Riots updated: Sennett, Rykwert, Till, de Botton, Tavernor and more on why Britain is burning
The AJ asks prominent architectural thinkers to comment on the architecture of our cities. More comments added daily.
Cities incite riots - and herding people in high rise reservoirs of social aggression doesn’t help: if we didn’t have football and rugby matches to release it, however messily, we’d have many more, though riots are almost always triggered by specific incidents. Current hoody anomie was fostered by the spectacle of the fat-cats bloated bonuses accompanying the ‘we’re all in it’ talk about cuts - as well as by the knowledge that the police was among the public services to be mutilated (which also goes for parks, youth centres), so was inevitably demoralised. And the spark was a mishandled police shooting. Locking up cowed hoodies in overcrowded prisons won’t solve anything. We need to think about public housing and public space - quickly
The riots were all too predictable: a generation of poor, young people with no future becomes a tinderbox for violence. The British riots have one resemblance to those which afflicted France in the last decade; they occur in the places where no-hopers live, rather than political riots directed at the centres of power; the result is that the principle victims are their local neighbours
At least the architects are not blamed this time, as we were with Broadwater. Nor could we be, because (quoting Simmel) the city is not a spatial entity with sociological consequences, but a sociological entity that is formed spatially. Here the riots spatialise years of ramping up of social inequality. So when my Twitter feed calls for the reintroduction of Jane Jacobs, I blanch (because space is not the solution, just the symptom) and when the Tories say it is ‘pure’ criminality, I rage (because of the implicit disavowal of their political responsibility). One way out? Act on the New Economic Foundation’s Great Transition
Alain de Botton
People tend to distinguish between violence against people (very serious) and violence against property (not so bad). But in these riots, what emerges is how offensive it is to see buildings on fire because this symbolises a destruction of the hopes and efforts of so many who struggled to build and maintain them. It isn’t just money that goes up in flames; it’s the spirit of civilisation
The London riots are a sobering reminder that cities are for people, that people make cities. Cities rely on a precarious social balance that can be wrecked by the irresponsible. Leadership and good action are now essential
I already talked about this before it happened. I’ve made many comments about the wealth divide within cities and how it is impacting on physical and social geographies and increases fear and violence. We will see much more of this kind of unrest in the future. No amount of regeneration funding will help. We need to change the core values of our society and redistribute wealth, if a long term solution is to be found.
William JR Curtis
London has been up for sale to the highest bidders in the international plutocracy for years and the results are there to see in the Shard and all the other grotesque signs of exaggerated wealth that are in fact impoverishing the public realm for everybody else. Worse than that, British politicians of both Left and Right have sold their souls and their policies to the City of London and therefore to the vagaries of international financial capitalism which has no loyalties and no sense of local responsibility. All the eyewash of Cameron’s so called Big Society cannot disguise the fact that the bottom end of society has been abondoned: Is one surprised that one kind of violence is responding to another kind? No, not really.
The reality of urban riots is that they have always turned out to be the opposite of a learning experience for a city. Riots have nearly always resulted in politicians simplifying the problem even more, and looking away even further. After a riot your average city will become more afraid, more authoritarian, more segregated, more exclusive and less tolerant. That is the real tragedy of the post-war western urban riot, first it shocks and terrifies us, then for a moment it makes us see flashes of the kind of city we should be working towards, which then fades away into the darkness.
Regeneration schemes have made a difference where they have offered an opportunity to the under privileged, but these projects should not be confused with developments that displace the urban poor. Riots in new regeneration areas point to the schism where ordinary people cannot afford the new people’s palaces - the £160m regeneration in Dalston by Barratt Homes for instance boasts residents gym, 24hr concierge, buzzing public square, shops a library and a 2 bed apartments will set you back £350K . It can be little surprise that these regeneration areas are being torched. As long as these kids are trapped in the poverty of their circumstance riots such as the ones we have seen will continue to erupt. What we are experiencing are the consequence of policies which pander to big business and line the pockets of bankers, developers, PFI companies and other private organisations at the expense of the public purse.
While wandering about Brittany in recent days, without internet, TV or radio news, and looking at churches laden with headless saints and ‘danses macabres’ someone told us there was rioting in London. Le Figaro that day, leading with the story, was groaning with memories of Paris 2005 and, inevitably, an analysis by a professor of criminology. We shouldn’t forget the storming of the Bastille in 1789 was a vivid reminder to Londoners of the Gordon Riots in 1780. Social discontent can be traded, just like currency, but real solutions are solid gold - and there the French and the British are in the same boat, holed well below the waterline.
Our practice is involved in the design review assessment of regeneration schemes. You can’t deny the strong commercial focus of recent regeneration projects that push out other (in the short term, less profitable) functions. Spaces for young people and public facilities in general (nurseries, libraries, green open spaces…) are definitely not a focus in the schemes we have been reviewing over the last few years. Projects like ‘Youth Space’ by MADE remain a rarity - especially with the recent cuts - where young people can get actively involved in the design of their environment, develop a sense of ownership and simply have a place to be. To quote the opening of the publication of the Youth Space project documentation, ‘Of all those excluded from any given urban territory, youth surely form the greatest subset. They are excluded on the grounds that they are not yet adults, that they cannot pay, that they are trouble makers, that they will break the law, be noisy, or frighten other customers away.’
frenzied looting /frénzid lu:tin/ v. widespread property damage and theft of consumer goods perpetrated by exhilarated groups of young working class men.
synonyms 1. Age of Austerity / v. systematic transfer of wealth from public to private interests, via government policies of welfare reduction; privatisation in education, health and social care; planning policy liberalisation and regressive taxation. (Important context for understanding timing and extent of frenzied looting.) 2.Sovereign Debt Crisis / n. threat of nation state or states defaulting on their debt obligations and causing significant capital losses for private banks and investors. (Threat of provides political cover for Age of Austerity.) 3. Bank Bailout / n & v. systematic transfer of capital from public taxpayers to private shareholders following revelations of balance sheet insolvency across range of financial institutions. (Contributes to Sovereign Debt Crisis by inflating state borrowing and depressing economic activity.) 4. subprime lending / v & n. esp. relating to housing mortgage market. Financial mechanism used by banking institutions whereby loans are made to individuals normally excluded from credit markets. Made possible the fictitious profits and bonuses in the banking sector and the regeneration boom in our cities – see also buy-to-let mortgage; Private Finance Initiative. (Largely responsible for banking insolvencies and subsequent Bank Bailouts.)
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