Monday 8 July 2024

Blairism, the dogs & working death. (Part two) (draft)

Outside Wendover House, Blair made his first public speech after New Labour’s 1997 landslide election victory. It was the first image of Blair in action, utilising the image of a ‘Broken Britain’ in the background for a set of new ideas about a ‘New Britain’. Blair’s team told the accompanying estate police officer that there might be ‘a few photographers’, it turned out there were about 300. His speech was headline news that lunchtime. Labelled the ‘Hero of the Estate’, his picture in all morning papers. Blair went on to say: 

I have chosen this housing estate…for a very simple reason. For 18 years the poorest people have been forgotten by government…There will be no forgotten people in the Britain I want to build… There are estates where the biggest employer is the drugs industry, where all that is left of the high hopes of the post-war planners is derelict concrete.

Subsequent to his maiden speech occurring w/ Bobby in tow, the Estate was to be a sort of javelin for his New Urbanism project. The re-investment in Britain’s housing stock was to be named in a strange Orwellian fashion: Housing Market Renewal Pathfinders or ‘pathfinder partnerships’ for shorter more alliterative purposes. It ensured that the Estate was ‘awarded’ under the Government’s New Deal for Communities scheme – ‘a key programme in the Government’s strategy to tackle multiple deprivations in the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country’ around £57 million. To put this amount into perspective, this was some 2268 dwellings, many of which had left at the expense of cost saving methods during the construction. As several Southwark architects noted during the time: 

There is little doubt that the public areas are the least successful part of the Development.  The lack of finishes and the poor quality of many of the materials provided has provided a very drab environment…This seems almost to have provoked mistreatment and vandalism.  The extensive areas of bare concrete, asphalt, and cheap obscured glass, contribute to the overall feeling of low cost Local Authority housing, and it is almost an insult to the many tenants who are proud of their homes…It is essential that adequate financial backing should now be given to put these deficiencies right.  Failure to do so will result in the Estate rapidly becoming a slum.

The Aylesbury Estate, being the largest social housing estate at point of finish, replaced a series of rundown areas of terraces, tenements & old works.  Its Jespersen system large panels used prefab concrete slabs to implement ‘Streets in the sky’ as massive elevated pedestrian movement systems were created to corridor the dwellings. 

I defer to Prof. Ben Campkin of The Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, noting on the internal layout of the Aylesbury at the time: 

Walkways linked the Estate’s blocks – ‘route decks’ at second floor level for movement between blocks which included space for shops and other community facilities and ‘local decks’, with play areas, within the blocks.  Garaging and traffic movement took place below. 

The reason for this track-padded informational deluge is something to do with attempting to talk about the past 45 years of invented failures to ensure that existing social housing dies under the most auspicious urban policies. 

Right to Buy, stock transfer and the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinders programme, New Labour’s Respect agenda & consequent ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards anti-social behaviour & other low-level disorder ensured that the squeezing was unremitting. Blair’s new urbanism was nothing short of punitive ground control. In turn, it located new modes of  ‘urban renaissance’ & its equitable Urban Task Force. Richard Rodgers, commissioned by the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in 1998, to identify the causes of urban decline rendered out a means to both demonise existant urban spaces for the purposes of re-incorporating middle class flight & ensuring the total monopolisation of extant Dockland & works units. 

As Rogers noted on the White Paper: 

Towards an Urban Renaissance, published three years ago by the Urban Task Force, marked a major shift in thinking and practice in urban policy. The report set out a vision of sustainable regeneration of our towns and cities through making them compact, multi-centred, live/work, socially mixed, well designed and connected, and environmentally sustainable. It put on the agenda the need to upgrade the existing urban fabric, and to use the derelict and brownfield sites in our cities before encroaching on the countryside.

What this has actually meant, headed by Mr Bowellism himself, would seem obvious now. To have more or less help to invent an architectural modality that focused on externalizing the innards of the building so that it looked like a series of ‘stomachs sitting on a plate. Or bowels, connected by bits of bristle’. Circulation externalised or rather the visual language that  concept of flow (and the related notions of code and stock). There are material flows of raw matter/utilities such as oil and electricity, the control of the grid, the flow of commodities, marketing and transport, the flow of traffic; the mastery and control of speed. This but for the local ‘community’; lottery funded ‘centres’, Marina developments, plastic art planted in concrete business district, shopping/eating molluscum,  entertainment venues, the local community, housing ‘mixed use’ blocks, Gormleyesque bollards, districts branded ‘quarters’: 

BioMed Centre identikit 

corporate detailing 

the quoin metal black bile 

& actual slogans around our heads 

into a buzzword of tearing. 

ON. nothing Londinium vapour 

wrenched quiet 

to my scrying door plate, 

post paralysis hands 

drivers vandal-proof lights O

construction workforce, mixed-use 

the sugar pill, —the clerical sales,

to Marina developments micro segregation 

blood fielding

in treacle-like gloss paint; 

plastic art planted in concrete 

business district winding down

the Era Two is more optimistic, 

its spec boasting holes a ‘Transversal Space’,  

The post-Good

remains in a Quango fortified, 

stock-brick-clad ground-floor blast walls

scratching the edge forevermore

In many senses, Blairism & its concomitant ‘Urban Renaissance paper’ was written as valedictory neoliberal urban policy to rectify the ‘mistakes of the 1960s’ implementing nothing short of a paranoid, militaristic blend of urban design with the new affliction of carving out deviancy permanently from the stock-brick-clad ground-floor blast walls (Anti-Social Behaviour Order). Slowly but surely these social ailments will be eked out leaving just a wealthy urban core. 

On to the next wonder.... the millennial bug & its lamentable gigantism, melancholy, carcinogenic sites, Guy Ritchie stuck in a limo in the Blackwall Tunnel, animatronic pubic lice, The Prince of Darkness, the cultural apogee of New Labour, terminal beaches, yellow spiked teflon death & death & death & deadlands.