"There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more" – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1974: 156)
Loretta Lees was in the School yesterday and gave an excellent paper on the state-led gentrification of British council estates since the late 1990s. The paper built, in part, on a forthcoming paper in Antipode which examines the case of the Aylesbury Estate and the pernicious use of ‘mixed communities policy’ as a smokescreen for dispossession and displacement. Lees focused on a broader London context and the range of unjust practices that are being forced on residents across the city. She also insisted that the we need to more toward ‘a new grammar for the just city’ and that this involves greater attention to the different kinds of resistance and alliance-building that have emerged in recent years as a response to a growing housing crisis in London.
Her paper also drew on the late Neil Smith’s forensic critique of urban regeneration in the UK that appeared in Mute two years ago (in part a review of Owen Hatherley’s Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain). It remains a sober reminder of everything wrong with contemporary urbanism in the UK. Lees drew on two passages from that text that still stand out:
Regeneration was always ever a gentrification strategy, and we knew it. We knew it from Blair’s 1997 launch of New Labour’s regeneration policy from the stigmatised Aylesbury Estate in London where the desperate 70s class-neutral language of revitalisation, recycling, renaissance and especially regeneration was revived in the 2000s – a language as deliberately anodyne as it is ideological and mendacious; an environmentally friendly cover for class cleansing in the urban landscape.
The organised left only ever had a spotty record on housing and community politics and no real opposition to Blair’s regenerationism emerged there. More broadly, the political defeats after the mid 1980s left many with little energy to fight, and many otherwise good souls, exhausted by the defensive and broadly failed struggles against Thatcher and desperately keen to see a Blairite alternative, concluded that if they couldn’t beat them they better join them. Ex-radicals became frontline regeneration managers for local councils, others even became developers. Architects and planners, not generally given to the language of gentrification, leveled no audible objection; and few academics put up any resistance […] The melancholy of political defeat in the 1980s became the new normal for subsequent generations of urban professionals, and the same melancholy was built into the wrecked urbanism in the 2000s [Neil Smith, The Regeneration Railway Journey]
Image courtesy of http://southwarknotes.wordpress.com/