Episode 4 – Ben Hartley – Ruderal

Vase No.1 by Ben Hartley. Waste plastics, electrical wire, dried palm fronds, 2020

In Episode 4, artist Ben Hartley explores the parallels between Ruderal plant species with the processes of gentrification & urban renewal. Focusing on a specific area of wasteland adjacent to Ben’s former studio and it’s anarchic flora, this podcast examines the seemingly inescapable link between artists and gentrification.

Produced by Rowan Bishop, commissioned and co-produced by Jack Gibbon and Jessica Akerman of Bricks. Original music by @rowanbishop.


Ruderal species

Ruderals are plant species that colonise areas of land that have experienced a disturbance. The pioneer species are the most hardy, and are the very first to colonise a barren environment, such as an abandoned site or recently demolished building.

The word Ruderal, originates from the Latin “rubus”, meaning rubble. Ruderals can be interchangeably called weeds.

Ruderals are commonly found growing through cracks in the concrete, through gaps in walls, along fences and paths, or blanketing uneven and rubbish-strewn brownfield sites in urban areas.

Identified flora

Through the lens of my phone, and an ai plant database app, I identify and document the flora that has turned this former industrial yard into an anarchic and impromptu garden.”

Aerial photo of East Street with the location of the wasteland marked
Location of the Wasteland adjacent to the studio
Map of Ruderal plant species identified in the wasteland
Map of Ruderal species identified in the wasteland

From Top Left,

Herb Robert, Broadleaf Plantain, Wall Barley, Horseweed, Hemp Agrimony

Sean Roy Parker

Sean Roy Parker is an artist, environmentalist and cook based in London. His work examines the lifecycle of materials, complexities of civic responsibility, and problem-solving through collaboration. He practises analogue methodologies of craft and art-making, using leftover or abundant items of nature and artifice to explore feelings of eco-anxiety in late-stage capitalism, and redistribute resources through flexible care structures.

Recent projects include “Slow Yield” at Rupert, Lithuania (2020), “Changing our planet, changing our minds” at Wellcome Collection, London (2020), “Towards an Eco-Responsive Curriculum” at Haberdashers Academy, London with Freelands Foundation (2020), “Fermental Health” self-initiated, nomadic (ongoing).

Website / Social Media

Bedminster Green

Aerial image of the area currently, and projected map of the Bedminster Green Development

“Occupying a prime site to the south of Bristol city centre, Bedminster Green lies between the vibrant East Street …. and the A38 / Malago Road …. Delivering Build-to-Rent apartments across two buildings, Bedminster Green features a mix of studio, one and two bedroom apartments with parking. Additional facilities will include: Amazon delivery, gym resident’s lounge and commercial space.”

– Promotional text for Bedminster Green from Dandara Website


A: Hardy and well adapted to harsh and polluted environments with low quality soils, ruderals are integral in rehabilitating poor quality sediments. 

1: Pioneering individuals such as creatives, artists  and architects move into affordable or neglected neighbourhoods, or areas with available space for studios in urban areas. Current occupants remain and are unaffected by these developments.


B: Plants native to an environment before a disruption may be forced out by opportunistic ruderals that thrive in low quality and compressed soil, cracks in the concrete or blocked drains, as they grow ever taller towards the sun.

2: As the  area becomes identified as “up and coming” by Estate Agents  through the increase in cultural capital by the local art scene. Estate agents begin to speculate on developments. Rent increases, forcing the original occupants out of the area, as more middle classes who can afford the living costs move in.


C: With the successful colonisation of space after space Ruderals prevent the disturbed area from ever reverting back to the original state before the disturbance occurred. The natural state of the area is transformed forever.

3: Large numbers of properties are now getting gentrified and considerable numbers of middle class people are moving in. Non-residential buildings are now being converted to meet residential demand while long empty buildings held for speculation are put up for sale or developed. Small and specialised, often upmarket, shops and services pop up on high streets. As a result house prices and rents rise even further and more displacement takes place. Due to growing demand, and the increased cost of living the area, new areas of the city are identified and the gentrification process begins once again. 

Katie McClymont

Katie McClymont is the programme leader and senior lecturer for the MSc in Urban Planning and undergraduate programmes at the University of the West of England. Her research interests centre around planning theory, and its relationship with practice, values and community involvement in planning. Katie’s current research interests focus on cemeteries in cities, Community-Led housing and Low-Impact development and whether policy can deal with spiritual values and a post-secular context. Committed to engaged scholarship in research and teaching: Katie aims to work with local community groups and organisations so that my work, and that of my students is socially beneficial as well as intellectually significant and rigorous.

Katie is currently a board member for Planning Theory and Practice Journal and books reviews editor for the Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal.


East Street

St Catherine’s Place Shopping Centre

East Street is one of the main high-streets in Bedminster, a suburb of Bristol south of the river. The area surrounding East Street is currently the focus of urban regeneration projects from Bristol City Council and faceless development companies.

East Street is an interesting and diverse mix of people, buildings, businesses and sounds. Despite there being increasingly more shuttered shops, there is a strong sense of community and tangible will to continue.

By the 1970s, Bedminster had declined into an inner-city twilight the 1980’s city planners paid tribute to this by pedestrianising part of East Street and furnishing it with pretty bricks and bollards and lamp-standards which complement the exuberant architectural heritage of the nineteenth century.….On Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings some of the old magic returns to East Street.”Bristol & Avon Family History Society

Henry Palmer

Henry Palmer is writer, comedian and activist born and bred in Bristol. Palmer is currently the Labour Party City Council candidate for Hotwells & Harbourside.

Palmer is the author of Voices of Bristol: Gentrification & Us a book about Bristol’s changing face. In the book he sheds light on the supposed ‘renovation’ that Bristol’s poorer quarters have been undergoing. Growing up in Easton’s neighbouring Whitehall, he would get into fights, be beaten up, be robbed at the end of a gun barrel, and experience the rough and ready upbringing that youths in these areas face the country over.

After returning from university, however, he began to hear that Easton and similarly poor areas like St Pauls and Bedminster were ‘up and coming’. To get to the bottom of this claim, Palmer interviews countless people and draws on much research to reveal the shocking reality that faces the type of people he grew up with: rent hikes, snobbery, institutional racism, homelessness, and removal from the communities they once loved.

Social Media / Book

Ben Hartley

Ben Hartley is a Bristol-based artist and hoarder of waste materials. Interested in the realignment of sustainability and contemporary art, Ben’s practice attempts to produce a sustainable approach to sculptural art practice. Using waste materials scavenged from the ever-expanding mass of indigestible rubbish through actual and virtual explorations of pre-apocalyptic urban space.

These disparate materials are moulded by into sculptural collages, two-dimensional and digital explorations, resisting the temptation of permanence, using inherently ephemeral methods such as fastening, tying and folding.

Website / Social Media

Remnant Altar [2020], pine resin casts, waste materials, concrete blocks, dried ruderal plants, soil, leaves. Ben Hartley [installation view]

Resources & Further Reading

Sarah Cowles (2017) Ruderal Aesthetics []

Matthew Gandy (2013) Marginalia: Aesthetics, Ecology, and Urban Wastelands, Annals of the Association of American Geographers