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?

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Déjà lu: Who are Academics For?

On the weekend of 10-11 June ASH attended the Housing Justice conference being held as part of the ‘Small is Beautiful’ festival in Wales, and for something to read we took Anna Minton’s new book, Big Capital: Who is London For? a copy of which, signed by the author and sent to ASH, had arrived earlier that week.

Reading it, however – and particularly the third chapter on ‘Demolitions’ – was a strange experience, like reading a summary of just about everything ASH has written about and published on our blog over the past two years. That’s not surprising, as we met Anna in 2015, and she and Paul Watt had invited us to publish our October 2015 blog article ‘The London Clearances’ in the special feature of City they were editing on housing activism. I remember Anna had been generous in her appraisal, arguing that this text, which was one of the first to identify the threat the IPPR report City Villages represented to council estates, should be more widely published. In fact, in the days when Labourites still read the ASH blog, and following the demonstration we organised in January 2016 against the Housing and Planning Act, this single article was visited over 15,000 times on the ASH blog. Ah, heady days!

Since then we have introduced Anna to some of the estates ASH has worked with, taking time out to show her around Central Hill, and at their invitation we presented our design work on West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates at a conference she and Paul organised at the University of East London.

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The Green-eyed Twitter Trolls: Rab Harling and Stephen Pritchard

Towards the middle of May, Architects for Social Housing became aware that we were being subjected to what appeared to be a trolling campaign on Twitter. Knowing its origins – both the people behind it and their motivations – we blocked them and ignored it, hoping that they would tire of the publicity they got from attacking ASH and eventually go away. However, over two months later the trolling has not stopped, and has in fact expanded to include anyone who has anything to do with ASH, including the organisers of the Small is Beautiful festival, whose conference on ‘Housing Justice’ we spoke at in June, and the Architectural Workers, who last month organised a debate on ‘What is the Architect’s role in the housing crisis?’ at which we also spoke; as well as general call-outs to individuals and groups such as the Focus E15 Mothers and others not to share a platform with us. I must admit we sort of hoped that a knight in shining armour would come along and defend our blemished honour, but – alas! – it seems these days a girl must fight her own battles. Also, a number of people attacked by association have asked us why we haven’t responded. Unpleasant as it is, therefore, we feel we must explain where these attacks are coming from and why, and refute the accusations they make against ASH.

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