Towards liminal balance: Unpacking the UK's urban canal space

Kaaristo, Maarja, Medway, Dominic, Rhoden, Steven orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-6509-7347, Burton, Jamie and Bruce, Helen (2024) Towards liminal balance: Unpacking the UK's urban canal space. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers . ISSN 0020-2754

[thumbnail of VOR]
PDF (VOR) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.


Official URL:


This paper critically examines the liminal geographies of the United Kingdom's 7,000‐mile canal and river network, embodying a thread of complex intersections and interactions between water and land. Drawing on a study involving stakeholder interviews, group discussion with canal users, and observational walks in Manchester and London, the paper explores the concepts of liminal flux, scalar intersections, and deliminalisation. We first outline how the UK's urban canals are characterised by liminal flux over time and space, reflecting their dynamic geographies. Revealing the presence of critical intersections between liminality and scale, we then focus on the ongoing and everyday spatial and territorial entanglements between different canal and towpath users. Finally, we consider the challenge of deliminalisation, and an associated shift from liminality and in‐betweenness towards greater spatial fixity via neoliberal intervention and development. Our findings highlight the importance of preserving the unique characteristics of urban canals as liminal spaces, arguing that they provide recreational opportunities and contribute to urban wellbeing by providing opportunities for ‘transitory dwelling places’. Maintaining a liminal balance within urban canal environments is therefore crucial and requires careful curation. In turn, this notion of curating liminal balance has implications for other potential waterfront developments that offer a similar positive potential for hydrocitizenship and its fluid ambiguities of in‐betweenness. Moreover, it demonstrates the importance of a ‘lighter touch’ of redevelopment and governance in some parts of the urban environment to help preserve, or even enhance, citizen wellbeing.

Repository Staff Only: item control page