The other day I was reading a strategy document about improving the quality of life for residents of a northern city . The ambitions and aspirations within the strategy was largely what you would expect to find in these sort of documents. As ever it is what individuals and agencies do subsequently that will make it successful or not.
Despite its familiar innocuousness I couldn’t help but become irritated by parts of it. In particular the idea that our streets should be clean and safe, free of litter and graffiti and hidden dangers.
On the face of it, this is the sort of thing we can all be expected to want. However, recently I’ve been developing a certain nostalgia for the grime and chaos of cities past. The New York or London of 70’s films in particular, (and these always seem to be the city’s these films I watch are set in) appear in their chaos and horror to be more vital but also more democratic.
An article in the Guardian last year listed public spaces in London that now belong to corporations and is effectively private spaces to which people are allowed access. But if you are only allowed access, clearly that access can also be denied by the owners or their agents. And whilst on that corporate space you are potentially subject to a set of forces or rules, explicit or otherwise, that are designed to shape and limit your behaviours.
The city’s we see depicted in films of the 70s might have been more hostile, both aesthetically and physically. But they also seemed to be an expression of a social equality that has been blasted apart in the west by the rise of neo-liberalism and the pursuit of capital at all costs.
In seeking to have a city clean and neat and tidy are the authors of that strategy document unintentionally draining the energy and spark from the very people they hope to save? Hmm, time to get some spray cans…