Managed to catch the final day of the "50 Years of London Architecture" organised by The
Architecture Club, at a funky exhibition space called AMBIKA P3, just off Baker St. in the centre of London. I think it used to be an underground service area or car park, but it is quite impressive, and this is a part of it.
The exhibition consisted of over 350 huge images of architecture built in London since 1960 and to be honest it made me feel proud of London, to see how many people have spent so much effort and money on making it look good and work well.
I was specially impressed by a photo of Broadwall, part of the social housing at Coin St. on the South Bank (which I blogged about last time). Here's a snap of the exhibition picture which shows it off well. (A picture of a photo - weird!)
I was also impressed by the gorgeous looking St. Mungo's homeless hostel in SE London - read about it, and see a photo, here.
I'm interested in social housing, so last night I watched the BBC4 television documentary "The Great Estate, the Rise and Fall of the Council House." If you live in the UK, I recommend taking a look on the BBC iPlayer.
If you're not in the UK, and aren't interested in housing per se, then you might consider stopping reading here, because I'm about to embark upon a rant.
Ever since watching this programme, I have been fuming about the Government's plans to limit the length of social housing tenancies instead of offering them to people for life. What the programme pointed up (and of course it is echoed in real life), is the way that most people blossom when living in a COMMUNITY, where everyone has not only rights but responsibilities - the right to a secure and decent home and the responsiblity for keeping that home in reasonable order, for behaving well towards neighbours and making an effort to fit in with others.
I'm lucky enough to live in a part of London with reasonable sense of community, largely due to an innovative mutual housing society which owns many houses in the the area, and the fact that the gardens of several areas of local flats have been mostly blended into one large traffic free, communal garden, locked against outsiders, each garden serving about 50 or 60 houses and apartment blocks. Here's an example in this picture.
The permanent residents are what keep these places going - either they have bought or have long term tenancies. They are the ones who maintain the gardens, and keep the housing society running. The short term tenants are very nice people but I have not known any who take part in community activities. And yes, believe me there are people in the established community who only cause trouble, complain, criticise, grab all they can and try to trash the place. But if everyone else behaves okay, the destructive behaviour of the relatively few, can generally be dealt with person-to-person, and doesn't get out of hand.
I think that the government's current idea of turning Britain's council estates into vast swathes of temporary housing, with residents constantly having to be re-assessed for eligibility,but not expected to repay that in any way (like by keeping things clean and behaving well) is utterly destructive of any sense of community. It's hard to see how any collection of temporary tenants can care about their estate, its public spaces or its sense of order when they have absolutely NO incentive to identify with it. And if decent behaviour is not even expected of them, either, it all becomes totally nihilistic. What on earth sort of environment is that to raise kids in?
I know the arguments against subsidising people who can afford "better" housing, but having estates that are only for the extremely poor, extra needy, anti-social and vulnerable, is surely condemning the kids who live there to difficult, dysfunctional upbringings and much more trouble and expense for everyone in the long run.
It seems to suggest that the official priority, despite all the fine talk and hot air, is not actually about building communities, and so it is not about helping poorer people to live decent and pleasant lives and therefore can not be about fixing the kind of social tensions which helped fuel our recent riots. Policing and social work intervention alone will not create good places to live. The people themselves do that, and they should be helped to establish themselves, not uprooted as soon as their income gets above a certain level.
Well, I could rant on about this for ages but I won't ... normal service wll be resumed shortly.