Sunday20 August 2017

Remaking London: Decline and Regeneration in Urban Culture

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Remaking London: Decline and Regeneration in Urban Culture
Ben Campkin
£18.99, 224pp

“Gentrification is sold as trickle-down – but instead brings wholesale destruction and displacement of communities”

Ben Campkin’s thoughtful and timely book is a welcome addition to the current debate about regeneration. As Director of UCL’s Urban Laboratory and lecturer at the Bartlett, he knows his business, and this is an invaluable text, generously referenced.

He opens with a discussion on how the language of hygiene and disease is used to frame and denote urban decline. He tackles the tenets of neoliberalism, where commercial self-interest is disguised as urban renewal, where gentrification is sold as trickle-down – but instead brings wholesale destruction and displacement of communities.

Remaking London by Ben Campkin

He proceeds with a romp through time and space, with chapters on the rebuilding of the slums of Somers Town by charitable organisations in the 1920s/30s, three chapters from different eras and angles about the ongoing and ineffective redevelopment of Elephant and Castle, Heygate and Aylesbury estates, and a thoughtful chapter on the reclamation and development of Kings Cross environs.

And there Campkin loses me entirely, with a chapter on David Adjaye’s Dirty House in Shoreditch. This salaciously detailed love letter, of a single architectural project, seems quite out of place in this book. Similarly the notion of wealthy artists colonising a poor area with an architect-designed house celebrating, even fetishising, the appearance of poverty, seems disdainful in a book on regeneration.

Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon, or the excesses of the Neo-Georgians who colonised Spitalfields in the 1980s while children picked through rubbish for food, may be no less corrupt. And don’t get me started on Nigel Coates’ NATO!

There is nothing whatever romantic, or ennobling, or ‘authentic’, about poverty.

Remaking London saves itself with a well-deserved battering of the so-called ‘regeneration’ for the Olympics in Newham which flattened the area and displaced communities, and concludes with thoughts and reflections.

In my world, ‘regeneration’ is an aim not a process. If development only achieves improvement in visual amenity and built form, but does not produce other long-term sustainable economic or social benefits for existing communities, this is not regeneration. The recent ‘poverty maps’ of the area surrounding Canary Wharf are a disheartening lesson for us all.


Readers' comments (5)

  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    Writing books and articles denouncing "regeneration" isn't going to stop it from happening, and the limitless opportunism of the architectural profession, always ready to run after the money no matter where it's coming from, and accept the work no matter how many communities it's destroying, means that stopping this phoney "regeneration" thing requires a different kind of resistance. Writing "thoughtful and timely books" will make not a jot of difference.

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  • I agree with the comment by Urbanist and also wholeheartedly support the thoughtful comments within the review. I feel the book whatever it's faults is laudable in bringing forth a much need analysis and commentary regarding urban regeneration.

    In Glasgow I have witnessed wave upon wave of misguided 'regeneration' over the last 15 years with very few people in positions of power and responsibility willing to recognise that there is a huge difference between community and geography. Whilst geographically discernible areas of Glasgow have been 'regenerated' a truly meaningful mode of delighting, empowering and building the capacity of the people and groups within these areas has been sorely lacking.

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  • Both - it makes a difference if you teach Planning and can influence a generation of future planners, as the author does. We must continue to plough through the greed, self-interest and political machinations, and put existing communities at the heart of any regeneration - not just PR, but meaning it.

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  • We need to stop using the word "regeneration". That would be a start.

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  • And see what's happened to the (former) community of the Heygate Estate?


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