Context 168 - June 2021

26 C O N T E X T 1 6 8 : J U N E 2 0 2 1 ADRIAN GRANT Gaming the urban past The narrative power and ever-advancing realism of video gaming technology has considerable potential to communicate heritage value during urban regeneration. If we consider urban heritage to be about more than physical structures and spaces, incorpo- rating cultures, practices and the intangible heritage of the ‘neighbourhood’, we need to think deeply about how it can be protected and utilised in the most effective and appropriate ways. Digging further into this duality of the physical and non-physical aspects of heritage, we can see how the line begins to blur. Many structures and spaces attain heritage value not because they are pleasant to look at, but because people attach value to them based on memories of interaction with those spaces and structures over time. Even the most innocuous spaces can attain heritage value as a result of current and past use, whether it is an alleyway that evokes childhood memories of play or a street corner that someone associates with an important event or process running throughout their life. This kind of emotional connection becomes even more abstract when the spaces and struc- tures in question no longer exist. If a building has been demolished, has its heritage ceased to exist? The social memory of how somewhere ‘used to be’ forms part of the present sense of place, which is often a construct that is only truly understood by the people who live in or have a strong connection to that place.While the role of relevant people and communities is paramount to ensuring effective heritage conservation and utilisation, it is inevitable that professionals who do not usually have strong personal connections to the space will be involved in some capacity. The question that then arises is: how can the ‘outsider’ (heritage conservationist, architect, urban designer, planner, policymaker) obtain a genuine and considered understanding of this ‘insider heritage narrative’? This article outlines an attempt to bridge this gap by using historical research methods and video game technology as part of an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project at Ulster University. My colleagues and I have carried out oral history interviews with residents and former residents of a number of adjoining neighbourhoods in the city of Derry.We have attempted to understand historic patterns of movement around the city and how people have interacted with the built environment over time. The conversations we have recorded invariably bring forth the power of emotional connection to space, and the creation of heritage value from The junction of St Columb’s Wells and Howard Street in around 1963. This is a typical example of the kind of terraced street that was demolished as part of the housing and infrastructure regeneration schemes of the 1960s and 1970s.