Slate Futures, Urban Afterlives

United Kingdom /

On the 28th of July 2021, the slate landscapes of north Wales were awarded the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This designation, as well as recent social and environmental changes to the area as a result of mass tourism and a housing crisis, has sparked debate about the future of these landscapes and of the tourist economy.

The slate industry, which shaped the society and economy of north Wales during the second half of the 19th century, continues to dominate the landscape, which represents the very margins of urbanisation in the UK, and calls into question the permeable boundary between rural and urban spaces and the afterlives of urbanism. Slate production continues on a much-reduced scale, but most quarries stand as monuments to a time when Welsh slate is proudly said to have roofed the world.

Histories of industrial disputes, technological innovation, language, colonialism, and the instrumental role that the slate quarries played in the development of rock climbing, are writ through the slate quarries. Today, they attract an assortment of visitors – from rock climbers to tourists, drawn here by social media and promotional campaigns that encourage visitors to ‘find [their] epic’ 1. Local people are also regular visitors to the slate quarries.

The question at the heart of this proposal is how to develop a lost site in a sustainable way, building on those attributes that make these open spaces what they are. The qualities of the peri-urban commons that these quarries once held for local people are slipping away against the backdrop of adventure capitalism and the tourist economy, and there is a danger that the slate landscapes of north Wales become an empty backdrop for tourist campaigns that neglect and erode the liveliness of these places, their continued use and meaning in contemporary life and memory.