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Tuesday22 July 2014

EXHIBITION

This Is Not A Gateway

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This Is Not A Gateway
Hanbury Hall, Spitalfields, London
October 22-24
4/5 stars

This forum on the future of cities voiced anger at the erosion of public space

This is Not a Gateway (TINAG) festival co-organiser Trenton Oldfield recently bumped into his old boss, the head of a redevelopment agency. He told him that he had set up the event as home to the type of discussion about place-making that he had found lacking in his former workplace. “Oh, there just wasn’t time for that,” the man had replied, defensively. “Not when we had to deliver all the outputs.”

“His interpretation of discourse was that it would slow the process up, whatever the process was,” Oldfield adds.

The danger is such thoughtless – or perhaps any – regeneration creates places that locals no longer like, recognise or can afford. On the other hand, the corporatisation of formerly public or common space has led to the restriction of age-old privileges such as the freedom to demonstrate or drink alcohol. And globalisation puts pressures, invisible to us, but serving our needs, on people thousands of miles away.

There’s nothing new about observing the paradoxical effect of gentrification. But a recently emergent, urgent and sophisticated critique evident at the festival and also typified by Paul Kingsnorth, BD’s own Owen Hatherley and Iain Sinclair has grown as British Land, Land Securities et al have become more efficient at the marketing, planning, consultation and sustainability wheeze.

So, many speakers had been chosen for their ability to stick it to The Man, whether he be that developer turning a profit at the expense of locals, a politician seeking to control “anti-social” behaviour through by- laws, or the Israeli government using planning laws to subjugate Palestine. The audience, therefore, was a curious assembly of lefties and libertarians.

The specific theme of this, the third TINAG festival, was business districts, appropriate since the organisation’s home is constantly at risk of disappearing into one. Pre-2008, the City of London was creeping ever eastwards into Tower Hamlets. Indeed the event’s venue, Hanbury Hall, is itself under threat of being sold into private hands by Christ Church Spitalfields. The festival kicked off with Oldfield and co-organiser Deepa Naik encouraging attendees to generate a funding model to send to the church, to save the eccentric, down-at-heel community space.

TINAG even took the fight to The City when mapmaker George Gingell and artist Henrietta Williams took walkers around the “ring of steel” showing how its attendant CCTV cameras matched the London Wall of Roman times.

Whether the city – or Christ Church – will take any notice of all this was harder to say. A question hovering about the festival, but never satisfactorily answered was “where’s all the popular outrage?”

Thoughtful academics, artists and activists care: Michael Edwards, journalist Judith Ryser and Northampton’s Bob Colenutt reflected on who had really benefited from the urban renaissance and how to stop – or at least hamper – them. The best way to hold up development, they said, was to submit at least two alternative plans for the local authority to “consider”.

Ensuing discussions about an alternative 2012 “legacy” were not as productive. I asked one clued-up attendee, who knew how many businesses and homes had been relocated from the Olympic site (180,480) what he desired instead of what had been proposed.

“I want them to fuck off when they’re finished,” he replied.

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