Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Occupy comment piece on private space in the City

Comment piece for The Guardian on how the privatisation of public places in the City is the reason why the Occupy movement has nowhere else to go but St Paul's if they want to stay in the City - the focus, after all, of the protest.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

GLA draws back from Mayor's pledge on Public Space

A disapppointing report from the GLA - Greater London Assembly - which draws back from the Mayor's pledge that public space in London should be genuinely public - ie. adopted by local authorities. The assumption of the GLA's review into public space is that it will inevitably be privately owned and that local authorities should negotiate with developers to ensure public access. Not the right way to go. I published a comment piece in Building Design, printed as part of a debate on the issue. My opponent makes the case very well I feel, by stating his view that the "the notion that when we go out in public we are exercising our role as citizen" is outdated!
As the magazine is subscription only the piece follows here:

Should local councils reclaim ownership of the public realm?

03 June 2011

Yes, says Anna Minton, the new report is a backwards step; while Crispin Kelly says shopping centres show the way forward.

Anna Minton, author of Ground Control

I wish I could welcome the London Assembly’s report on the city’s public space. At first sight it seems to say all the right things, that the public realm should be public, open and accessible to all. But the clue to the real message is in the title. The review is called Public Life in Private Hands, and that is exactly what it proposes.

Public space has become a surprisingly complex subject, as over the last decade in the UK virtually all new development has followed a model based on private ownership and private control, which includes the streets and public spaces within these new places.

This marked a significant change. Since the rise of local government and local democracy in the 19th century it has been customary for local authorities to “adopt” streets and public places.

In 2009 the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, grew so concerned about what he described as a “growing trend towards the private management of publicly accessible space” that he published a Manifesto on Public Space in which he explicitly stated that local authorities should continue to adopt streets and public places. But this report barely mentions this and appears to take it for granted that the ownership and control of places is changing because local authorities cannot afford to look after our streets and public places.

Instead it recommends that boroughs negotiate with developers to ensure public access is maintained in private spaces. This is a significant rowing back from the mayor’s manifesto and is no way to safeguard a genuinely public realm.

Crispin Kelly, developer, Baylight Properties

Management of public space hasn’t really caught up with the reality of what goes on there. The idea that public space needs to be managed and mothered by the state is left over from the notion that when we go out in public we are exercising our role as citizen.

In fact now we are largely going out for entertainment and shopping, and the codes developed for shopping centres have turned out to deliver both what the punter wants and the investor needs: safe, clean and orderly places. Now these codes can be applied more widely.

The fact that they are without character is accordingly inevitable. Interesting spaces have to be somewhat uncertain and edgy. They are unlikely to be strictly managed by anyone, public or private, and they are likely to transit from interesting to dull as they become successful.

Places may become attractive precisely because they don’t have the open arms of “inclusive access”. In my view, adoption by local authorities can just as often be a sterilising factor, leading to homogeneous management by the apparently unanswerable. At least private developers may have an eye on the market value of edginess. What is so hard is to preserve it. I would rather leave this calibration to the private sector.

For me a more fruitful discussion would be on the rules governing spaces which are not specifically public, but are shared by a smaller community: they have the potential for irrigating the dryness of the completely public space.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Dutch life

Just returned from The Hague, where I was invited to give a talk by Stroom, an arts centre and gallery with a specific focus on the city. Holland is in a very different position to the UK with regard to the themes covered in Ground Control, with for example only one gated community in the whole country and an incredibly high quality public transport infrastructure.

The day after my talk my hosts suggested I borrow the office bicycle and cycle around the city, which was fantastic. Boris Bikes may have arrived in London but we are light years from Dutch cycling culture. Cycling in London is virtually impossible without levels of assertiveness bordering on aggression and I am normally too much on edge to enjoy it. The Dutch experience is entirely different with a network of cycle lanes, with equal status to roads, built into the city. Also nobody wears helmets - after all there is no feeling of danger - and the bikes are notable for their utilitarian unfashionability, in contrast to the hugely expensive top of the range models competing for status on London streets.

Cycling is just one aspect of Dutch life where the standard of living seems incomparably higher than in Britain. This was my feeling from the moment I arrived in Holland. The transport system apart, I couldn't quite say why this is the case but I think a perception - and gross generalisation - that everyone is middle class contributes to such a feeling. My hosts assured me that this was not the case but income differentials between people are far, far less than in the UK which does create an all round sense of greater common affluence, emotionally as well as financially.

One other piece of news: a new edition of Ground Control will be published in January 2012, in time for the Olympics, which will be a focus.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Events for 2011

Happy New Year!

I’ve posted new upcoming events on the site and will be back on the blog as I return to work after maternity leave. I am particularly looking forward to giving a lecture at the Architectural Association on February 15th. Should be a good evening.