An image from our project Degeneration has been featured on Flak Photo today.
Muirhouse. Edinburgh 2010. Alex Currie
Lynsey Hanley writes in the guardian on Thursday 11th August 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/11/invisible-forcefield-regeneration-estates
Cosmetic regeneration of estates does not address the sense of isolation inherent in their design.
One instructive thing about the Thatcher years – and we might, once the bill for this week’s riots is totted up, be able to say the same about the coalition – was how they showed that Conservative governments are prepared to spend vast amounts of the state’s money while telling everyone in earshot that they’re rolling back the state.
The reality of the last 40 years is that every government has attempted to regenerate poor urban areas, with limited success. Such areas aren’t always in the inner city, but inner estates and peripheral estates, in particular, have shared a common factor: they have been cut off from the wider economic and social structure, a situation exacerbated by poor design and bad management.
In the late 70s, most adults living on estates worked full-time, but that didn’t prevent them from being generally far poorer than those workers who didn’t live on estates. Large estates represented a visible form of class segregation: the biggest, Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm among them, were brought under tenant-led management and, after 10 years and millions of pounds of investment, were calmer, less crime-plagued places to live.
The Pembury estate in Hackney, which saw some of the worst destruction in London this week, has recently been refurbished at a cost of £12m. But nothing’s been done to alter its sense of disconnection from its surroundings. It is still, visibly, a large estate, ringed by an invisible forcefield that asks outsiders why they might want to enter, and insiders why they might want to leave.
Prior to the recent riots, there were enough individuals living on that estate and others – as in many urban areas which were in the poorest 10% 30 years ago and are in the poorest 10% now – who hadn’t noticed any significant change: who were still bored, aggrieved and besieged by the police, and still, to some extent, sufficiently outside social norms to believe that looting was at once a justifiable act and a victimless crime.
Almost no one who lives on estates riots, and not all of this week’s rioters live on estates. But the riots arose and took place almost exclusively in badly off urban areas, where unpopular estates proliferate and “regeneration”, or the stated need for it, is almost constant. There’s been in many cases a cosmetic regeneration of estates without the understanding of what prevents such areas from becoming integral parts of the local economic and social fabric. While some places which were once virtually uninhabitable have become better places to live, it’s not a coincidence that this is as much because of shortage as improvement. Even in London 30 years ago, there were half-empty and near-derelict estates. Now, there are too many people in need of affordable housing for anyone to be able to turn down what’s offered.
By comparison, the look of many city centres has improved beyond all recognition as a direct result of urban regeneration policies. Yet it still only takes five minutes to walk from the sparkling Liverpool One shopping complex to the first block of boarded-up flats. The shopping centre provides low-paying jobs in an environment that encourages high spending, and does nothing to stimulate the local economies of nearby areas.
We can’t ignore what geographers such as Danny Dorling have been stating for years. Polarisation between rich and poor areas, as much as between rich and poor people, has been increasing since the 70s, in large part because regeneration projects have not been able to make good the simple fact that wages and employment prospects at the bottom have collapsed while those at the top have gone through the roof.
After a really enjoyable talk for the Mini Click series the other night at the Old Market we got some interesting feedback and links to Degeneration related issues. Jim Stephenson suggested checking out Utopia London. A documentary film Utopia London is director Tom Cordell’s journey in film through the city he grew up in, meeting the architects who designed it, and reuniting them with the buildings they created.
The film looks great and the website also looks really interesting. There is also the website http://www.utopialondon.com/southbank that has more interesting links.