Friday, 16 June 2017

Tale of two peoples in Grenfell and London Bridge

Borough Market and the Shard
In the past two days, I have been absorbing the absolute horror that is the Grenfell estate fire, a symbol of all that is shabby about our economic and political system that puts profit and PR above people.

A poor refit, complaints of power surges, a council who didn’t listen, and more, threatened residents, health and safety cuts – these all seem the likely causes, even before the ‘Inquiry’ begins. It is an event that may well see the loss of life rise to triple figures, as firefighters, police and forensics comb through the remains of this once proud building filled with people who had made a life among the riches of the Borough. 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Is your town resilient?

Strong Towns, as US based think tank dealing with small towns, has started a series to assess community resilience in your town.

First up is housing. They argue the test of community resilience is:

Are there neighborhoods where three generations of a family could reasonably find a place to live, all within walking distance of each other?

They they offer a five point assessment system based on type of available housing and cost, and some handy hints for using data. 

It's the kind of useful thinking that can be channelled into making neighbourhood plans. 

Unfortunately, I'd argue that, in the UK, housing is failing under this schema. We don't have a tradition of moving house once our needs change, even if a minority downsize. Our desire for bigger and better housing trumps necessity, it appears. 

And even if different types of housing is being built, not enough is available for rent, except through private landlords. House prices remain out of the reach of ordinary citizens, unless you are old enough to have got a wriggle on when prices matched wages. 

It's a kind of situation that Strong Towns argues creates fragility in our communities.  

This series will be well worth reading.


Thursday, 2 March 2017

From William Morris’ Walthamstow, to John Ball’s Colchester: how placemakers are co-opting the dead

Heritage has long been a hot topic in the UK, expressed both in the love for old buildings and in the business of regeneration. Less attention has been given to the complicated relationship between historical figures and place, particularly how placemaking makes use of them.

This goes further than the Blue Plaque scheme; the dead both etch their ghostly presences on the character of localities, and can be self-consciously chosen to help retell a story of place.

I want to look at how the dead and place interact through the two case studies – William Morris in Walthamstow, and John Ball in Colchester. I’ll be looking at how the dead intertwined themselves with place, how history becomes contested as they are made use of by placemakers, and what works (Read more @ CityMetric).

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Building community resilience through co-creation

George Monbiot wrote that bottom-up community activism could be one of the ideas that prevent the further decay of UK communities. What he was referring to is a series of community initiatives that together create momentum around community regeneration and resilience. So he says,

Turning such initiatives into a wider social revival means creating what practitioners call “thick networks”: projects that proliferate, spawning further ventures and ideas that weren’t envisaged when they started. They then begin to develop a dense, participatory culture that becomes attractive and relevant to everyone rather than mostly to socially active people with time on their hands.”

Monbiot pointed to research conducted in Lambeth on the development of ‘thick networks'. In this article, I'm going to hone in more closely on this research, identify the key points of best practice, and then ask, what are the barriers to community resilience in the UK outside of gentrifying urban hubs?

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Why the counterculture matters to placemaking – Wally Hope and the free festivals

With all the recent talk about the state of political resistance, it's easy to forget alternative narrative of resistance - how the counterculture and alternative culture informs and shapes space. This article charts an early movement – the Stonehenge Free Festivals – that reframed place. And how it was closed down. So why does alternative culture matter to placemaking?

Alternative culture (music, nightclubs, coffee houses, festivals, and so on) has formed the backbone of social and cultural change in the UK. It has contributed to the transformation of attitudes towards sexual freedom, women's liberation, gay liberation, tolerance, a critique of the mass media, artistic and cultural space, to name a few. The boundaries between normativity and outsiderliness were broken down as a result of what might broadly be understood as the 'counterculture'.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Why is nightlife framed as a social problem in the UK?

As is usual over the holiday period and New Year, new documents sealed as official secrets hit the headlines. This year, we got more information about the Thatcher administration, and, in particular, how rave culture was managed away in the late 1980s.

I’m going to look at what it told us, how and why nightlife and alternative cultures get framed as a social problem, and what to do about it. 

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Garden villages and groundhog days

Garden villages or settlements are the latest wheeze by government aiming to solve the ‘housing crisis’. There have been six approved already; fourteen more announced this week, and more in the pipeline. But will they work? If by ‘work’ we mean building genuinely new settlements, complete with infrastructure, amenities, culture, well-paid employment and economic growth.

Critics of the new garden settlements will no doubt be condemned as nimbyish, immigrant-hating kippers. The combined forces of the Mail and Nigel Farage have, of course, been complaining that the UK is the ‘most crowded country in Europe', a claim apparently not correct in the detail. Scotland, Wales, the North and the South West all have low population densities. And if you remove London from the picture, even England only ranks about ninth in Europe.  A more nuanced take is needed.