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Legacy - Urban Research Collective 1
Legacy was produced by Urban Research Collective and commissioned by Monika Vykoukal for Black Country creative advantage (BCCA), a two year project of the Centre for Art, Design, Research and Experimentation at the University of Wolverhampton in partnership with the Longhouse scheme of arts organisation Multistory based in West Bromwich and supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England . This initiative aims to investigate how arts practices can relate to or impact upon regeneration practices to support a more democratic involvement of local people in culture, public planning and developments where they live. Legacy was written after a series of visits by Urban Research Collective to West Bromwich. Though informed by these visits, the publication is about themes common to towns and cities around the UK. We wrote this publication through the lens of West Bromwich but we could be discussing any town, from Teesside to Portsmouth, Dundee or Salford. The photographs, all taken in and around West Bromwich, are a photo essay collaboration between photographer Dave Gee and Urban Research Collective. More of his work can be found here: www.muoophotography.co.uk Updates, more information and photographs from Legacy can be found at: http://urbanresearch.tumblr. com
Words and layout: Pete Abel and Jonathan Atkinson of Urban Research Collective Guest article: Heather Ring, http://waywardplants.org Photographs: All photos Dave Gee, www.muoophotography.co.uk, except Public Ruin: Heather Ring Thanks to: Monika Vykoukal and everyone who took part in Black Country creative advantage More on Urban Research Collective: http://urbanresearchcollective.wordpress.com Urban Research Collective, 2010 This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ ISBN: 978-0-9563457-2-1 2 Legacy - Urban Research Collective
Legacy literally means inheritance, something bequeathed by one generation to the next. This pamphlet examines legacy in the context of our towns and cities. We look at actions carried out in the name of ‘tackling the legacy of the past’, and examine the legacy our generation is leaving for the next. Recent ‘regeneration/gentriﬁcation’ of our cities has been justiﬁed as tackling a legacy of neglect and poor planning. Litter, crime, anti-social behaviour, poor health, ‘worklessness’, have been put down to 1960s permissiveness , failed utopian ideas, crooked councillors or just a perception that poor people simply aren’t able to look after themselves. In the name of progress our soul (and cities) were sold to the markets and big development whilst issuing promises of renewal and renaissance. But the legacy of the long boom isn’t mixed neighbourhoods, healthy communities and happy, productive workers. Instead we’re left with public, personal and corporate indebtedness and a sinking feeling that things are about to get a lot worse. Those involved in the regeneration business might reason that doing something was better than nothing, how much worse things might have been if nothing had been done. But inequality rose during the Blair/Brown years. As more resources were targeted at the rich, regeneration functioned instead as a mask, a distraction, those with the least were bought oﬀ with false hope and the promise of a better deal tomorrow. The changes in our communities sometimes seem to just go on around us. Flats go up and libraries come down and we have no ability to decide, change or even input into what’s going on. Perhaps we reason, ‘they’ must know what they’re doing and have our best interests at heart. In this pamphlet we argue that for the mistakes of the past not to be repeated it is essential for people to have a say in the destiny of our towns and cities, we need to be involved. Through these articles we hope to shed some light on regeneration and the re-shaping of our urban areas in order to enable people to better understand what is going on and to take action. We examine the processes of urban renewal, exposing some of the myths and looking at the role of artists and designers. We take a critical look at some of the promises made and speculate on things to come. Finally we ask the question, is progress always something to be desired? What might the alternative look like?
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Legacy 1: Living through end times - the rise and fall of tall buildings
The cranes hang silent, houses boarded up awaiting demolition, hoardings aged and broken protecting land once earmarked for development now gone to grass. It appears we are approaching the end of the golden era of regeneration. The economic crash has thrown old certainties in the air. When things settle we’ll be counting the costs of empty promises, unfulﬁlled dreams and damaged communities. Now is the time to reﬂect but whilst some may blame ‘the bankers’ perhaps guilt needs to be spread around a bit. The game we’ve been playing is called market-led regeneration, it goes like this. In the 1980s councils were more radical than today, municipal socialism ruled; houses for all, 10p on the bus got you anywhere, the doors of council buildings were open to all. Whilst Labour ruled in the cities Thatcher ruled the country and as a consequence budgets were cut and council rates capped. Limits were placed on spending reserves, council houses were sold oﬀ and local authorities were unable to fund new developments. Thatcher oﬀered the cities a deal - work with business to facilitate projects, transfer land to developers, use public money to prepare developments for the private sector. Councils could steer the course but developers would borrow, fund, build and ultimately proﬁt. And Britain’s inner cities presented a wealth of prime development land. Things really got going under the Labour government from 1997 onwards. Using schemes such as Urban Renewal and SRB (Single Regeneration Budget) Labour advocated the idea of city living. Councils competed for government and European money to enable development, areas
of cities were earmarked for development and the residents slowly driven out/bribed/evicted, boarded up houses became the norm. A lot of the funding was aimed at helping residents create a vision for the future of their communities, but areas such as the Lyng estate on the edge of West Bromwich centre demonstrate that after residents are re-located few can aﬀord to return. Developers were able to access cheap credit from banks to throw up buildings and blocks of ﬂats became the prized homes of (now heavily indebted) twenty-somethings seeking to sample urban life or just somewhere to live. Co-incidentally ﬂats proved far cheaper to build than houses and generated more proﬁt from less land. Property prices spiralled as more people sought to cash in on a rising market. You would be mad not to put your pension into a buy-to-let! Many developments sold out before they’d even been built, purely on the basis of the plans and few ‘artists’ impressions’ of the ‘real’ thing. Developers made lots of proﬁt, building cheaper, selling higher. Banks lent plenty of money to both developers and homeowners and bank managers got rewarded through bonuses. Residents felt wealthy but ended up more and more in debt, local authorities saw their cities ‘regenerated’, the old estates gone, scant few of the old residents returning. But like any other asset bubble the housing market was unsustainable. The “end to boom and bust” ended with the biggest bust of all when bad debt was called in and the bottom fell out of the market. Developers and bankers spent the proﬁts and now the public are asked to cover the bad debt. After 15 years of a housing boom we have a social housing crisis as it becomes apparent that the new build ﬂats are of poor quality, too small for families and don’t even meet basic housing standards. And if councils
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had built properties wouldn’t that have deﬂated prices for the private developments? On reﬂection, in a decade of rising inequalities, can local authorities honestly point to the regeneration programmes as having transformed our cities? The same economic, health and education problems exist only now we don’t even have the hope of something better to come. In this the designers of the system, local and national government are as complicit as the bankers and developers. Even the mainstream media played a part, from TV-programmes like Changing Rooms and Homes Under the Hammer to Property Ladder, communicating the idea that housing was the way to get rich quick and anyone who didn’t play ball was a mug. And many people fell for it, they signed up to the 125% mortgages and now they are living with the reality. For us to move forward, to re-imagine and re-design our cities, to take ownership of them ourselves, we need to understand the reality of the past. Local councillors, young couples, elderly residents, journalists and estate agents - we all let this happen, now we need to ensure it never happens again.
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Legacy 2: Going Very Awry (GVA) - or the mirage of economic development and how it melts away under further inspection.
Economic growth and jobs - the planning applications and regeneration masterplans for supermarket-led developments talk grandly about how many jobs they will create for local people and how much they will increase economic growth or the Gross Value Added (GVA) ﬁgures in the local area. The plans for the Tesco (140,000 sq ft ) being built in West Bromwich claim that 700 jobs will be created,i but how many jobs will be created compared to those lost and what are the downsides to focussing too heavily on GVA and economic growth?
can tell us much about sustainable development. For example, it has been argued that they fail to take into account: - non-monetarised costs and beneﬁts e.g. household labour, environmental degradation; - capital depreciation (the reduction in value over time); - natural and human capital; - income distribution; - ‘defensive’ expenditures e.g. divorce, protection, war; - that well-being is not the same as wealth. The GDP/GVA measures eﬀectively count pollution as a positive contribution towards the economy. Higher pollution levels would mean additional resources spent on equipment to deal with the pollution, health service expenditure to deal with the outcomes etc. More pollution could therefore increase GVA levels. A more practical example is provided by Hurricane Katrina. The estimated $15 billion cost of the hurricane that devastated New Orleans and the surrounding area, would have increased the GDP measure for the United States but says nothing about the pain, misery, dislocation and environmental damage caused. Unsurprisingly, most regeneration plans rarely mention the limitations to economic growth nor that increasing GVA levels do not necessarily increase quality of life and well-being. Or put more bluntly, buying more stuﬀ from ever larger superstores does not make us happier. Regeneration masterplans always highlight how many jobs are going to be created and present projections for the increases in GVA that these new developments will deliver. The public consultation documents rarely discuss how many jobs could be lost as a result of the new development and the proposed GVA increases often warrant a closer inspection. Legacy - Urban Research Collective 7
What’s the problem with GVA?
GVA is an economic measure of the value of goods and services produced in a speciﬁc region (or industry or sector) of the economy. At a national level GVA is deﬁned as output minus intermediate consumption (the value of goods & services used in production by enterprises, including raw materials, services and other operating costs). It is often considered as a regional variant of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Regional and local authorities provide data comparing the GVA ﬁgures for speciﬁc regions and areas and focus strategic planning on increasing economic growth and GVA levels. However, as a number of economists and organisations, such as the New Economics Foundation (nef ), have highlighted the GDP and GVA measures of economic growth do not tell us anything about our quality of life. These measures eﬀectively assign a value of zero to the environment. They are not measures which
Many jobs created
The proposals for the West Bromwich redevelopment and Tesco superstore have claimed that 700 jobs will be created.ii But experiences from other areas have shown that such claims are not always what they seem. For example, in Greater Manchester, Tesco have recently been granted planning permission to build Tesco Extra stores in Stretford (166,847 sq ft) with claims that 600 jobs will be created, in Pendleton, Salford (130,000 sq ft) with 600 jobsiii and Hattersley (98,000 sq feet) with 450 jobs. But, the headline job ﬁgures in the regeneration plans will typically include many part time jobs and the number of full-time equivalent (f.t.e) jobs will always be much lower. For example, the recent planning application and regeneration masterplan for the Old Traﬀord Cricket Ground and Tesco Extra claimed that the 166,847 sq ft Tesco store would create 526 jobs. However, 466 (88%) of these were listed as “general assistants” and most of these were part time. The number of full time equivalent jobs was predicted to be 371.
But back in economic real life, the Oﬃce for National Statistics provide the actual ﬁgure for the Greater Manchester ‘sub-regional GVA per head’ value as £18,027 (December 2009). As the majority of the jobs on oﬀer would be fairly low paid “general assistants” this is still probably an over-estimate. However, using this ﬁgure together with the number of full-time equivalent jobs gives a GVA total of £2.4 million per year. It would seem that both members of the Planning Committee and local communities have been misled and that the local council failed to adequately assess the projected GVA beneﬁts. Not that surprising, given that the local council was a vocal supporter of the development.
...but how many jobs will be lost?
So whilst the economic beneﬁts were overstated by up to three times what they are likely to be, the planning applications rarely acknowledge how many jobs will be lost from the local retail sector. Research carried out for the Department of Environment, Transport & Regions (DETR) and published in 1998 showed that for every 20 jobs created by building large supermarkets up to 30 local retail jobs were lost.iv Based on the ﬁndings of this research the surrounding district centres could see up to 550 jobs being lost in the local retail sector. So maybe now, the beautiful artist impressions and the economic growth ﬁgures in the regeneration plans used to sell the re-developments don’t look quite so attractive – time will tell.
...worth how much?
The predicted GVA beneﬁts are also commonly over-stated to help “sell” the development to local communities and politicians. For example, the Old Traﬀord plans claimed that the GVA beneﬁt for Traﬀord would be £7.8 million per year. This had been calculated using the higher “headline” job total and an average GVA per employee of £43,177 - and there you were thinking that supermarket jobs were low paid!
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There are political choices to be campaigned for at the international, regional and local level to ensure that economic policies create a sustainable and progressive economy. Such changes will not happen overnight but if local people support their local shops more money (and jobs) will remain in the local community. Each person choosing to shop ‘local’ may seem a drop in the ocean when considering the size and power of multinational food corporations, but the New Economics Foundation compared the multiplier eﬀects of shopping for fruit and vegetables in a supermarket and from a local organic ‘box scheme’. The results showed that every £10 spent with the box scheme was worth £25 for the local area, compared with just £14 when the same amount was spent in a supermarket.v To paraphrase a popular marketing slogan – every little spent in local shops helps build a stronger community.
References i. Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, Position Statement on Work & Skills, (accessed 01/11/2010), www.wmleadersboard.gov. uk/media/upload/Economy%20&%20Skills/Skills%20Position%20S tatements/Sandwell%20Work%20%20Skills%20plan.pdf ii. Public Property UK.com, Tesco charged with building £7m police station, 15/09/2010, www.publicpropertyuk.com/2010/09/15/ tesco-charged-with-building-7m-police-station/ iii. The Business Desk.com, Salford Tesco scheme approved, 22/10/2010, www.thebusinessdesk.com/northwest/news/80760salford-tesco-scheme-approved.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_ medium=email&utm_campaign=NorthWest_22nd_Oct_2010__Daily_E-mail iv. Hillier Parker, C B, and Savell Bird Axon, 1998. Impact of Large Foodstores on Market Towns and District Centres. London: HMSO. v. New Economics Foundation, Plugging the Leaks, September 2002, http://www.pluggingtheleaks.org/downloads/ptl_handbook.pdf
Support your ‘local’ shops
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Legacy 3: Development of the spectacle - selling the myth of regeneration.
Regeneration bodies spent millions promoting and selling new developments. As promises turn to dust, what role did artists and designers play in pulling the wool over people’s eyes? Rent it. Love it. Buy it. Now the party’s over come home. Everything’s gone green Committed to regenerating West Bromwich A sense of pride for everyone For the past decade, regeneration schemes have been far from shy in making claims and promises. Billboards and hoardings proclaimed the future was on its way and it looked like a concrete and glass, four storey tower block. Smiling faces, arm in arm, pulling together as a community. For those of us living in “areas of multiple deprivation” at the height of the boom it was part of the routine, ﬁnding a pile of brochures on the doormat outlining exciting new plans for the area, in the supermarket a consultation on the future of the area, a new development meaningless and thrusting. Online a selection of partnerships, development bodies and local agencies oﬀered interactive, animated guides to their activities - though precious little information on their structures, accountability and funding. Day-glo colours abounded, this was no time for subtlety, introspection or doubt. Things would be changing in your problem area, a bright, positive future lay ahead usually involving a new, spacious and light apartment, a ﬂat screen TV and an inordinately huge sofa. As money became cheaper to borrow and so more available the gestures became grander. Manchester’s New Islington (formerly the Cardroom estate) staged an “Urban Folk Festival for Urban Folk,” and
every town promised their piece of public art would be “the new Angel of the North.” In hindsight many of the images of conspicuous consumption and community unity appear ridiculous, even cruel. But why was such emphasis placed on image and marketing which often seemed grossly inordinate in comparison with the end product? One reason is legitimacy. Regeneration developments were typically overseen by partnerships and agencies, public/private bodies with little, if any, constituency or track record. Peoples’ houses were bulldozed and public land eﬀectively given to agencies few had heard of and fewer understood the purpose of. Private developers were soon building ﬂash new homes in your community. A blitz of marketing, good news stories and feel-good publications helped give much needed legitimacy to developments and objectors were labelled as kill-joys and luddites stuck in the past. Secondly, this kind of marketing has the simple function of selling real estate. Despite assurances to the contrary, new developments were routinely beyond the reach of existing tenants and residents. Developers sought the aspirational, property owning classes able to secure mortgages and cheap credit required to buy these new ﬂats at inﬂated prices. And let’s face it, who wants to move into an area full of poor people and muggers where the previous residents were evicted kicking and screaming from their homes? Finally the reason for the marketing blitz was that the regeneration we saw in the UK wasn’t a new phenomenon, the model had been reﬁned and tweaked over 30 years. Market-led regeneration in its current form originated in the United States of the 1970s. As ‘slum’ neighbourhoods in New York were demolished and public parks annexed, residents rioted, refusing to accept developers’ new Legacy - Urban Research Collective 11
plans. Twenty years of nuanced development to the model meant that the regeneration model we faced in the UK was heavily mediated. Mass marketing campaigns held out the (false) hope of something better, splitting communities between those who wanted to take the money and run and those who wanted to stay. Thanks to empty promises there were no regeneration riots in the UK, just a collective sigh and a shrug of the shoulders. Looking back on the legacy of urban renewal it’s diﬃcult to say the hype was justiﬁed. Can we really point to happy, healthy and mixed income communities where once there was deprivation? Some might blame that on the economic crash but others would argue that property led speculation and a price bubble were one of the key causes of the crash and an indicator of local and national government that had sold their soul to the markets. Artists and designers who worked in the
regeneration industry and for developers need to accept responsibility for their role in this. Creative people, artists and designers, took the money and asked few questions about the claims they helped legitimise. Whole creative industries grew up in response to regeneration cash. They gave false hope to people and communities that had precious little and now have less. But this isn’t the end of the story. In 2010 the bank is bust but it’s even more important to reimagine our cities, to create new dreams. Artists and designers have a role to play here, but not as paid stooges for investment capital but as collaborators and partners with citizens and communities. In the past visionaries have imagined garden cities and urban utopias. It’s time to reﬂect on past mistakes and deal with the legacy of the immediate past but also to create a new co-operative, creative and just legacy for the future.
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Legacy 4: Big Society – Bigger Supermarkets?
West Bromwich town centre is undergoing a fundamental transformation. The new developments include a massive retail park, focused on a Tesco Extra store, the new police station, college and changes to the Lyng. But to what extent do those developments meet local needs and how much say have local people had in the plans? The new government have spoken of putting the planning powers in the hands of local people but what does this rhetoric really mean and will it make a diﬀerence? Having already removed the strategic regional planning mechanisms (regional development agencies, regional spatial strategies etc.), except of course in London, which apparently still requires a strategic planning function, the ‘Big Planning’ idea is to introduce neighbourhood or “local plans”. These are to be developed from the “bottom up” by the local population and it is expected that these local plans will also: - Introduce a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ as long as a (yet unspeciﬁed) tariﬀ is paid. - That ‘signiﬁcant local projects’ involve the ‘neighbourhood’ and a collaborative design process. - ‘Fast track’ consents where agreement has been reached with neighbours. This could involve payments to oﬀset any impact from the development(s). How this last diﬀers from “buying oﬀ ” objections has yet to be explained. Meanwhile, we are still waiting to see the actual details in the Government’s Decentralisation and Localism Bill (DLB) but the expectation is that the Bill will have passed through all the Parliamentary 14 Legacy - Urban Research Collective
stages and received Royal Assent by November 2011. In relation to planning, many of the proposals expected to be included in the DLB are laid out in the “Open Source Planning”1 Green Paper published in early 2010. The Green Paper included suggested measures that would: - Amend the use classes order to permit the use of land and buildings for any purpose allowed in the local plan . - Limit the scope of appeals to cases where an abuse of power or failure to apply the local plan are claimed to have occurred. - Planning Inspectors will not be given the remit to amend Local Plans if they have been arrived at by fair and proper process. Some of these changes may start to come into eﬀect before the Bill is passed as the Government has already indicated that “local planning authorities will be able to work ‘in new ways on local plans’ in advance of the passing of the Localism Bill.”2 Despite the rhetoric about “bottom-up” and neighbourhood “collaborative design” there appears to have been little discussion on what, if any, resources and support will be provided to help communities develop these local plans. It is being mooted that where neighbourhoods fail to develop adequate “local plans” then “permitted development” will become the default planning policy. Some of the problems with “permitted development” and the growth of supermarket chains were recently outlined in a parliamentary debate by Greg Hands (Conservative MP for Chelsea and Fulham).3 With permitted development many existing retail premises can be changed into a supermarket without the need for any planning permission from the local council. Many urban supermarkets have been established by using the ‘permitted development’ route. In many cases there is little notice and no opportunity for the
elected councillors to represent the views of the local community. Often, residents and other local businesses only learn of the proposed development when the contractors move in. Despite these concerns the view of the Planning Minister, Bob Neill was that permitted development helped to free the planning system from bureaucracy and that new planning controls should only be introduced where there is a strong case’for doing so.4 It is very likely that most people were not aware that a “regional planning strategy” even existed let alone whether it was a good or bad thing for local issues which aﬀected them. This lack of connection between local communities and the planning system is an argument for making local planning more responsive and accountable but without adequate resources and support for “local plans” we may well see the spread of “postcode planning”. Instead of a common set of national planning guidance policies we will have a patchwork of diﬀerent planning rules. Perhaps this is what “localism” is meant to be, but the danger is that wealthier neighbourhoods, with access to professional skills and resources, will gain control of the planning process with ‘acceptable’ local plans, but poorer neighbourhoods will end up with permitted development. Now is the time for planning to return to its more radical roots.
References 1. Conservative Party, Open Source Planning Green Paper, (accessed 01/11/2010) www.conservatives.com/~/media/Files/ Green%20Papers/planning-green-paper.ashx 2. Planning Portal, Timetable suggests IPC may stay until April 2012, 15/07/2010, http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/general/news/ stories/2010/july2010/2010_07_week_3/150710_1 3. They Work For You, Urban Supermarkets (Planning) House of Commons debates, 13/09/2010, www.theyworkforyou. com/debates/?id=2010-09-13b.712.0 4. Colin Marrs, Planning Review, Planning framework “could enable use class review”, 14/09/2010, www.planningresource.co.uk/news/ ByDiscipline/Development-Control/1028274/Planning-frameworkcould-enable-use-class-review/
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Legacy 5: The Public as Public Ruin By landscape architect Heather Ring
Signature buildings such as The Public attempted to regenerate communities through their mere presence in a city. Now that has been shown to be an optimistic fantasy, is it time to embrace decay and turn such buildings over to ruin? In a grey landscape of empty shops and industrial remnants of a former manufacturing town, brightly colored banners ﬂap in the wind, promoting a conspicuous box building with pink blobs cut out for windows. Designed by architect Will Alsop and completed in 2008, The Public was a demoralizing attempt to emulate the culture-led regeneration strategy of Bilbao. Instead, Alsop’s blobs aggressively ﬁll the building, squeezing out opportunities for artistic experimentation, denying the community the chance to make the space their own and suﬀocating any attempts to allow the building to evolve for the shifting desires of the city. Graham Peet, artist and photographer, and Exhibitions Manager at The Public1 has reﬂected on some of the limitations of working within such an inﬂexible structure, “The building is so unusual, it is diﬃcult to think of another use for it other than the creative use intended. In many ways this is what has stopped it being turned into oﬃces for commercial lets. If the building had been more conventional, it would most certainly not be an art centre now.” The Public constrains artistic response with ﬁxed-screen monitors and ad-hoc gallery walls, most of the spaces cluttered with limiting permanent installations. Digital and interactive art suggests an exploration with new technologies and formats constantly changing. The Public, with its inﬂexible spatial organization and ﬁxed presentation modes, seems to have frozen the technology (and the art) in 2004, when Alsop unveiled his designs for the building. 16 Legacy - Urban Research Collective
The building resists any form of creative reuse and is incapable – or unwilling – to translate itself into one of the many new institutions being built in West Bromwich, such as a supermarket, shopping mall, or the town’s missing public pool. And yet, if The Public closed its doors it would represent a massive set back to an otherwise depressed town. The building is far from inconspicuous – with its designed-in “wackiness” turning “whimsy,” into something both heavy and joyless. An attempt in the age of “Signature” buildings, as Owen Hatherley writes in his critique of this form of cultural regeneration, to reduce, “a building to a logo.”2 The Public was rendered obsolete before completion, and now, trapped as it tries to justify its drain on ﬁnancial resources, chugs along with immense operation costs, putting the curators in the unenviable position of trying to make it relevant. Their current strategy is an uncomfortable hybrid of art institution, children’s museum, and community centre. Filled with salsa aerobics, football match screenings, a café with the upscale name “Couture,” and a gift-shop selling tourist schwag like “I heart West Bromwich.” A top-down approach, rather than leaving space for grassroots initiatives, their strategy begs the question, where exactly is the “public” that The Public is trying to reach? To endear the Public to the local community and re-situate its presence as an international spectacle, I’d like to propose that we re-conceive The Public as The Public Ruin. It’s already a ruin of architectural style, a ruin of technology and a ruin of regeneration strategies, so let’s let nature break it down, and then piece it together with new narratives. In Cabinet Magazine’s “Fragment from a History of Ruins”, Brian Dillon describes the shifting meaning of the ruin through time. In the Renaissance, he explains, ruins function like texts, ones we try to decipher, to contemplate their relevance to our lives. Then in the 18th century, ruins
were “an image of natural disasters and catastrophes of human history.” Storms, battles, earthquakes, and revolutions. During the Romantic age, ruins were the height of artistic creation. The ruin is fetishized and its aesthetic emulated, as fragments and unﬁnished works, and in gardens, as fake ruins, follies in the landscape. And from the 19th century onwards, we imagined ourselves as already ruined. The modern city, industry, mining, the extraction of resources, pollution. And the modern ruin – these empty shopping malls and abandoned cinemas, remind us of lost futures, of failed utopias. 3 The Public Ruin would exist somewhere in between these interpretations, a dismantling of purpose, a failed utopia, a building opened to
the elements, to ecological succession and social takeovers, a strategic work of art, a merging of art, technology and the environment. It is hard to imagine a building as inﬂexible and unsustainable as The Public withstanding the forces of nature, so let’s invite nature in. In its incompleteness, its sudden potential, The Public Ruin will remind us of past arrogance and open up possibilities for sustainable futures.
References 1. Interviewed by Monika Vykoukal for Black Country creative advantage, 2010. 2. Owen Hatherley, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, Verso Press, 2010. 3. Brian Dillon, Fragments from a History of Ruin, Cabinet Magazine, Issue 20 Ruins Winter 2005/06.
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Legacy 6: The case for non-development
Deﬁnition: Field a. A broad, level, open expanse of land. b. A meadow: a ﬁeld often of buttercups. c. A wide unbroken expanse. d. A portion of land or a geologic formation containing a speciﬁed natural resource. The answer to a city’s problems always seems to be development. Demolish and re-build, bigger, better, smarter. But perhaps the lesson of the last 15 years of hubris is that progress will not always bring improvements. I would like to make the case for the absence of development, for non-development, for ﬁelds. True ﬁelds, not sterile, cultivated city parks, are havens within our chaotic urban spaces. Nature ﬁnds a place in what ecologists describe as refuges, epicentres of biodiversity thriving with wild plants, insects, birds, reptiles and mammals, even more so if these are linked via wildlife corridors. Opportunities for food supply and enterprising urban foragers can ﬁnd a feast of fruit, nuts, leaves and fungi. For the human population wild space allows opportunities for unexpected exploration. Children run, play and swing, adults hunt and ramble. Psychologists point to the beneﬁts of urban green space, beneﬁting physical and mental health and wellbeing, providing exercise and relaxation. Now as our cities warm scientists have called green space ‘a city’s lungs’, helping keep urban areas cool as temperatures rise. West Bromwich means ‘the little village on the heath of broom’ and it grew up on the edge of the heath upland. For years towns and villages existed as part of the local geography, if not in balance with nature at least in acknowledgement of it. Then came the mines and factories, the heathland was drained. Now they’re clearing it again to build a new Tesco, with the hope of jobs and prosperity. Perhaps one day more enlightened people will tear it down, ﬂood the heath and wait for the broom to return.
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Dave Gee: Page 4, above: monument, West Bromwich High Street; below, redevelopment, West Bromwich, Page 6, Sandwell College, West Bromwich, Page 9, vinyl artwork, Wolverhampton Railway Station, Page 10, above: yard, West Bromwich; below, main entrance to The Public, West Bromwich, Page 12, ‘The Lyng Reborn’, regeneration partnership billboard, West Bromwich, Page 13, above, hoarding around new Tesco development, West Bromwich; below, market trader, the ‘Golden Mile’, West Bromwich High Street, Page 15, McDonald’s, West Bromwich town centre. Heather Ring: Page 17, The Public Ruin, photomontage
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