Category Archives: Regeneration

Root Shock pt 1 — Urban Renewal and Public Health

Root Shock - Mindy Thompson FulliloveThis is one of the few books that really tries to come to grips with the deep psychological trauma caused by mass displacement — what it calls Root Shock. It does so through the prism of urban renewal and reminds us of the scale of it. The program ran  from 1949 to 1973, and during this time the U.S. government bulldozed 2,500 neighborhoods in 993 cities, dispossessing an estimated million people. They were supposed to be slum clearances, they were supposed to create space for new housing. Few of these clearances did, and we are still coming to grips with what was lost. But there is a bitter truth behind the switch from ‘urban’ to ‘Negro’ removal — it is the Black community that lost the most and that continues to be most impacted by it all.

What was it, then, that was lost?

…the collective loss. It was the loss of a massive web of connections–a way of being–that had been destroyed by urban renewal; it was as if thousands of people who seemed to be with me in sunlight, were at some deeper level of their being wandering lost in a dense fog, unable to find one another for the rest of their lives. It was a chorus of voices that rose in my head, with the cry, “We have lost one another.” (4)

I like this understanding of it. I also quite love that despite a clinician trying to deepen our understanding of the psychological impacts, she maintains a larger understanding of just what is happening.

This process taught me a new respect for the story of upheaval. It is hard to hear, because it is a story filled with a  large, multivoiced pain. it is not a pain that should be pigeonholed in a diagnostic category, but rather understood as a communication about human endurance in the face of bitter defeat. (5)

And you know I love the spatial awareness that has to be part of this, because it is a physical loss of building, home, neighbourhood, as much as a loss of connection.

Buildings and neighborhoods and nations are insinuated into us by life; we are not, as we like to think, independent of them. (10-11)

So how does Fullilove define Root Shock?

Root shock is the traumatic stress reaction to the destruction of all or part of one’s emotional ecosystem. It has important parallels to the physiological shock experience by a person who, as a result of injury, suddenly loses massive amounts of fluids. Such a blow threatens the whole body’s ability to function…. Just as the body has a system to maintain its internal balance, so, too, the individual has a way to maintain the external balance between himself and the world. This way of moving in the environment…. (11)

It is not something that is experienced right away and then disappears.

The experience of root shock–like the aftermath of a severe burn–does not end with emergency treatment, but will stay with the individual for a lifetime. In fact, the injury from root shock may be even more enduring than a burn, as it can affect generations and generations of people.

Root shock, at the level of the individual, is a profound emotional upheaval that destroys the working model of the world that had existed in the individual’s head. (14)

This book is interladen with quotes and stories from people Fullilove worked with, she cares like I do to let people speak for themselves about their experience. She quotes Carlos Peterson, on the bulldozing of his neighbourhood:

‘My impression was that we were like a bunch of nomads always fleeing, that was the feeling I had.” (13)

There is Sala Uddin, who remembered urban renewal first with approval — the new homes they were getting, then:

Critiquing his own earlier enthusiasm, he pointed out to me, “We didn’t know what impact the amputation of the lower half of our body would have on the rest of our body until you look back twenty years later, and the rest of your body is really ill because of that amputation.

The sense of fragmentation is a new experience that we can now sense, that we didn’t sense then. We were all in the same location before. Now we are scattered literally to the four corners of the city, and we are not only politically weak, we are not a political entity. We are also culturally weak. And I think that has something to do with the easiness of hurting each other. How easy it is to hurt each other, because we are not that close anymore. We are not family anymore. (175)

Because she is able to listen, she is able to describe the ways that people are connected both to buildings, but also to each other. I love how from multiple angles, the human connections to the earth, to the built environment and to each other always emerge as key to lives well-lived, whether looking at permaculture or public space or psychology:

This lesson of interconnectedness is as hard to learn as differential calculus or quantum mechanics. the principle is simple: we–that is to say, all people–live in an emotional ecosystem that attaches us yo the environment, not just as our individual selves, but as being caught in a single, universal net of consciousness anchored in small niches we call neighborhoods or hamlets or villages. Because of the interconnectedness of the net, if your place is destroyed today, I will feel it hereafter. (17)

This brings a new look at Jane Jacob‘s street ballet, where

you are observing the degree to which people can adapt to different settings, and not just adapt, but attach, connect. They are connecting not to the negatives or even the positives of the setting, but to their own mastery of the local players and their play. (19)

I am quite intrigued by this idea:

Instead, the geography created by dispersal-in-segregation created a group of islands of black life. “Archipelago” is the official geographic term for a group of islands. Black America is an archipelago state, a many-island nation within the American nation. The Creation of the archipelago nation had two consequences for African Americans. The first is that the ghettos became centers of black life; the second is that the walls of the ghetto, like other symbols of segregation, became objects of hatred. In this ambivalent, love/hate relationship, it was impossible to chose to dwell. Yet people did choose to make life as vibrant and happy as they possibly could. (27)

This feels particularly true of earlier periods when the colour lines were hard and fast and patrolled by white mobs and white gangs and the use of violence. When green books were necessary when travelling to know where to stay, what to eat safe from the oceans of white hatred (too far? Not in terms of the hatred, but maybe in terms of metaphor…) When the ghetto walls were high and strong and each brick legally protected, which is part of the story and the trauma of urban renewal’s root shock. For so long people faced the choice: to fight to improve the ghetto or the fight to leave it. Regardless, she captures something of what the ghetto cost the city as a whole:

Segregation in a city inhibits the free interaction among citizens and invariably leads to a brutality and inequality, which themselves are antithetical to urbanity. When segregation disappears, freedom of movement becomes possible. that does not necessarily mean that people will want to leave the place where they have lived. The ghetto ceases to be a ghetto, it is true, but it does not stop being a neighborhood of history. Postsegregation, the African-American ghetto would have been a sight for imaginative re-creation , much like the ghetto in Rome. (45)

She writes later on:

The divided city is a subjugated city. (164)

The tragedy always was this inisght, again from Jane Jacobs  (as summarised by Fullilove):

A slum would endure if residents left as quickly as they could. A neighborhood could transform itself, if people wanted to stay. It was the investment of time, money  and love that would make the difference. (44)

That was almost never allowed to happen. Instead neighbourhoods were bulldozed — and again there is the comparison to rubble left by war, similar to Dybek, to Gbadamosi:

Indeed, in looking at American urban renewal projects I am reminded more of wide-area bombing–the largely abandoned World War II tactic of bombing major parts of cities as we did in Wurzeburg, Germany and Hiroshima, Japan–than of elegant city design. (70)

It was done in the most destructive way possible:

Even though the basis for compensation was gradually extended, the payments continued to be linked to individual property rights. Collective assets — the social capital created by a long-standing  community–were not considered in the assessment of property values. (79)

There is not enough on why I think, which limits the section thinking through what we can do to stop it. But there is this quote from Reginal Shereef, who studies the effects of urban renewal on African Americans in Roanoke:

“But the reality of urban renewal was that cities wanted to improve their tax base. And that is my interest. I have always looked at the intersections between public policy and economics. And what happened in Roanoke was neighborhoods was torn down so that commercial developers could develop prperties and sell it to private interests…” (98)

Part 2 looks at some of the positive ways to think of community, ways that we can work to preserve and improve our neighourhoods. But I’ll end this with one of the lovelier expressions of what home means to people, this from resident Dolores Rubillo:

“People know, you know where you are–” and, leaning in to me added, “you are safe in the dark.” (127)

 

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Gustav Meyrink: The Golem in Prague

6741330Prague is a city that lingers long in the mind and heart. Today though, it feels to me a triply divided city — the older sections jammed full of tourists and shops and mummified and tidied and meant for display, the newer suburbs that everyday vibrant life and imaginings have now been pushed into, and the awe and wonder of what Prague once was as experienced through the words of its authors. There are no hard and fast boundaries between them, geographical or otherwise, they are rather layered (even if found more in one place than another).

Meyrink’s The Golem is brilliant, taking you backwards to a Prague that I think perhaps is now only very rarely visible in shadows and courtyards. The Prague once visible through such windows in the Jewish ghetto:

If I turned my head a little I could see my window on the fourth floor across the street; with the rain trickling down, the panes looked like isinglass, opaque and lumpy, as if the glass were soggy. (41)

Meyrink writes in 1914, already the streets he described are mostly gone, lost in the 1895 sweep of renewal that cleaned and tamed it. But many of the themes explored in the Kafka museum about the relationship between author and city, words and experience, are here connected. I quote at length, because this is one of the most awesome passages where the city becomes what is real and sentient. More real, more human, more purposeful in many ways than the lives held within it, who become the phantoms:

I turned my attention away from him to the discoloured houses squatting side by side before me in the rain like a row of morose animals. How eerie and run-down they all looked! Plumped down without thought, they stood there like weeds that had shot up from the ground. They had been propped against a low, yellow, stone wall — the only surviving remains of an earlier, extensive building — two or three hundred tears ago, anyhow, taking no account of the other buildings. There was a half house, crooked, with a receding forehead, and beside it was one that stuck out like a tusk. Beneath the dreary sky, they looks as if they were asleep, and you could feel none of the malevolent, hostile life that sometimes emanates from them when the mist fills the street on an autumn evening, partly concealing the changing expressions that flit across their faces.

I have lived here for a generation and in that time I have formed the impression, which I cannot shake off, that there are certain hours of the night, or in the first light of day, when they confer together, in a mysterious, noiseless agitation. And sometimes a faint, inexplicable quiver goes through their walls, noises scurry across the roof and drop into the gutter, and with our dulled sense we accept them heedlessly, without looking for what caused them.

Often I dreamt I had eavesdropped on these houses in their spectral communion and discovered to my horrified surprise that in secret they are the true masters of the street, that they can divest themselves of their vital force, and suck it back in again at will, lending it to the inhabitants during the day to demand it back at extortionate interest as night returns.

And when I review in my mind all the strange people who live in them, like phantoms, like people not born of woman who, in all their being and doing, seems to have been put together haphazardly, out of odds and ends, then I am more than ever inclined to believe that such dreams carry within them dark truths which, when I am awake, glimmer faintly in the depths of my soul like the after-images of brightly coloured fairy-tales (41-42)

It is the houses that control us, not the other way round…we built them but they have taken lives of their own, darkly connected to our own which they give and then take away. It is another play, another layer amongst many layers, on reality and on life. On the golem created of mud, the golem dead and the inert become living, the golem held within walls where sits no door but yet not contained. A thing of the past invented and created and now perhaps gone, but that still stays with us, still has power. Like the ghetto, like memory, like everything we build as communities and as peoples.

These things all, ultimately originate from us. From our thoughts and our imaginings far more powerful than anything physical:

He believes the unknown figure that haunts the district must be the phantasm that the rabbi in the Middle Ages had first to create in his mind, before he could clothe it in physical form. (61)

And Meyrink plays with all those dreams of fantasy and superstition, our tendency to find meaning in everything and make sense of the world through images.

And just as there are natural phenomena which suggest that lightening is about to strike, so there are certain eerie portents which presage the the irruption of that spectre into the physical world. The plaster flaking off a wall will resemble a person striding along the street; the frost patterns on windows will form into the lines of staring faces; the dust drifting down from the roofs will seem to fall in a different way from usual, suggesting to the observant that it is being scattered by some invisible intelligence lurking hidden in the eaves… (59-60)

The main characters eat at the Old Toll House tavern behind the Tyn Church, this beautiful centre of Old Prague now a heaving mass of tourists pouring across the St Charles Bridge in such numbers that they fill the narrow streets and every square and drive you along at their crawl. This pictures puts off everything but the tops of their heads so I could remember this place without them, remember it as it had once been experienced but may perhaps almost never be again.

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There is pathos added, too, by the loneliness, some of the same helplessness of Kafka…but it seems to me that Meyrink at least knows what it is that his character is needing:

The strange atmosphere of reverent solemnity, in which I had been enveloped since last night, was dissipated in a trice, blown away by the fresh breeze of a new day with its earthly tasks. A new-born destiny, wreathed in auspicious smiles, a veritable child of spring, was coming towards me. A human soul had turned to me for help! To me! What a change it brought about in my room! The worm-eaten cupboard suddenly had a smile on its carved features and the four chairs looked like four old folk sitting round the table, chuckling happily over a game of cards. (89)

And for all the gothic awesomeness, the dark opaqueness of this novel, there are still shafts of light that make their way through. The answer lies within us, to be found by us, it does not lie in our creations nor in our conditions nor in a single static meaning given us by our god.

Each questioner is given the answer best suited to his needs; otherwise humanity would not follow the path of their longings. Do you think there is no rhyme or reason why our Jewish books are written in consonants alone? Each reader has to find for himself the secret vowels that go with them and which reveal a meaning that is for him alone; the living word should not wither into dead dogma. (119)

There is lots to write about golems, about the story itself, its twistings and turnings, its layers and opaque meanings and uncertain events and endings. Lots to write about its serial form (erased through collection into a book). I think when I read it again I will find very new things in it, and write again and think more deeply about it. I recognised the room from which the golem of Kavalier and Clay emerged, the Prague of Kafka and Karels Capek and Zeman and so many others, the Prague that lives in my mind’s eye.

And oh, some of the language:

Mute and motionless, we stared into each other’s eyes, the one a hideous mirror-image of the other. Can he see the moonbeam too, as it sucks its way across the floor as sluggishly as a snail, and crawls up the infinite spaces of the wall like the hand of some invisible clock, growing paler and paler as it rises?

Step by step I wrestled with him for my life…He grew smaller and smaller, and as the day broke he crept back into the playing card. (111)

And how Meyrink battles against his city and his fate like Jacob wrestled the Angel. I do not know who won, nor do I know what it means that these houses are no longer there and can no longer confer in the night.

 

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Estate: A Reverie

This film has been so long in coming, and I have been there for a small piece of its journey. It has been an honour.

Once upon a time I lived in Bow, and out for a long wander up the  Regent’s canal one day, I saw this:

Haggerston Estate

A wondrous thing. I had passed other estates with windows boarded up yet signs that people still clearly lived in them. This left me both angered and confused, as housing is in such short supply for us, and this is our housing standing empty. These are homes that people love in the midst of desolation. Here I could tell someone was fighting back, ensuring they were visible and not simply to be silently swept away.

I met Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Lasse Johannson (part of Fugitive Images, those who had put up these pictures with fellow residents) a few months later, the three of us on a panel put together by This is Not a Gateway at the Tate Modern (the Tate Modern! I called home, ever so proud).

This photo installation, i am here, was only the first part of a longer exploration of the process of decanting an estate against its resident’s wishes. This, a protest against the estate’s abandonment in preparation for regeneration. It sat alongside endless meetings, letters, petitions, protests, lobbies to preserve and improve the housing for those who lived there and loved it.

The second was the book, Estate, a combination of personal essays, photographs,  and political-economic contextualization. I loved it. You can buy it here, from Myrdle Court Press.

This film is the third, and perhaps the most powerful of the three. especially as the Haggerston Estate is now gone. I have been away or working during previous showings, but finally got to see it as part of the Open City Doc Festival. That is how we came all the way to the West End and discovered this gem of a place — the Regent Street Cinema:

Regent's Cinema

Built in 1848 and housed within the Polytechnic Institution on London’s Regent Street, the cinema was the first in the country to show moving pictures. In 1896, the cinema showcased the Lumière brothers’ Cinématographe to a paying audience, and, as the curtain fell, British cinema was born.

Regent's Cinema

Go there. Enjoy.

I had seen various versions of the film — in snippets, and bits of pieces. A work in progress. But I wasn’t prepared for the full feature.

(After going through the foreclosure with my mum only a year ago, a replay of losing the house they built when I was a teenager, I feel I have lost a home twice, and this drew upon all the neverending grief and anger that such experiences leave inside of you. I don’t know if anyone else dripped tears throughout.)

Inspiring and heartbreaking both, it does two things wondrously well.

It shows the residents as they were, neighbours getting to know each other, the ways they had chosen to decorate their rooms, children playing and growing up, a father and daughter being forced to move, the elderly over time as they grew sicker and sicker. It is the most honest view of Parkinson’s I have ever seen. It brings the people of Haggerston Estate into your heart and they will never leave it. It does not does this with a bright and clinical gaze, but with the warm compassion of someone who has shared space with them for fifteen years. That sees people as they are for good and bad, and thus can love them truly.

You know exactly what suffering the lack of repairs has caused and what the loss of this community will mean. Something planners and housing managers and city officials somehow never understand.

This film could only have been made by someone who had lived there, fought for it, loved it.

That is why it captures the magic that also happened here. Slated for regeneration, the council stopped caring what people did here. Relaxed the patronising and controlling sets of rules that controlled behaviour. You hear a woman recount a story of her grandfather moved here when the estate first opened from the slums. Removed from his home and patch of ground and his animals, when they tried to force him to get rid of his dog too, he gassed both of them in the apartment.

This film is full of dogs. It is full of colour. People didn’t run riot, they painted logs and made seats, they painted goal posts on the wall for the next-door kids, they planted flowers and vegetables. They had barbeques and built a fire pit and sang songs to welcome in the New Year. They helped each other. They told stories.

They put on regency dress and discussed and acted out Samuel Richardson’s novels, whose heroines provide the names for the estate’s buildings.

Councils never did quite figure out that poor people weren’t the enemy, and the slums weren’t their creation, did they. But oh, the things people on estates can build when left alone to come together as a community.

There is so much more to say, and I’m writing a fuller review somewhere else, but just a few notes on the wonderful Q&A that followed with Andrea:

Andrea talking about Estate

She highlighted that this was a film of all the things unseen, to explore what it meant to lose the place after so many years fighting to get repairs. She felt they had to do something after the financial crash, seeing the posters go up everywhere about benefit fraud with slogans like ‘we are coming to get you.’ The strong feeling that something must be done to challenge this image production that blamed everything on the poor who were least to blame.

This was always a collective effort.

She talked too about the transition period where they could do anything they wanted, a time when people were able to take the space and decorate it as they wanted, and it became a magical place. There were some questions about why this film didn’t show struggle, the fight to improve it and keep it.

Hard choices were made on this, footage exists of everything, but there are so many films of struggle, it is something we understand (even if we don’t yet know how to win — but that is my own aside). She chose instead to show the reality of people’s lives, explore not just what the estate and its loss meant to them, but what they were able to create there when allowed some freedom for creation.

(In a previous cut, I remember seeing people come back to the estate who had already moved on, bursting into floods of tears at seeing their old flats, torn in half between all the frustrations of living somewhere in such terrible conditions but also all of the memories that still made that space a home. It was so powerful but Andrea is right, it did not fit here).

She talked about the architecture, about how vilified it is yet in these passages in the sky you have to meet your neighbours, you see them every day, you say hello. New buildings are secure by design, you never see anyone, community cannot grow and people are lonely in them.

Something else we are losing. We still have a great deal of public space, it is important in this country, but home is still seen as private, insular. It’s an interesting observation. Early estates were built to try and help create community, with multiple shared spaces — perhaps not public space but community space. That is something that is disappearing, and surely we are losing something with it.

There is so much to think about here, the film so rich it will reward reviewing. Go see it.

[A version of this post can also be found at drpop.org]

For more on housing and estates…

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Debord & Jorn in Limehouse — and the best single objection to planning you will ever read

In 1955, the London Times published this piece of garbage:

London’s Chinatown is threatened with extinction. That labyrinth of squalid streets, mysterious passages, and shuttered hovels a mile or two east of Aldgate pump is doomed. The planners have been told to go ahead. By the end of the year much of Pennyfields will have been demolished to make room for blocks of flats. After that, it is only a question of time before the rest of it will vanish like an opium smoker’s dream.

Tenacious as the type of Oriental who jumps ship and settles within the purlieus of London’s Docklands is, he is helpless under the New Order. Whatever he and his compatriots may feel, they cannot hope to frustrate the designs of the modern builder. The series of rabbit warrens, from which a Chinese head was once wont to pop out with disconcerting suddenness, must give place to neat and tidy dwellings fitted with “h. and c.” and a sanitation calculated to make the old time denizens of London’s Chinatown shudder.

For it has never been the dwelling place of the Mandarin, much less the hiding place of the communist plotter. But it has been, and still is, the home-from-home of the Chinese Common Man, who, sick of the sea, had found the precarious existence to be derived from gambling, catering for his fellows, or pandering to curious visitors much to his liking. (49)
–anonymous, “Limehouse Nights in the 1930s: Chinatown of Romance and Fable Receives its Death Blow from the Planners.” London Times, August 31, 1955

In response, Bernstein, Debord, and Wolman write in Potlatch no. 23 (October 13, 1955):

We protest against such moral ideas in town-planning, ideas which must obviously make England more boring than it has in recent years already become.

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Anyway, it is inconvenient that this Chinese quarter of London should be destroyed before we have the opportunity to visit it and carry out certain psychogeographical experiments we are at present undertaking.

Finally, if modernization appears to you, as it does to us, to be historically necessary, we would counsel you to carry your enthusiasm into areas more urgently in need of it, that is to say, to your political and moral institutions. (52)

Bam. I almost like them again.

3621776_0bcc87ccIn McKenzie Wark’s The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, he describes their brief stay in Limehouse, in the building that formerly housed the British Sailor’s Society. A building on Newell Street, one of my favourite streets in all of London, and this building one I have puzzled over after noticing the plaque. Wark quotes a 2008 property advert that describes what it has become — and then goes on to describe what it once was:

“Newell Street, London, E14 7HR. £1,250,000: A beautiful Grade 2 listed house formerly headquarters of The British Sailors Society. Built circa 1802 for one of Horatio Nelson’s captains, the property retains many naval features including one of London’s only Victorian swimming pools, originally built to teach sailors to swim. The property is laid out over three floors and consists: large entrance hallway, drawing room, conservatory, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, studio room, sauna, private garden and two parking spaces. The property has also been used for filming, including Beginner’s Luck and Dead Cool and has been graced by stars such as Rosanna Arquette, Liz Smith, and Julie Delpy.”1

It’s easier to sell a property with a story, but beneath these stories lie others. The ad neglects to mention that the same address formerly housed the homeless, or that it was once disgraced by the anti-celebrities of the Situationist International. In preparation for the 1960 London conference, Debord and Jorn embarked on a dérive of the city looking for a suitable venue. They settled on this hall in the Lime-house district, mythologized by Charles Dickens as a seedy warren of opium dens. (253-254)

It’s so much more than that of course, I don’t much care for Edwin Drood, but I quite love knowing more about this little piece of it.

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The Rum Factory Opens!

The wonderful Bow Arts held the opening of the Rum Factory today, studios filling an old warehouse that has held many lives over its 200 years. They are all present here, I will show them to you. But it was no small feat to open 90 affordable studio spaces in London this close to the city, and we also celebrated their 20 year anniversary, so it was a happy occasion. Prosecco in the middle of the day, delicious nibbles.

And oh the bite-size brownies topped with cream.

But above all was the building.

We arrived, were directed upstairs to join the rest, find the drinks

Rum Factory Opening

Marcel kicked it off with many thank yous and much happiness

Rum Factory Opening

Above the mic, you could hear — and these are the notes I made on my phone, I like their abbreviated poetry and I am finishing my damn novel agonizingly but surely so you get the notes:

Amazing noises hammering, sounds of waves — Long Good Friday showed such foresight we will be the capital of Europe, Olympics, but development in Wapping creating challenges, one is to artists and creativity residential land values pushing out other uses St George developers good in that studios not left to the margins but part of development

Sound of wheels metal rain draining dragging of materials of weight itself in construction forms across a metal roof. Rebeccas Brooks’ office as was down the end and behind me the times office with glass and blinds remaining and a white board full of figures and print schedules, Michael called it a ghost of what was. This space is two floors so you can look down, feel the expanse, we stand in the middle at the top a mix of people in suits people in beards Mark in his collar beside me some plaid shirts some diversity

Cuts coming still going we have to be more creative

I don’t think they intended irony there, but I was sad that funding for the arts should be left to third sector and intensive fundraising and enlightened developers. God knows I don’t believe in them.

Few remaining buildings of London docks still to be redeveloped did once hold rum and spirits

I am tempted to drop things on people.

Speeches are over and I am free to wander.

This was indeed the former offices and distribution centre for News of the World. Here are the ghosts of what were:

Rum Factory Opening

Rum Factory Opening

Rum Factory Opening

This is what it has become:

Rum Factory Opening

Beautiful and massive wooden beams, old brick with its curious arches and niches — I try and imagine their purpose, fail.

Rum Factory Opening

I confess I prefer these as empty spaces, or in the process of becoming:

Rum Factory Opening

There was an artist who made birds of beautiful shape.

Coming down Pennington Street to the entrance this is what you see, a great solid mass of brick that has an odd weight and beauty to it, these old warehouses make my heart quake and I don’t quite know what it is about them.

London Dock

But wandering along the first floor in the still unoccupied spaces you find the curiously medieval windows, and the view behind towards destruction:

Rum Factory Opening

This survived the blitz, but not regeneration. Or maybe that’s just the new build that needs to come down to build some luxury flats that are even newer.

I wonder what this tunnel once did, why it is here. It is like an organic thing caterpillaring up in that great curve to swallow rubble. I hope it survives:

Rum Factory Opening

This dock once provided jobs for thousands of people — first the dock workers, then the newspaper printers (those printers’ strikes in the 80s, picking up leftist campaign literature, Sean and Helen’s stories about early mornings in the darkness and fascists and beatings and the heart pounding fiercely and idealism surging high — one of the later panel speakers was supporting the strikes too, but a bit deprecating of the part he played. Fighting for jobs seemed a little passe). I am glad this place now houses artists, otherwise there are only temporary employment opportunities here. Dude with a broom on a break:

Rum Factory Opening

There was a panel after and it was interesting, but I am a little too angry about rents and bankers and austerity to have enjoyed it much. I did love something the moderator said as part of the invitation for responses from the panel — my quixotic notes again:

on London as the centre of the world, this place the concrete tangible memory of goods flowing through…News of the World and media now become the goods? the flows? … Art now as tangible as rum?

I couldn’t help but think this ironic as well, as I made the leap to art become commodity and imperialist lacky. Not what he meant, not what is happening here, but undoubtedly worth some thought.

A few other thoughts from the woman from the GLA stayed with me, made me a bit sad:

Desire for immersive and authentic experience from tourists

Creating a cultural vision for the royal docks, how you grow a new development a new space before homes going in, bold ideas creating a different way about creating space

How do you create authenticity for tourists? How does a bureaucratic organisation, however well meaning, create a cultural vision? These things can only increase the ways that London is destroying upswellings of life and creativity through high costs and poverty where you earn simply to live, through the prescriptive stifling of culture as it is spontaneously created and lived by and through a vibrant community. Only a certain kind of people need their culture packaged and handed to them.

Sadness.

I found this picture of this warehouse’s former days, or as it came to the end of them.

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You leave the warehouse — once dockers would have been searched as they left the building — and walked up past plywood to the welcome site of St-George-in-the-East, and I remembered again the WWII story of Father John re-burying corpses thrown up by a bomb as Rev. Denys Giddey read the Commital by search-lights and explosions.

St-George-in-the-East

And then on the corner, a more eloquent reminder of how the community once here has been whittled away.

The Old Rose, Wapping

Things do change I know, it is nice to be able to celebrate something good that is happening amidst all the rest.

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Pop Brixton (and the Q&A last night)

Catchy title, eh? Lambeth’s Cooperative Council put out a call for a project to fill the site of the old ice rink, and the bid to create Grow: Brixton won the competition that ensued over a year ago. Their plan looked like this:

grow-brixton-popes-road-3

The bid was put forward by a partnership between Carl Turner Architects and The Edible Bus Stop, and you can see more of the original plans as covered by the Brixton Buzz here. I liked it, containers are very cool.

They held a live pop-up music and cinema event last summer, which was greatly enjoyed by many and which showed promise to become a genuinely bottom-up all-around good thing for central Brixton.

In July they submitted a planning application for 5-year temporary use of the land on Popes Road  also slated by the council as a site of the future massive redevelopment being orchestrated by Future Brixton.

In September Planning permission was recommended.

And then in December, everything changed as the name became Pop: Brixton, the Edible Bus Stop pulled out of the project. The scale became grander, with less emphasis on food and environment more on business and entrepreneurship.

From the website you can see that the community partner is now The Collective, a property development and management company ‘formed by a group of Millennials on a mission to redefine the way young people live, work and play’ and ‘targeted at ambitious young professionals.’ 

So this evening the crowd awaiting answers from Philippe Castaing, Commercial Director of Pop Brixton, along with Cal Turner (architect and director) and Cllr and Cabinet Member Jack Hopkins was not an entirely happy one.

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Their mood did not improve through the evening. Interesting though, was that the muttered outburst and eye rolls and shared knowing smiles weren’t quite in synch, signalling some different sources of frustration and different groups of Brixtonites.

Or Brixtonians. There were some debates about who was more Brixton than who in that upstairs room in the Market House, complicated by not being able to see much less hear everyone, and large sofas that ensured a large physical distance between us.

I failed to get a beer or a seat which would allow me to hear well, as I had trouble getting out of work and arrived a few minutes late. I really needed the beer.

There was a lot of talk from Castaing and Cllr Hopkins about lofty ideals, the councillor used the phrase ‘getting on and up in the world’ three times. Phrases like that grate on me just a bit.

They talked about how hard they have tried to help local people get space there — and if their figures are right they did all right on that count. 85% of businesses owners are Lambeth residents, and 58% from Brixton — those are the figures I noted, but twitter says 65%. I checked the FAQs passed out at the meeting and I am correct.

This first phase is the commercial one, the one where they have to let all of the allotted units at market rates to ensure their own viability and the provision of the subsidised units which have not been filled and will come soon. Even for the commercial units, they scored applicants by (and this also from their FAQs):

  • the quality of their business plan
  • their locality to the project
  • their alignment to Pop’s ethos of supporting the local area
  • their commitment to the local community

Each business also must donate one hour of time to community projects (4 hours a month, it’s hardly going to move mountains is it?) through some kind of time bank, but that clearly is the bit that has not been thought through.

There is no mechanism in place yet, nor any plan for evaluation of if its working, how it is working or its impact. A bit shoddy really, as this aspect of ‘social value’ is the whole point.

The audience was certainly disapproving.

The two key questions the Buzz has been following were answered, though not particularly well. The first: What exactly happened to Grow Brixton?

Cllr Hopkins answered. He stated there had been a public bid won by Grow Brixton, a partnership between Carl Turner Architects and the Edible Bus Stop. The two fell out. Lambeth tried to help them hold together, brought in mediation, it didn’t work.

Carl had the money to step forward and carry on alone, and because this is a pop-up venture the clock was ticking in terms of its time on the site before the major development commences. Given that, they decided to have Carl Turner carry it forward.

He noted nothing was lost from the original bid.

The second question, is how has the plan changed and grown since planning was approved? Carl answered this one.

The original plan was for 33 containers on site, but it was just a sketch design and they were surprised, though delighted to win. They then had to really figure out how to make it happen and how they were going to pay for it.

The planning application was for 50 containers. Since then there have been another 4 or 5 containers added, for a total of 55. He didn’t sound so sure about that as a total.

He said it’s a big site, they went through a long process, and there were no objections in planning. Back when they were still partners with the Edible Bus Stop.

There were questions about how this will affect neighbouring businesses — the response was they believe it will impact them positively, as it will drive increased footfall into this ‘forgotten’ corner of central Brixton.

Cllr Hopkins noted that the council sacking a 1000 workers had had a huge impact on local businesses as it had driven down their takings during the week. No more lunches, no more drinks after work. Anything is good that brings more workers into Brixton.

I mourned a little there for my friends who have lost jobs, and this off-hand acknowledgement of the multiple ways their loss has hit us.

On this same topic, the first audience question was whether they had approached the businesses in the arches about relocating. The answer was yes. Jose in the audience confirmed it, and noted he didn’t follow up on the invitation as he had heard that the rents were quite high.

Anyway, he’s staying in his arch.

Another set question was on how much public funding was in this project, and why. Cllr Hopkins stepped forward.

The funding is mostly in kind as they are giving use of the land free. There have also been ‘small pots’ of money accessed. The one he mentioned was through the move of the Impact Hub now in the Town Hall, and the 166 people currently working out of it, into Pop Brixton. There is some money from the mayor keeping that going, matched by the council.

Will it still be public space? they asked. Oh yes was the reply, everyone is welcome. The gates will only close when the whole complex is closed.

There were some questions and complaints about prices — information not currently available on their website and people felt that for transparencies sake it should be.

Castaing stated that the ‘affordable’ units are currently set at £9 a square foot — while the commercial rents range from £800 to £2500 for a whole container.

Different pricing systems, I am still not sure of the maths. Later a figure of about £60 a square foot for commercial space was thrown out there. This does seem to make the ‘affordable’ space actually affordable, however.

Even if it will come too late to help tenants moving from the Piano House, which is being converted into flats. One of these tenants being thus forced out of Brixton was there.

An artist who felt insulted by the process she was involved in while consulted on the project was also present.

It wasn’t the outcome hoped for by the folks of Pop Brixton. I couldn’t help but feel it was the clash of two different worlds though, and they weren’t being challenged here on what is actually what has everyone so angry.

Within their own frameworks — acceding to austerity and the demands of development and profit and trying to squeeze out of gentrification a few drops of what they can for the community  — this is in fact a good project, and they are doing their their best.

Of course, if you started from what the community needs rather than what little we can do with what we can scrape off of an enterprise that needs to earn a profit, this is not the project that would have emerged. But what the community needs is not going to come out of the neoliberal tool box.

Cllr Hopkins can point to the Tories and say in truth their cuts are devastating, and he has very little power to do anything. What he can’t say is that his party is leading the fight back, has an alternative, or is remotely capable of coming up with one.

Brixton will be lost under their watch, and they don’t even recognise it.

So no one up there understood the anger of the people they were facing who are steadily getting pushed out of a place they love, nor the fact that this development will just help push property prices and rents up even higher. The fear that this will just be another place catering to (and attracting) the wealthy. That the harm it causes in this sense, will most likely far outdo any good it does.

Anyway, in a few years it will be swept away. We need to be asking what happens to those local businesses. As the final speaker noted, pilot projects mean ‘people come in, do their thing, and jet.’ In the face of the massive development about to hit Popes Road, we may almost remember Pop Brixton fondly.

So it was a depressing walk home, and uphill all the way.

[a version posted earlier on Brixton Buzz with more pictures of the containers, I’ll get down there for the opening I think, and take my own]

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Royal Victoria Docks, Old and New

I picked up East End and Docklands in the library on something of a whim, because the photographs are amazing, and show the docklands as I never knew them, though 1990 still doesn’t seem that far away. Until I count the decades. I am now eager to find Fishman’s Streets of East London.

Scan 37

It’s been in my stack of books to read and evacuate from this room before I must, and the parallel of poverty and decay swept away before regeneration and a shiny but far less interesting wealth is not at all lost on me.

This bank holiday weekend facing a broken boiler, days behind and stretching miserably ahead without hot water, we decided to take up a deal and escape to a cheap hotel off of the old Royal Victoria Dock. I took this picture:
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Reviewing the book before sending it back to the library I found this:

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Inside the Royal Victoria Dock, looking west. It opened for business in 1855 on land acquired at little more than the going agricultural rate. By 1860 it was leading double the tonnage of the London Docks: now grass and weeds grow in the crevices of the once thriving jetty (54).

Granted they are facing a different direction, but the differences are still clear. An astonishing transformation.

As we walked down along the old docks to the Ramada, we passed this grouping of buildings I was fascinated by, that also found parallels in these old pictures:

Royal Victoria Docks

Royal Victoria Docks

The old Spillers Millenium Mills Building, I can’t quite figure out the angles here, but this is the same building:

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They get more interesting as you walk:

Royal Victoria Docks

I quite love the armadillo.

Royal Victoria Docks

Royal Victoria Docks

Royal Victoria Docks

A final pairing of pictures, though this one I took of Limehouse is from last year:

Limehouse

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The major employers today seem to be the miserable jobs in the hotels and the ExCel centre — which has created a most depressing and dead riverfront area with nowhere to sit, enjoy, discuss, daydream, stare at the river and think.

Royal Victoria Docks

Royal Victoria Docks

Funny that we call that regeneration, it was very reminiscent of the almost empty wasteland of the Olympic Park we had just left in Stratford. Except there the tiny handful of people on the grass did seem to be enjoying themselves and here they seemed more passed out really. Though I could be wrong.

The text in here gives a very good background to the docks and riverside, the development and decay and the struggle over their redevelopment. Of course it did not go uncontested, and who doesn’t love old protest posters:

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But they did not stop the cranes, this is one of the more extraordinary pictures I’ve seen I think. I would guess that today in the East End there are just as many of these bastards, but not with an unobstructed view like this.

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And to end on a happy note, a memory of the better days in Poplar. If only Ed Milliband had carved this message into stone and meant it.

Scan 16

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Change in City, Change in Self

And old post from the old blog (17 July 2008) that for some reason I wanted to preserve separately from this one, but I just finished Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks, and it reminded me of all these old things I had been thinking about, especially this. I haven’t had time to blog this wonderful book yet, but thought I might repost this on a lazy Sunday with only a tweak…

I was thinking today how the city changes…and I find it extraordinary how quickly you get used to changes in the physical landscape around you. I knew downtown L.A. full of parking lots and old buildings full of people. And now it has been built over, it is full of huge new shiny buildings and it is full of all new people. The empty buildings that once contained friends of mine mostly still stand, they are monuments to so many conflicting things: greed, pain, hope, love, struggle…and they stand as anachronisms, though once each was one building among many such. But for all that is now gone? Memory goes with them, I cannot remember what used to be underneath the lofts. I go through my photographs and try to reclaim my own memory of downtown before money claimed it as its own and rebuilt its landscape. I hate not only that they profited so easily and well, but also that I cannot remember what was there before. I hate that we could not manage to force them to build on the beauty and strength that was already there, while working to improve and grow and increase the number of people and services. Everyone has lost, though the ones who destroyed will never know how much, and the people they pushed out know it all to well.

I was thinking today too about how I change…and I find it extraordinary how quickly you settle into the new outlines of your mind and forget what its thoughts were before. You hope to be always expanding, growing greater and wiser and stronger as you learn, I fear I might contract if I ever stopped growing…some people do, you see their minds steadily narrowing and fearful of change. And yet suddenly it worried me as loft construction does, how hard it is to remember what you thought before, how you felt before, what it was to be yourself before. It seems to me that to truly grow you must build upon all that you were, and recognize and remember the building. That way you have a hope of bringing people with you, and understanding people who are where you once were — especially in terms of political consciousness. I think too many of us destroy what we discard and do not recognize it as a piece of the foundation and a step to where we have come and a link with those behind. That is too linear a metaphor all together, but the best I can do at the moment…I shall have to create a new metaphor to stand upon the old one and remember how it came to be. As for the dragon boat races…well! The Molinistas were destroyed and there was much jubilation. Here are the boats: I am sure that we won as everyone followed the required ritual to grant us victory This is wishing pain to your enemies (damn Gloria Molina, damn her, he is saying! You came to Belmont highschool and promised things and did jack shit about it! You lie Molina, I can’t believe you are still one of the most powerful women in L.A.! But not in the dragon boat you’re not!), and you impart this wish to your paddle so that it strikes angrily through the water…you then have to commune with your paddle like so Do this and your paddle will know that you love it, and driven by this motivational combination of love and hate, it shall speed you through the water like a…platypus maybe. If you’re lucky an eel. But It shall make you fast, and you shall win. The fried plaintains were delicious, as was the iced coffee…the breakfast (and lunch) of champions. There were Koreans line dancing to Alan Jackson singing about the Chatahoochee on the main stage, it was the zen approach to enlightenment, the equivalent of getting hit alongside the head or your nose tweaked. And the lotus festival hummed and flowed and danced around the lake and I enjoyed myself.

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Question Time: The Future of Lambeth College

IMG_1878 top pic

A panel of white men did their best at this evening’s Question Time organised by MP Chuka Umuna to defend the decision to redevelop Lambeth College’s Brixton Hill site to include Trinity Academy and University Technical College.

Only 30 percent of the site will remain for Lambeth College.

"Nothing is Set in Stone" on Lambeth College Plans for Brixton Hill

Judging from the audience’s hostile reaction, they failed fairly completely and only dug themselves deeper into failure as the evening progressed.

Near the end, the harassed architect did in fact say under pressure that nothing is set in stone until the actual plans are officially submitted to planning in the summer. I don’t think anyone there really believed him, but can Brixton residents hold him to his word?

The general feeling from the audience was that they were deeply suspicious of everyone on the panel, and opposed almost everything about this development.

"Nothing is Set in Stone" on Lambeth College Plans for Brixton Hill

From the architect and contractor, that they had only been on the project for three weeks and were simply working within a remit settled by the last lot of men in suits consulting at us.

Everything has already been approved. They are simply there to design and build what will best provide for the needs of the three future users of the site.

From our Labour representatives, that it is all up to planning now and can only be questioned or contested on that basis. They can’t sit on or influence the planning committee who will make the final decisions.

As one of the local residents who had participated in the first round of ‘consultation’ on this plan, submitted written comments, written to Chuka Umuna about my feelings, and yet never received any updates or notifications of further meetings (including this one), I could understand the anger and frustration in the room.

Chuka Umunna to hold a People's Question Time over Lambeth College's Brixton Hill site, 4th March

On the panel:

Malcolm Dodds – Senior Advisor for the Baker Dearing Educational Trust that exists to promote and support new University Technical Colleges (This trust was founded by Lord Baker and Lord Dearing to facilitates a key Tory policy, probably all we need to know though I’m sure there’s more to look into here — there’s more on the UTC model, along with Academies and earlier protests here).

Dennis Sewell – Chair of Governors of Trinity Academy (A modern-day missionary to Lambeth’s heathen shores, he wrote this in the Spectator in December 2011: “At the height of empire, Britain used to send missionaries out to Africa and Asia to instruct the natives in personal hygiene, instil good table manners and preach the gospel. The occasional unlucky one found himself in a cannibal’s pot for his trouble; but mostly they won out, establishing themselves as the kindly, civilising arm of imperialism, founding schools and clinics, and converting the heathen. Back home, the public was jolly proud of them. British missionaries were both an expression and a source of Britain’s muscular national self-assurance.”)

Cllr Martin Tiedemann – One of our ward councillors, you might know him

Jude Harris – Associate Director of Justico & Wilds and lead architect

Mark Silverman – Principal of Lambeth College

Daniel Trigg – Senior Project Manager at Mott MacDonald, the contractors on the project.

Mandy Brown – UCU branch Secretary at Lambeth College. She found out about the panel and the list of men on it who are all in full support of the development and asked why there was no trade union representation from the college. She was then invited to join by Chuka’s office. She showed up in her Save Cressingham Gardens T-shirt, which was a nice gesture.

Her concerns were the following, and they seem to sum up why most oppose this development plan in its entirety:

  • Lack of consultation: staff, students and residents were not consulted before the development was agreed, only presented with plans
  • Loss of provision of needed services — she was confused about the constant use of the word ‘underutilisation’ of the facilities when there are 3000 people on the waiting list for ESOL class and not enough space for them
  • Negative equality impact on the community — a majority of students go there for special provisions for the disabled or ESOL and there continues to be a huge need for both, especially as other places like Croyden have cut back ESOL and their students are coming to Brixton.
  • The issue of the free school — £18 million spent to bring this academy to Brixton though opposed by local community, not supported by the Catholic diocese, and not needed
  • This is part of a Brixton-wide dispossession of the community, from the loss of housing like in Cressingham Gardens, to local businesses through the redevelopment of the arches, now losing the resources offered by Lambeth College

She got a solid round of applause for this, the first to be heard.

The questions raised a lot of practical issues. How many users will there be on site? Their estimates are 420 full-time-equivalents at Lambeth College, 600 students at the University Technical College, 840 students at Trinity Academy. Further questions clarified this could be as many as 3000 a day as most Lambeth College students are there part time.

Questions were raised about the fate of disabled students, who Lambeth College has historically made a tremendous effort to serve. Mark Silverman assured everyone they would not be forgotten.

IMG_1882 Daniel Trigg (left) and Mark Silverman (centre)

Of course, he went on, the government has made another round of cuts, and Chuka mentioned that apparently though not yet announced, the projected figures for the latest coalition government budget will put the viability of a number of adult colleges at risk. That might have been the worst news of the evening.

A number of comments and questions targeted Trinity Academy, no one seemed happy with its presence. One set of questions dealt with its viability under a new government, others mentioned how they are shown to be socially divisive, ineffective and sometimes harmful, they don’t have the same requirements to provide trained teachers.

Others questioned the fact that a school with a Catholic ‘ethos’ should be receiving public funding, even when not supported by the Catholic Diocese itself — and they wanted some clarification around that. Sara Tomlinson of the NUT echoed that free schools have been a failed experiment and only last week another closed down.

Chuka was asked what Labour meant to do about them. Very politically he responded that while he had nothing against the staff or students, their opening would not be supported under Labour, and he supports a rationale that puts schools where they are actually needed.

Trinity Academy is not needed. I’m not sure Cllr Tiedmann agreed with him, but his support of Catholic schools and education in general was a little muddled.

IMG_1884 MP Chuka Umuna and Cllr Martin Tiedemann

Unjum Mirza (TUSC candidate for Streatham) declared Labour spineless and called out Dennis Sewell’s comments in the Spectator and asked whether a racist bigot should be running a school in Brixton — now that sent a ripple through the audience.

IMG_1886 Dennis Sewell (standing) and Malcom Dodds

Question Time was running late, so a last rush of questions was taken — mostly along the lines of ‘what do you mean you’re going to have three schools all in that small space?’ and ‘there has been no real consultation’ and ‘how can we have any kind of real say in what happens with this?’.

At hearing there might be a building of 5 to 6 stories on the site pandemonium broke loose.

The panel were asked about their strategies for racial equality — not just in the construction but in their teaching and learning models and how they work with the BME community.

The usual platitudes were produced, but in defending the grand aims of Trinity Academy Sewell made the mistake of saying that that there was too much social and ethnic segregation in local schools, and that set pandemonium off once again. It really was a great crowd who deserved better.

An unfortunate comment about the Academy not having enough White British students and it was really all over for him.

The next round of ‘consultations’ should take place at the end of the month, where Justico & Wilds and Mott Macdonald will present a range of actual plans (will they be the ones already shown parents of children at Trinity Academy?

We shall see.

There is as yet not date or website, but we should expect one.

Previously posted on Brixton Buzz. Discuss this on the urban75 forums.

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