iMayor: The Ideology of GLA Housing Policy and the New Policy we need on Estate Regeneration

1. Cleaning Up

Recently I watched the film iBoy, which was first released by Netflix in January 2017. Based on the 2010 novel by Kevin Brooks, which is set in the fictional Crow Lane estate in South London, the film relocates the story to the Middlesex Street estate in Aldgate, just off the Petticoat Lane market. A lot of the film takes place on the raised walkways of the outer ring of low-rise blocks that surround the estate’s courtyard and central tower, and which are in turn surrounded by the encroaching monuments to capitalism of the adjacent City, which in the night scenes appear like alien spaceships expanding their intergalactic empire. Much is made visually of this juxtaposition between the dark, run-down, concrete council estate and the glittering metal and glass towers of the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, the Walkie-Talkie, the Shard, and all the other cute names for the priapic emanations of Albion.

I won’t bother you with the story, which is drawn from the increasingly limited range of narrative film; but the basic conceit is that, following a gang shooting on the estate, the young hero has fragments of his iPhone embedded in his brain, and this allow him to access and control digital electronic devices. In their criticisms of the improbability of such a premise and the romantic clichés in which it is played out, what the critics all ignored was the ideological setting to the film, which like all ideology is transparent while at the same time being in plain view. The reason we don’t see it is because it’s so close to our vision as to be indistinguishable from it, like the internalised iPhone screen through which the hero views the world. The Guardian even accused the film of an excess of ‘urban realism’. The clichés no critic saw were those about council estates and the communities they house.

On this one, which is renamed the Crowley estate in the film, the residents are either criminals or victims of crime, their homes dirty, dark and ruled by gangs, the architecture conducive to alienation, despair and ‘anti-social’ behaviour, their community part of a network of organised crime, their mothers crack addicts and whores, their kids dealing or taking drugs, their behaviour only contained by heavily armed police, their proximity to the City of London incongruous and outdated, the existence of the estate futile, doomed and in need – as the heroine says – of ‘cleaning up’. In case the way to do this is in doubt, the file the hero downloads before calling in the riot squad for an early morning raid is titled:

iBoy.net/Crowley_Estate_Clean_Up

Even if you haven’t seen the film, you won’t be surprised to learn that this characteristically middle-class perception of council estate communities – which has itself been formed through thousands of similar depictions in our press, media, news reports, reality TV shows, documentaries, housing policy documents, think-tank reports, developers’ press releases, estate agents’ adverts, councillors’ plans, housing ministers’ speeches and films like this – was written, acted and directed by a team of writers with a tin ear for the speech patterns of London’s working class (‘you think your drug dealing won’t escalate?’), actors whose occasional ‘sorted’ and ‘fuck offs’ couldn’t hide their Home County accents and RADA haircuts, and a director whose filmography is characterised by ‘gritty’ depictions of Inner City life which, unwittingly or otherwise, prepare the way for the plans of property developers and the planning authorities that are in their pockets. That the ‘breeding-ground’ – to use the sink estate terminology – for the criminality that afflicts our society should be located here, in this inner-city council estate, rather than in the financial district it borders, should be sufficient indication of whose interests are being served by this film. Apparently oblivious to the effect it will have on the community it depicts, iBoy would not look out of place in a property developer’s presentation to the City of London Corporation arguing why this ‘sink estate’ should be demolished and the immensely valuable land on which it stands handed over to them for redevelopment.
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ASH Films: News Reports, Presentations, Counter Propaganda, Documentaries

Cotton Gardens Estate, Lambeth

News Reports

Housing Hell (January 2016). RT UK News, 4:25.

‘The Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.’ – Office of the Director of National Intelligence, U.S.A.

Sink Estates (January 2016). Channel 4 News, 3:21.

Heygate Estate Redevelopment (October 2016). ABC News, 7:28.

‘This is a complete scandal, like many other such local authority projects. What an appalling deal Southwark cut for residents, for public funding and assets, and for London.’ – S. Keene

Roofless Times (December 2016). RT UK News, 6:04.

London Tower Fire (June 2017). RT UK News, 3:46.

Grief of Grenfell (May 2018). RT UK News, 4:06.

Presentations

An Opportunity for a More Ethical Architectural Practice (October 2015). Architectural Association, 1:54:13.

Presentation to Residents of Central Hill Estate (February 2016). Woolfe Vision, 1:40:59.

UK Housing Crisis and Regeneration (April 2016). Windows on the World, 1:19:36.

‘Great guests, excellent discussion. It’s shocking what’s happening to this country. I wish people wouldn’t just see it in party political terms. Waiting for the next den of thieves to get in won’t get us anywhere.’ – Natalie Minnis

Tower, Slab, Superblock: London (December 2016), Architectural League of New York, 1:33:33.

The Truth About Grenfell Tower (July 2017). Woolfe Vision, 1:21:08.

‘As a construction professional I thought that all of my concerns and thoughts were covered in this great, well organised meeting. This team should, in my view, form part of the Moore-Bick investigation. Well done to you.’ – Colin Beadle

‘This was an excellent forum for people of different backgrounds to come together and discuss and share experiences. Thank you to ASH for organising this. The social housing dilemma is nationwide and is fundamental to the plight of many peoples in many different areas.’ – Dillip Phunbar

Radical Kitchen (August 2017). Serpentine Galleries, 1:13:41.

Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration (May 2018), Woolfe Vision (forthcoming).

Counter Propaganda

The Aylesbury Wall (May 2015). ASH Films, 6:37.

Sweets Way (May 2015). ASH Films, 10:35.

Anti-Tory Protest (May 2015). ASH Films, 8:43.

Campaigning with Khan and Corbyn (March 2016). Woolfe Vision, 6:17.

Decision to Demolish Cressingham Gardens Estate (March 2016). Woolfe Vision, 6:17.

Savills Protest (April 2016). Woolfe Vision, 4:06.

Open Garden Estates: Macintosh Court (June 2016). Woolfe Vision, 12:55.

Open Garden Estates: Central Hill (July 2016). Shendao Silent Films, 7:36.

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do: Macintosh Court (September 2016). Shendao Silent Films, 8:51.

Campaign for Beti: Court Hearing (March 2017). Banyak Films, 30:27.

Bermondsey and Old Southwark Hustings (May 2017). ASH Films, 16:31.

Lambeth Estate Hustings (May 2017). Produced by Kiran Acharya, 2:55.

Documentaries

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle (March 2017). Velvet Joy Productions, 1:22:00.

Concrete Soldiers UK (December 2017). Woolfe Vision, 1:03:00.

Architects for Social Housing

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work, you can make a donation through PayPal:

Et tu, Boughton? Silences and Censorship in Municipal Dreams

Verso, Municipal Dreams (May 2018)

I was in town on the weekend and had a look through John Boughton’s recently published book Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing. I don’t know John personally, but I know his blog, also called Municipal Dreams, and have referenced his excellent coverage of the Five Estates regeneration in Peckham, and praised his blog as a source of information for campaigners mapping London’s estate regeneration programme. Unfortunately, however, he hasn’t returned the favour. The final chapter of John’s book is titled ‘People Need Homes: These Homes Need People’, which is a slight misquote of the banners hung by the Focus E15 Mothers during their occupation of the Carpenters Estate, and covers some of the recent history of council housing in which ASH has had some involvement. Indeed, of the six estates John mentions in this chapter – Central Hill, West Kensington and Gibbs Green, Northwold, Cressingham Gardens and West Hendon – ASH has worked closely with the residents of the first five of them and produced design alternatives to demolition for the first four. He even mentions that residents and activists have come up with ‘People’s Plans’ for the Central Hill and West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, repeating our figures on the increase in housing capacity the ASH design proposals for the latter can achieve.

However, just as academic Anna Minton did last year in her book Big Capital, there is no reference to Architects for Social Housing in John Boughton’s book, either in the body of the text or in the footnotes. I’ll pass over the fact that, like Anna, he doesn’t mention us in his discussion of both the IPPR report City Villages and the Savills report Completing London’s Streets, which ASH did quite a lot to bring to the attention of the housing movement through both our blog articles, The London Clearances (October 2015) and Mapping London’s Housing Crisis (March 2016), and our demonstrations at the launch of the London Housing Commission’s final report in March 2016 and at the headquarters of Savills in April 2016. But if John hasn’t read or viewed these, he certainly knows about the design alternatives to the demolition of these four estates, which means he also knows about the work of ASH, the URL of our blog and our name. Indeed, John has been following the ASH blog since January 2016, and is presumably one of the 14,722 people who have visited these articles on our site. So why, like Anna Minton and Loretta Lees, has he deliberately written us out of this history?

Continue reading “Et tu, Boughton? Silences and Censorship in Municipal Dreams”

The Community of Research: Frontiers of Plagiarism in Academia

For the attention of

Dear Sir/Madam

We are writing to you about a recent article by Loretta Lees, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leicester, and Philip Hubbard, Professor of Urban Studies at King’s College London, titled ‘The Right to Community: Legal geographies of resistance on London’s gentrification frontiers’, which was published in March 2018 in Volume 22, Issue 1 of the journal City. It is our contention that this article has breached the RCUK Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct by failing to reference source material and precedents for its analysis and, more seriously, lifting passages of text verbatim from our own published research without acknowledgement or citation. We believe this warrants a charge of plagiarism, which the RCUK defines as ‘the misappropriation or use of others’ ideas, intellectual property or work (written or otherwise), without acknowledgement or permission’. We wish to bring this charge to your collective attentions as the publishers of this article, the funders of the ESRC grant that supports its research, the co-ordinator of the research portfolios to which it belongs, and the respective employers of its authors.

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London’s Local Elections 2018: The Consequences of Voting

Paris, May 1968

Now the shouting’s stopped and the insults have settled, here’s the damage in London from the Local Elections 2018:

  • Barking & Dagenham: Labour hold
  • Barnet: Conservative gain
  • Bexley: Conservative hold
  • Brent: Labour hold
  • Bromley: Conservative hold
  • Camden: Labour hold
  • Croydon: Labour hold
  • Ealing: Labour hold
  • Enfield: Labour hold
  • Greenwich: Labour hold
  • Hackney: Labour hold
  • Hammersmith & Fulham: Labour hold
  • Haringey: Labour hold
  • Harrow: Labour hold
  • Havering: No overall control
  • Hillingdon: Conservative hold
  • Hounslow: Labour hold
  • Islington: Labour hold
  • Kensington & Chelsea: Conservative hold
  • Kingston-upon-Thames: Liberal Democrat gain
  • Lambeth: Labour hold
  • Lewisham: Labour hold
  • Newham: Labour hold
  • Merton: Labour hold
  • Redbridge: Labour hold
  • Richmond-upon-Thames: Liberal Democrat gain
  • Southwark: Labour hold
  • Sutton: Liberal Democrat hold
  • Tower Hamlets: Labour gain
  • Waltham Forest: Labour hold
  • Wandsworth: Conservative hold
  • Westminster: Conservative hold

All of which means Labour now runs 21 London boroughs, an increase of 1; the Conservatives run 7 London boroughs, a decrease of 2; the Liberal Democrats run 3 London boroughs, an increase of 2; and there is no overall control in 1 London borough, down 1 from 2014. At the end of the day, there’s been very little change except for the worse. So where does that leave us? To answer that question, I’ve looked at four London boroughs, Lewisham, Sutton, Kensington & Chelsea and Lambeth, to see how their estate regeneration programmes have been affected by the local elections.

Continue reading “London’s Local Elections 2018: The Consequences of Voting”

Scheming Schemes: A Street View of Gentrification

I’m dreaming dreams, I’m scheming schemes,
I’m building castles high.
They’re born anew, their days are few,
Just like a sweet butterfly.
And as the daylight is dawning,
They come again in the morning!

– Jaan Kenbrovin, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles (1918)

There’s been a lot in the papers and on social media lately about West Ham football fans and how much they hate their new ground in the London Stadium. This culminated in the recent pitch invasion and protests during the Hammers’ home defeat to Burnley in March, when hundreds of angry fans demanded the removal of the board that oversaw the club’s move in August 2016 after 108 years at Upton Park. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who last year had to take back management of the stadium after it was revealed that the move has cost the public £300 million – the same cost as rebuilding a football-specific arena from scratch – called these protests ‘disgraceful’. In response, the club has introduced tighter security measures, including bringing the police into the ground, to patrol the space separating fans from the West Ham board on match days. A protest walk from Upton Park to Stratford planned for February was only called off following back room deals between the club’s vice-chairman and selected supporter groups. Despite Newham council spending £40 million on converting the former Olympic stadium through loans it admits it does not expect to see repaid, West Ham season ticket-holders complain about what a wasteland Stratford is, with none of the Pie & Mash shops and cheap pubs they used to visit on match day, and how much the former Olympic stadium, with its running track for athletes, separates them from the football pitch. This alienating distance, echoing that between working-class fans and the millionaire players and board-members, is the perfect image of the gentrification of English football since the Hillsborough Stadium disaster of 1989, the subsequent imposition of all-seater stands that doubled ticket prices overnight, and the forming of the Premier League stockmarket in 1992, and as such part of the wider marketisation of every aspect of our lives that is socially cleansing the working class from our inner cities.

Continue reading “Scheming Schemes: A Street View of Gentrification”

Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration. ASH Presentation to the Department of Architecture, Braunschweig University of Technology

Poster for Lecture

1. The Estate Regeneration Programme

ASH map of London's Estate Regeneration Programme

In September 2017, as part of our residency at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Architects for Social Housing (ASH) mapped out London’s estate regeneration programme. Our research identified 237 housing estates that have recently undergone, are currently undergoing, or are threatened with regeneration, demolition or privatisation with the resulting loss of homes for council or social rent. In one borough alone, no less than 9,500 such homes are being lost to Southwark council’s estate regeneration programme. These figures are not anomalies, but accord with the targets of estate regeneration. These have been laid out in such policy-defining publications as City Villages: More homes, better communities (published in March 2015), which recommended reclassifying existing council estates as ‘brownfield land’ – a term usually applied to ex-industrial or commercial land that requires decontamination before use; and the report to the Government’s Cabinet Office titled Completing London’s Streets: How the regeneration and intensification of housing estates could increase London’s supply of homes and benefit residents (January 2016), which recommended demolishing the council homes of over 400,000 Londoners. In practice, if not in name, the estate ‘regeneration’ programme means the demolition and redevelopment of housing estates for capital investment by offshore companies, buy-to-let landlords and home ownership. Only a small percentage of the new-builds end up as so-called ‘affordable’ housing, and this newly designated category increasingly means shared-ownership properties, rent-to-buy products or affordable rents set at 80 per cent of market rate. Few if any homes for social rent, fixed at 30 per cent of market rate, are being built to replace the thousands being lost. The effect of this programme, which every council in London is implementing on their housing stock, has been described with a term that still causes anger and furious denials in those carrying it out, but which has been universally adopted by both residents and campaigners resisting it: social cleansing.
Continue reading “Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration. ASH Presentation to the Department of Architecture, Braunschweig University of Technology”