. New ‘metropolitan areas’ are developing around Europe’s cities, (what become) their satellite towns and along our main transport corridors. The new edge-land communities, unlike the traditional settlements they replace, often lack social cohesion and are sometimes perceived as little more than “dormitory communities” – even by the inhabitants themselves. Yet, despite the economic crises, they continue to grow. There is also a real risk that existing legislation protecting the environment in these areas will be “relaxed” in a bid to stimulate national economies and the local construction industries.
This project aims to be a necessary catalyst in the debate on peri-urban development while also documenting how our relationship with the rural landscape, historically fundamental to our various local identities, is mutating. The regional differences in approach to peri-urban development are apparent in Europe’s New Edgelands, as are the differences in socio-economic conditions and the extent of urban sprawl. The project also documents a progressive standardization in architectural styles across Europe in a period when the very idea of a united European identity seems to be increasingly under threat.
Europe’s New Edgelands studies these phenomena around several regionally important, medium sized European cities and their surrounding metropolitan areas. The cities were chosen as they individually represent very different socio-geographic and historic development models while all having populations between 250 000 and 800 000 – according to OSCE statistics, the majority of Europe’s population live in and around cities of this size.
The project documents new-build from the very last outskirts of the cities to within a radius of 30km. This is the first pan-European photographic project of its type undertaken by a single photographer. The work presented was completed between 2009 and 2013 in Croatia (Zagreb), France (Montpellier), Germany (Frankfurt), Greece (Thessaloniki), Italy (Bologna), the Netherlands (Utrecht), Poland (Krakow), Spain (Bilbao, Vittoria Gasteiz and Pamplona) and UK (Cardiff).
The photographs are taken with a new approach to a traditional topographic spirit and aesthetics and are inspired as much by, the photographs of Italian masters, Luigi Ghirri and Gabriele Basilico and architectural studios’ “computerized rendering images” as they are by the images in the in the original 1975 US exhibition curated by William Jenkins, “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape”.
Indeed, these are images using non-shift wide-angle lenses on a 35mm digital camera, as this is (in the photographer’s opinion) the most suitable approach and format in interpreting the new peri-urban development. As Ansell Adams and many photographers since, the photographer has furthermore altered the image’s visual perspective by taking the images from a height thereby also reducing the effects of lateral distortion normally associated with non-shift wide-angle lenses and the subsequent need for post-production correction.