Monday, 18 July 2011
Design and Media Communication Meeting Report
Development of NEOgate, Design Code, Visual Communication and Target Group Analysis
17. May 2011, New Cross, London
The human being has a “need” to accumulate and forget, as well as a need, whether simultaneous or successive, satisfaction and dissatisfaction, disequilibrium, discovery and creation, work and play, speech and silence.
______ Henri Lefebvre, Urban Revolution
After discussing Henri Lefebvre’s Urban Revolution we realized that we were particularly drawn to his idea of spatial dialectic. From this concept we gained a specific understanding of a possible production of space, which inspired our plan and visual communication for the NEOgate development. According to Lefebvre, space is not merely a social practice, but a product with economic value. With this in mind we started planning the development, which deliberately embodies spatial dialectics, in order to meet the desires and needs of a particular target group. The name of our target group ‘bohemian bourgeoisie’ already implies that their lifestyle and attitude is based on a dialectic approach. Our next step was an analysis of our target group and its position in the economic market. During our phase of research we looked at upcoming and fashionable areas in London and noticed in how far creative communities can function as a catalysator for urban regeneration. Artists and other creatives are often forced to move into poorer areas of a city in order to afford accommodation and living. Creative communities have the potential to turn their local environments into new, exciting and desirable places of living. Particularly members of the ‘Bohemian Bourgeousie’ are attracted to artistic milieus, because they aspire to be seen as creative individuals. With the “Bobo’s” comes the capital, which raises the economic value of the area. Inspired by this observation we developed the NEOgate concept, which is based on the idea of the fabrication of an ‘artistic mileu’ to attract potential investors. One of our unique selling points would be that we are offering a dialectical space, which fulfills our target group’s demands. Through the Design Code, we present NEOgate as a development with a homogenous and yet heterogeneous character. One that is not so much informed by the history of the area but one that provides for an adventurous and safe u-topic experience. The masterplan will set out a vision; a vision where profit and luxury come first and where democracy, freedom and governance are a priority. A sustainable and thriving artist lead community will be demonstrated in all its manifestations built on five principles:
2. Focusing on image, consumerism, and lifestyle
3. Movement and Flow
During our research we focused on two different types of real estate development: NeoBankside and Heygate Real Estate. The word-play NEOgate highlights the idea that the area between Elephant and Castle and NeoBankside (Tate Modern) will form a new and exciting cultural quarter in South Side of the river Themes. The NEOgate logo refers to both the NeoBankside and Lefebvre’s work Urban Revolution. For the NEOgate’s visuals (which include language) come in form of artist’s impressions, we once more made use of Lefebvre’s spatial dialectics.
Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Transcript from Presentation 2 - Space Ltd, NEOgate Just Community and NEOutopia's conceptual framework (presented by Emma Cummins on 13/06/2010 at Goldsmiths College)
INTRODUCTION / SPACE LTD & the NEOgate MASTER REGENERATION PLAN
For the project NEOutopia, we have adopted various pseudonyms and aliases as a means to express, or perform, our understanding of theory in a distinct and experimental way. These identities have included a journalist, a development company, a graphic designer, a marketing strategist, a writer for the Economist, a community activist group, a creative writer, a documentary film maker and an academic professor. For NEOutopia, two of the central aliases – the ficticious development company Space Ltd and the grassroots activist group, the NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY - are distinct from other elements of the archive, because they have been directly inspired by the literature and activities of an actual organisation, and an actual development company.
After outlining the aims, objectives and visions of both of these groups, the concluding parts of this short presentation will reflect upon the creative process and overarching conceptual framework which inspired us to get away from ourselves and produce a project which performs rather than regurgitates some of the theories and ideas that have inspired us.
As seen in the archive, Space Ltd’s vision for NEOgate - ‘a dynamic, mixed-use development purposely built to satisfy the social and cultural longings of London’s ‘Bohemian Bourgeoisie’ (‘Bobos’)’ - is accompanied by a copy of a development proposal by the company Lend Lease completed in January of the previous year.
A comparison of these respective documents promptly reveals Space Ltd’s blatant plagiarism of Lend Lease’s plans to regenerate an ‘Opportunity Area’ in London’s Elephant & Castle (E&C). By appropriating the content, layout and phraseology of this bureaucratic document, Space Ltd’s faceless ‘property solution providers’ operate in a grey area between invention and intervention.
Unlike Lend Lease’s proposal, Space Ltd’s vision for NEOgate is outlined in a deliberately self-contradictory document which propounds a vision for the area, whilst simultaneously revealing the problems of urban regeneration and the production of space.
Fearlessly splicing the original document with paraphrased quotations from Henri Lefebvre’s seminal text The Production of Space (first published in 1974), the company’s ersatz proposal undercuts the often platitudinous, rhetoric of regeneration by creating a plan which both sells and unsells the development they are trying to promote.
In line with Lefebvre’s holistic line of thought, Space Ltd’s aim is to simultaneously expose the illusion of transparency – a process which encourages ‘a view of space as innocent, as free of traps or secret places’– and the inner contradicitions and antagonisms of space.[i]
Accordingly, the ‘NEOgate Master Regeneration Plan’ is permeated with subtly satirical sentences such as, ‘NEOgate is not a space of solely plastic qualities to be apprehended solely through looking. Rather, its properties will create ‘spatial textures’[ii] which ‘involve levels, layers and sedimentations of perception, representation and spatial practice.’[iii]
In Lefebvre’s reading, space is not a transparent container of objects or entities; it is ‘a (social) product’ produced by, and consisting of social relations.[iv] Space thus produced also ‘serves as a tool of thought and action…a means of control, and hence of domination, of power…’[v]
As the author explains, “The production of space is carried out with the state’s intervention, and the state naturally acts in accordance with the aims of capital, yet this production seems to answer solely to the rational requirements of communication between the various parts of society, as to those of a growth consistent with the interests of all ‘users’. What actually happens is that a vicious circle is set in train which for all its circularity is an invasive force serving dominant economic interests.
Lefebvre goes on to say that, ‘Strategic space makes it possible simultaneously to force worrisome groups, the workers among others, out towards the periphery; to make available spaces near the centres scarcer, so increasing their value; to organize the centre as locus of decision, wealth, power and information; and to find allies for the hegemonic class within the middle strata and within the ‘elite’…’ The space of this social practice becomes a space that sorts – a space that classifies in the service of a class.’
By appropriating this specific quotation, yet replacing the word class with the words ‘Creative Class’, Space Ltd envisage a highly dystopic, and highly gentrified community which excludes as much as it includes certain types of people.
As explained in my introduction, NEOgate has been specifically designed to accommodate the interests, desires and aspirations of London’s Bohemian Bourgeoisie ( or ‘Bobo’ community). As such, the company’s proposal proclaims that, through peoples’ interaction with the ‘neo-utopian’ landscape of NEOgate, fashion conscious, culturally informed and aesthetically aware individuals will be offered the opportunity to become part of London’s new ‘enlightened elite’.
In Space Ltd’s vision, Bobos are a well-educated, liberal, free-spirited and salubrious social group which will undoubtedly benefit from living, relaxing and contemplating in a development which incorporates signs of status, signs of happiness and signs of ‘lifestyle’[vi].
To Space Ltd, ‘Bobos’ are busy, hard working people who enjoy organic produce, spiritually uplifting activities, community involvement and general cultural enlightenment. They enjoy convening in communal spaces such as outdoor cafes and social sculpture gardens (allotments) where they can interact with people who are as creative, conscientious and free-thinking as themselves. Interested in entrepreneurship and creative industries such as marketing, PR and the ‘artworld’, they are the human epitome of today’s interactive, information society.
‘Corporate’, ‘cultural’, ‘cosmopolitan’ – these are the buzzwords of the Bobo community. Combining the rebellious characteristics of the bohemian beatnik with the refined tastes and socially conscious sensibilities of London’s liberally minded bourgeoisie, 'Bobos' are a NEOestablishment of their own making. As the NEOgate Master Regeneration Plan explains, NEOgate aims to consolidate the success and social standing of this burgeoning social group by producing a space where they can enjoy both creative fulfillment and quality living. In turn, NEOgate aims to become a space of social practice that sorts – a space that classifies in the service of a ‘Creative Class’.[vii]
NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY GROUP
Unsurprisingly, in this fictional neo-utopian world; Space Ltd’s vision induces many potential problems for residents living in the so-called ‘Opportunity Area’. In turn, the NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY group provides a voice for community members who have been affected or displaced by the processes of urban regeneration.
NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY has been directly inspired by the writings and activities of an actual organisation, the Elephant Amenity Network. The network is a coalition of local groups and people, including Council tenants, leaseholders, shopkeepers or market traders who wish to preserve local open spaces and parks in the area. For our purposes, we have focused on the Elephant Amenity Network’s reactions to the proposed demolition and redevelopment of Tim Tinker’s Heygate Estate (completed in 1974).
In recent years, the estate has become a site which has intrigued and inspired many artists, writers, film-makers and creative practioners. In turn, an interesting compaison between Lend Lease and Space Ltd’s propositions for urban renewal lies in their vision for this Estate. Whilst Lend Lease propose (and in reality will oversee) the demolition of the estate, Space Ltd plan to preserve the Heygate, and transform it into ‘a symbolic site of social and cultural interaction.’[viii]
Transmogrified into a ‘Creative Incident Opportunity Area’ the ‘NEOgate Ruin’ is promoted as a fetished, architectural object in a ‘neo-utopian’ landscape. In Space Ltd’s vision, the NEOgate Ruin will constitute an nexus, or anchor in the company’s textural, spatial web.
NEOgate will incorporate a variety of cultural and monumental spaces which will offer each member of the society an image of that membership, an image of his or her own social visage. It will thus constitute a collective mirror more faithful than any personal one.[ix] As outlined in the company Master plan, the space will thus effect a ‘consensus’, and this in the strongest sense of the term, rendering the space both practical and concrete;[x] a space in which members can achieve a sense of belonging through their interaction with monumental spaces such as the site of the former Heygate Estate.
In response to the company’s ambitious, speculative objectives, members of the NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY proclaim that,
“We, the communities and traders of the NEOgate area, are being excluded from the multi-billion-pound regeneration being led by the Council. The redevelopment of the core area is subjected to a private deal with Space Ltd, who is drawing up the masterplan for the area. No information on the masterplan and none of its details have been given to us since the first Development Framework. Meanwhile, the Council is building “Early Housing” developments on our much needed open, green and play areas, as well as removing our local amenity shops, garages, residents’ parking spaces and other community facilities. More then three quarters of the homes in this new development will not be for ex-residents, despite this being an explicit rationale for their inclusion in the NEOgate Plan, but for private sale. We believe that the regeneration process must be fair, just, and socially inclusive, and must provide for affordable housing and a better quality of life for all current and future residents of the area.”
The problem, it seems, is that the utopian aspirations of Space Ltd serve to exclude and undermine the diversity of the pre-existing community. Directed instead towards ‘Bobos’ and members of the ‘Creative Class’, the ‘right to the city’ emerges as an idea too often dismissed by profit orientated technocrats and capitalist ideologues.
As seen in Introduction hand-out, there is a particular paragraph in The Production of Space, which vaguely encapsulates the fundamental premise of our project. Lefebvre suggests that, One of the deepest conflicts immanent to space is that space as actually ‘experienced’ prohibits the expression of conflicts. For conflicts to be voiced, they must first be perceived, and this without subscribing to representations of space as generally conceived. Our project (in contrast) creates a space that can never be ‘actually experienced’ and is hence able to properly articulate the contradictions, antagonisms and problems of space for both developers and users.
With this idea in mind, I would like to conclude this presentation by discussing some of the ways that NEOutopia creates a theoretical arena where, to quote John Rajchman in the essay ‘The Lightness of Theory’, ‘there is a chance for the movement of something not already ‘represented’ in our relations with ourselves and one another.
As the archive reveals, Space Ltd and the NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY are but two groups, or actors, in a cast of ficticious, and strangely anonymous characters. With the benefit of hindsight, it has become increasingly clear to us that this, these fabricated guises – whilst often inspired by real people, real companies, or real organisations – were a means to produce a project which performed. This significant, yet somewhat silent aspect of NEOutopia is something I feel has been sidelined or overshadowed by the gregarious egos of our adopted creative personas.
In retrospect, it seems that our self conscious assertions of performativity or our tentative nods towards theatricality and performance, were less a means to create a theory per se, than to create a theoretically grounded project which expressed our understanding, and enjoyment of theory, in a unique and unconventional way. Looking back, we can see that there was an implicit, yet rarely discussed aim to produce a project which didn’t merely regurgitate or rearrange the words of the writers that inspired us.
In a 1993 Artforum article, John Rajchman explains why projects like ours; projects which play or experiment with theory, are not merely an alternative or antidote to essays or academic texts – they constitute ‘a point where the ‘real’ and the imagination of other possibilities are linked to one another.’ In the article, the author solicts a call for theory to ‘again become light and experimental’, a call for an ‘art of indefinite description’ where we allow time for those events that complicate and multiply our relation to the past, whilst connecting it to the forces of what is yet to come... So, before passing onto Katherine, who will touch upon some of the spatio-temporal aspects of the project, I will conclude this presentation with an excerpt from this text, which I hope will elucidate what we have attempted to do;
“Time has come to reinvent theory. It is sometimes thought that theory falls to us prefabricated from the heavens, like a set of abstract edicts, whereas in fact it too is fabricated, invented here on earth, as new questions arise to displace habitual ways of thinking. Too long have we been content to live off theory that has already been made elsewhere by others, adopting its enunciatory positions, assuming the roles in its drama, rather than creating new ones for ourselves. Thus we have grown immobile and wearied, and can no longer distinguish our theory from journalism or “informed” middlebrow conversation. Without questions and drama, we have become heavy with too much uncreative theory, and to move again we must disburden ourselves of its weight. We need the lightness of new beginnings. We need to create for ourselves the room and the time to ask again “What is theory”?
What would it mean then, he says, for theory to again become light and experimental? In the first place, we can afford to introduce a little uncertainty, a little lightness about ourselves or our “identities”. We need to rescue the question of subjectivity from banal biography, from therapeutic narrative, and from predefined positions, and rediscover the “innocence” of not knowing what we might yet become. We must again attain that point where to think is to get away from out “selves” and become “strangers to ourselves”, where we have to “invent ourselves” just because we do not know who we are, since our origins and aims are too various, too complicated, too disunified. For it is then that there is a chance for the movement of something not already “represented” in our relations with ourselves and one another.
[i] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, (first published 1974), Blackwell Publishing, USA, UK, Australia, 1991., p28
[ii] ibid., p225
[iii] ibid., p226
[iv] ibid., p26
[vi] ibid. p339 'Admittedly the architect, the promoter or even the occupier can compensate for the shortcomings of a given location by introducing signs: signs of status, signs of happiness, signs of 'lifestyle', and so on.'
[vii] ibid. p 375 'The space of this social practice becomes a space that sorts – a space that classifies in the service of a class.'
[viii] ‘NEOgate Master Regeneration Plan’, p11
[ix] ibid., p220 'Monumental space offered each member of a society an image of that membership, an image of his or her social visage. It thus constituted a collective mirror more faithful than any personal one.'
[x] ibid., 'The monument thus effected a 'consensus', and this in the strongest sense of the term, rendering it practical and concrete.'
One of the deepest conflicts immanent to space is that space as actually ‘experienced’ prohibits the expression of conflicts. For conflicts to be voiced, they must first be perceived, and this without subscribing to representations of space as generally conceived. A theory is therefore called for, one which would transcend representational space on the one hand and representations of space on the other, and which would be able properly to articulate contradictions (and in the first place the contradiction between these two aspects of representation). Henri Lefebvre, 1974[i]
In his seminal text, The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre propounds a rich, dialectical argument which reveals the antagonisms, contradistinctions and problems of space. In his reading, space is not a container of objects or entities; it is ‘a (social) product’ produced by, and consisting of social relations.[ii] Space thus produced ‘serves as a tool of thought and action’, as ‘a means of control, and hence of domination…’[iii] Ostensibly innocent, or ‘transparent’, it works to conceal the symbiotic relationship between space and state control and in, turn, forms a ‘trap’ for its largely unsuspecting inhabitants.
Despite his disappointment with Western philosophy, which in his opinion, has failed to engage with the problem of space, Lefebvre believes ‘it is too late for destroying codes in the name of a critical theory.’[iv] Writing in 1974, he instead “describe[s] their already completed destruction”[v] by revealing the codification of space through its separation into countless subvariant spheres - geographical, economic, demographic, sociological and so on…. In turn, Lefebvre simultaneously exposes the illusions of space, as well as ‘expressing its conflicts’.
In an attempt to illustrate, or perhaps frustrate, his decidedly ambiguous ‘theory’, Lefebvre develops a conceptual triad consisting of three inter-related zones; spatial practices, representations of space and representational spaces. Conceived in the conventions and limitations of our ‘daily reality (daily routine) and urban reality (the routes and networks which link up the places set aside for work, ‘private’ life and leisure)’[vi]; spatial practices are perhaps best understood as a pursuit of continuity or cohesion. Despite the standardisation of social behaviour, and the dominance of capitalist ideology; there are, Lefebvre believes, opportunities for slippage as ‘the social and political (state) forces which engendered this space…seek, but fail, to master it completely’.[vii] As such, the zones of representational space – ‘the space[s] of ‘inhabitants’, and ‘users’’[viii]; offer opportunities for difference from prevalent social conditions.
‘Linked to the clandestine or underground side of social life, as also to art’, representational spaces ‘coexist, concord or interfere’[ix] with the images produced by representations of space which, in contrast, ‘are tied to the relations of production and to the ‘order’’.[x] Existing as buildings, artefacts or monuments, as well as discourse, speech and “verbalized forms”[xi]; representations of space are familiar and commonplace. Perceived (or concealed) as a ‘culture’, they work to support the structure and definition of capitalism.
Inspired by Lefebvre’s rich and refreshingly contradictory propositions, NEOutopia is an archive which aims to reveal the problems of space with particular reference to urban regeneration and notions of ‘utopia’. Serendipitously discovered by two university lecturers’ in 2031 it is an archive of collected fragments surrounding a proposed development plan created in 2011. Consisting of a ‘Master Regeneration Plan’, a DVD of found film footage, as well as marketing strategies, illustrative sketches and promotional imagery for NEOgate – a speculative development designed to accommodate London’s so-called ‘Creative Class’ – the fragments coalesce to create an intriguing, yet incomplete, ‘mapping’ of a speculative ‘neo-utopian’ space which, itself, was never completed.
In addition these fragmented representations of space; the space of blueprints, zoning and bureaucratic proposals, the archive contains evidence of a community resistance group in Elephant & Castle which challenges the developers’ proposals. NEOgate Just Community in turn is a paradigm of representational space, which forms an interesting complement to a fictitious short story, entitled Estate Taken Over. Inspired by the writings of Julio Cortázar, it follows a family who are forced from their home by an ‘unspecified noise’ which metaphorically references the ways in which urban regeneration processes upset and displace the representational space of ‘the lived’.
As seen in Space Ltd’s ‘Master plan’, NEOgate is a deliberately disjointed and darkly entertaining synthesis of two developments in present-day London. Appropriating elements of the respective visions for Richard Rogers’ NEO Bankside development and Elephant & Castle’s ‘Opportunity Area’, as outlined by the company Lend Lease in 2011, it provides a ‘dynamic’ vision of a neighbour hood fit for members the ‘Bohemian Bourgeoisie’ (‘Bobo’) community. Satirically exposing the illusion of transparency – a process which encourages ‘a view of space as innocent, as free of traps or secret places’– as well as the antagonistic nature of space;[xii] the plan aims to ‘properly articulate contradictions’ by creating a fictitious, ‘neo-utopia’ which cannot be ‘actually experienced’.
Inspired by Lefebvre’s proposition, or ‘call’ for a project which refuses to subscribe to ‘representations of space as generally conceived’, NEOutopia is a disjointed, yet strangely compelling ‘mapping’ of the problems of urban regeneration and the production of space. Rather than trace the empirical problems of space, it aims to expose the limits of utopian, architectural remedies and the ‘proposed solutions of planners’ who, as Lefebvre suggests, fail to master the complex contortions and paradoxical properties of (social) space.
Written from the fictive view point of two university lecturers, an online conversation discusses a found archive collated by some Visual Cultures students in 2011. Some thirty years later, these erudite academics enter a dialogue that asks questions about 'utopia' and 'regeneration' as it is presented to them in this project.
Citing the ideas of philosophers and theorists such as Henri Lefebvre and Doreen Massey the correspondence speaks of ‘real space’, ‘blind fields’ and the problematic relationship between the producers and inhabitants of space.
'NEOgate Master Regeneration Plan'
Central to the lecturers’ discussions of the archive, is the discovery of the ‘NEOgate Master Regeneration Plan’ completed in June 2011. Space Ltd’s proposal for NEOgate - ‘a dynamic, mixed-use development purposely built to satisfy the social and cultural longings of London’s ‘Bohemian Bourgeoisie’’ - is outlined in a deliberately self-contradictory document which reveals the problems of space and urban regeneration.[xiii]
Significantly, the collected archival material also contains a copy of a proposal created by the development company Lend Lease in January of the previous year. A comparison of these respective documents promptly reveals Space Ltd’s blatant plagiarism of Lend Lease’s plans to regenerate an ‘Opportunity Area’ in London’s Elephant & Castle (E&C).[xiv]
By appropriating the content, layout and phraseology of this bureaucratic document, Space Ltd’s faceless ‘property solution providers’ operate in a grey area between invention and intervention. Fearlessly splicing the original document with paraphrased quotations from The Production of Space, the company’s ersatz proposal undercuts the rhetoric of regeneration by exposing the dialectical nature of space.
Found Film Footage
As revealed through a separate DVD of found film footage, Space Ltd’s vision for NEOgate was heavily inspired by architectural projects in present-day London. Conflating footage of Richard Rogers’ NEO Bankside development with images of the steadily, dilapidating Heygate Estate, the film is an explorative visual essay which muses upon notions of utopia and ‘NEOutopia’. Defying any straightforward narrative logic, the film’s disjointed fragments flit into and onto each other to create a fragmented ‘mapping’ of two complementary spaces that is enterable at any point.
NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY
NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY provides a voice for community members who have been evicted or dispersed by the processes of urban regeneration. Based on real events taking place in reaction to the redevelopment of E&C’s Heygate Estate, the group’s strategy critiques the problems of Space Ltd’s vision for NEOgate through a process of negotiation. By making suggestions for how the development of the area could benefit the community as a whole, NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY call for democratic opportunities to participate in the creation and implementation of ‘master plan’ documents. The problem, it seems, is that the utopian aspirations of Space Ltd serve to exclude and undermine the diversity of the pre-existent community. Directed instead towards ‘Bobos’ and members of the ‘Creative Class’, the ‘right to the city’ emerges as an idea too often dismissed by profit orientated technocrats and capitalist ideologues.
Along with the physical evidence of a ‘failed’ utopia come the by-products of its existence and deterioration. The Heygate Estate, being the subject of much recent debate, has inspired many to explore and document its plight. Consequently, the archive reveals two contrasting voices. Th first comes from the governing bodies who document the building, its inhabitants and social problems in cold, removed rhetoric. The second is characterised by the efforts of residents researching and informing others about the fate of the space that, to them, represents a home; a place of stability and security.
From the point of view of the council, Heygate is an ‘Opportunity Area’; a void to be filled with emblems of urban regeneration to be sold as commodities. Council documentation of the measures that have been taken to clear the site (thus installing the ‘potential for gentrification’) record the inhabitants being removed, or ‘decanted’. For the ‘decanted’, these measures represent a removal of their right to the space; a catalyst in their transition from occupier to interloper.
Design and Media Strategy
Drawing on Lefebvre’s ideas of spatial dialectics and the production of space, NEOgate’s design and development plan was developed with the intent of meeting the desires of the “Bohemian Bourgeoisie”. Taking inspiration from fashionable districts in London, such as Shoreditch and Hoxton, it aimed to provide the ‘Creative Classe’ with an edgy, yet secure place to ‘live, work, create and discover’. Through the fabrication of a differential textural space and ‘artists’ milieu’ its aim was to create an urban utopia where residents’ desires could be created and realised.
[i] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, (first published 1974), Blackwell Publishing, USA, UK, Australia, 1991, p365
[vi] ibid., p38
[vii] ibid., p26
[viii] ibid., p39
[ix] ibid., p41
[x] ibid., p33
[xi] Schmidd, C. in Goonewaedana, K., et al.,Space difference, everyday life, Great Britain, Routledge Ltd, 2008, p37
[xii] Lefebvre, H., op.cit., p28
[xiii] ‘NEOgate Master Regeneration Plan’, p5
[xiv] In July 2010, final planning approval for the Elephant and Castle regeneration was granted by Southwark Council. In April 2011, demolition started on the Heygate Estate. The remainder of the estate is not due to be demolished until 2015.
Wednesday, 8 June 2011
The NEOgate Just Community is a coalition made of local people, ex-residents, council tenants, leaseholders, shopkeepers, traders and businesses. The community has been in existence since 2012 when it became clear that the regeneration plan for the NEOgate led by the developer (Space Ltd,) and supported by the Council was not intended to benefit the local population. Our mobilization, instead, is meant to form a united voice from the point of view of the locals, of those who have been evicted and dispersed across the city and of those who have remained and whose lives and trade are being affected by a redevelopment not directed toward them. We are critical on a number of points, which have been undermined during the regeneration process. We ask for a democratic participation and active involvement of the locals in deciding the future of their area, a future that has been denied because no referendum was held, and no vote taken. We want housing to be affordable for everyone, social housing being integrated into the plan and we want to see benefits granted to the whole community. We oppose spatial developments that undermine the historical presence and existing social relations and practices of a specific territory and the privatization and commodification of our space.
Community participation is central to a successful regeneration enhancing the quality of decision making, building social capital, reducing social exclusion, improving public service delivery and facilitating local enterprise and economic activity. Regardless of discourses that place public participation as a means to legitimize neoliberal mechanisms employed to affect political, economic and social restructuring of urban areas our coalition is positive in regards to its beneficial effects in matters of empowering the community and decreasing forms of alienation and disengagement of the public from political processes. People are motivated to act on issues of daily concerns and resident’s knowledge can enhance the decision making process. Moreover community participation in the process of neighbourhood renewal enhances social capital in the forms of networks, shared norms and trust and enables groups to pursue shared objectives more effectively. In opposition to the developer renewal agenda which promotes social and economic benefits for the area through privatized and exclusive forms of regeneration, solutions for deprived neighbourhoods are to be found in a form of social regeneration emphasising upon building the capacity of neighbourhoods through assisted self-help activities. Community participation is therefore a means to resolve social exclusion and to improve public service delivery, enabling the knowledge and experience of local residents as service users to better inform decision-making and methods of delivery.
Such profit-oriented development plans are transforming and restructuring the spatial and human landscape of the city, not taking into consideration the ethnic, cultural and social diversity already present in the areas undergoing regeneration. The existent heterogeneity of the neighbourhood is dismissed and reconstructed by planner’s ideas and marketing strategies intended to attract other social groups and walks of lives under the guise of fuelling local economic development. The rise of new businesses and activities directed to higher classes will cause social and economic malaise endangering local trade on the part of the former residents and shop owners. The cultural, economic, social and ethnic diversity are not valorised, appreciated or protected by contemporary regeneration plans and will be lost with the coming social and spatial formations.
Utopian plans, models and projections are worrisome and unrealistic social constructions. The usage of utopia in the production of space is a tool in the hands of developers and experts as a means to follow dreams of order and containment of life. An injection of desires and promises, which is emptying out the production of true, authentic lives through the fabrication of ready-made, artificial lifestyles and experiences directed to specific social groups.
We oppose and desire to act upon an urban experience that is everyday more punitive and segregating towards the lower classes. We oppose the revanchist city where diversity is no longer maintained by protecting and struggling to expand the rights of the most disadvantaged, but rather through pushing the disadvantaged out and making it clear that as broken windows rather than people, they simply have no rights to the city. We instead believe that the right to the city is a human right. Through our action we want to challenge the present hegemonic rule of liberal and neo-liberal market politics and logics, the dominant forms of legality and state action, embodied here by the developer, Space Ltd., and the Council. We want to revalorize the concept of right to the city, which is evermore dismissed and forgotten.
We oppose the commodification and privatization of our public space, the construction of gated communities and enclaves and the separation of the urban space for different social classes. We believe that the neo-liberal practices of gentrification, regeneration and global consumerism re-configuring the spatial arrangements of the city are powerful mechanisms for urban exclusion and alienation. The construction of exclusionary spaces and gated enclaves in the city and in our area will reinforce political and social tensions rather than enforcing and enriching communal living. We want urban space to be accessible and open to all.
The coalition’s struggle is set in place, our place. Such processes of capitalist development are wiping out the meaning of place for people, undermining and destroying its history and rather constructing new futures based on the developer’s dream and desire for profit and marked by the withdrawal of the welfare state and the social responsibility for the part of the public sector. The return to the community and our local mobilization is against this obliteration of meaning, it is confronting profit- motivated developmentalism and, in doing so, is attempting to salvage the idea that place is not a given but something that can be constantly re-imagined and re-invented – a space where the diversity and distinctiveness of people’s lives are acknowledged. Our coalition believes that the journey made of people’s empowerment and awareness of their role in the production of the urban is as important as the results. Mobilizing around the regeneration and development process has given us a way to explore the meaning of place, the experiential and expressive way our place is known, imagined, yearned for, held, remembered, voiced, contested and struggled over. The process of re-experiencing our place, the re-definition of politics based on the everyday and on local level, through our contestation are producing a space and awareness of human existence and social action.
Charter for Community Inclusion and a Better Quality of Life for All
In March 2012 a new “‘NEOgate, Regeneration Charter for Community Inclusion and a Better Quality of Life for All” was launched by local people and businesses.
We, the communities and traders of the NEOgate area, are being excluded from the multi-billion-pound regeneration being led by the Council.
The redevelopment of the core area is subjected to a private deal with Space Ltd, who is drawing up the masterplan for the area. No information on the masterplan and none of its details have been given to us since the first Development Framework.
Meanwhile, the Council is building “Early Housing” developments on our much needed open, green and play areas, as well as removing our local amenity shops, garages, residents’ parking spaces and other community facilities.
More then three quarters of the homes in these new developments will not be for the ex-residents Tenants, despite this being an explicit rationale for their inclusion in the NEOgate Plan, but for private sale. We believe that the regeneration process must be fair, just, and socially inclusive, and must provide for affordable housing and a better quality of life for all current and future residents of the area.
Space Ltd., offers a very ‘hostile’ housing offer to the local residents. Indeed, it leads to the crisis of place, where we, pre-existing tenants and traders, are wiped out in the spatial process of capitalist development in the guise of the slogan “live the urban revolution”.
Our specific requests are set out under three principles below.
Principle 1. Open Masterplanning
It is for the Council and Space Ltd. to operate an “open masterplan” policy. Namely, to enter into a development process for the site that is democratic, actively involving the local community. Due to the impossibility to access the masterplan on time, the local community did not have a chance to express preferences and necessity on their future allocation.
Specific actions requested include:
the developers and the Council to hold a public meeting to explain the masterplan, its benefits and how they will involve the local population in future steps of this process.
Principle 2. Benefits for All
To extend the benefits of the regeneration to the existing population, which have been left outside the target of the new development. The regeneration plan aims to provide a habitat for the Bohemian Bourgeoisie (BoBo) and Creative Classes to thrive but it does not include activities and space to permit the re-integration of the previous community.
• To identify how the amenities that are to be lost for the New Housing sites will be re-provided with safe and reasonable access for their user catchments.
• To assure open accessibility or membership to the new facilities (i.e. NEO Art Gallery and Sculpture Park, NEO Cultural Exchange Centre, Private Library and Members Club, Luxury NEO Gym and Leisure Facility) for the community. The demolition of the area has destroyed the communal space of the locals who deserve new possibilities to recreate a healthy environment. Therefore, to guarantee the sustainable strategy for the new buildings to be designed not just for the inhabitants of the new blocks but also to benefit existing residents;
• To undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment of the entire regeneration area including the Early Housing Sites;
• To commit to keeping all open space as fully public access at all times – no “semi private space” and no restrictions on access to the general public through gating. The area was an essential pedestrian walking route for locals, who would be forced to spend more time walking around the Estate;
• To retain and improve local shops and services reflecting community richness and diversity (this underlines the difficulties that people who lived in the area will undertake to recreate a friendly shopping environment, affordable and tied to the ethnicity diversification that was always a strong point of the neighbourhood).
• To avoid the development of a ‘BoBo ghettoization’ of the area. While pretending to be “creating a quality private/public realm which is safe and inviting, edgy and exciting 24 hours a day; encouraging flow and networking through ‘incident highlights’ - somewhere to contemplate, engage and socialize”, the regeneration plan can only accentuate the gap between the different communities.
• To prevent the creation of an ‘artistic class’ which does not include physical/traditional artistic practices but focuses on the use of new technologies and graphic devices. The new class of socio-media workers does not give the possibility for sculptures and painters to be embraced by the new BoBo’s identity.
Principle 3. Housing that really is Affordable
Recent (early 2011) discussions with the Housing and Communities Agency, indicate that greater public funding will be needed to save the regeneration. In addition, the development plan must fulfil its promise to replace the 1212 Council homes lost by the demolition of the Estate with the same number of social rented units (preferably council housing) in the new developments.
The development proposal offers 25% of Affordable Housing; half of which will be designed to accommodate artists and their practices. The remaining 12.5% of “Affordable Housing” will never fulfil the need to reallocate the community that lived in the area. Tenants should be allowed to move directly to the Early Housing sites or given enough time to find accommodation acceptable to them.