Tag Archives: Regeneration

British Modern Remade

Martin Boyce, Dark Unit and Mask, 2003, detail, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist. Photo Anna Arc.


Curator Helen Kaplinsky talks about her exhibition at Sheffield’s iconic Park Hill estate which makes no secret of capitalising on the emergence of a new concrete loving class.

In 1980 The Firestone Factory, where sports cars were manufactured in the 50’s and 60’s was demolished. The factory was one of many on a stretch in Brentford known as the Golden Mile, in the 1920’s the preferred location for industry, gloriously celebrated in Art Deco style. Soon after the demolition of Firestone the Historic Buildings Committee of the Department of Environment recommended 150 inter-war buildings for listing and Modernism officially entered the canon. In 1998 English Heritage listed a whole raft of post-war buildings, most of them not quite as glamorous as Firestone. In fact they had distinctly unglamourous associations, slum estates, otherwise known as British public housing: Trellick Tower (Erno Goldfinger, 1968-72) Spa Green Estate (Lubetkin & Skinner, 1946-50) and Alton Estate (LCC Architect’s Department, 1952-60) – all in London – are examples. However, London was not the only forward looking planning office in the country. Sheffield city architect Jack Wormsley had a vision to raise the Victorian slums and put the ‘socialist republic of the north’ on the map for its courageous urban planning.

Sculpture in the Home, Arts Council exhibition at New Burleigh Gardens, London. (c) Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre


I’ve curated an exhibition from the Arts Council Collection within two show flats in Sheffield’s redeveloped Park Hill, commissioned by Wormsley, completed in 1961 and today the largest listed building in Europe. The exhibition includes works all the way from the advent of British Modernism when the Arts Council Collection was founded in 1946 up until today. My approach was in part inspired by a series of exhibitions run by the Arts Council in their first decades, the 1940’s and 50’s. Sculpture in the Home, as the name suggests, featured artworks in a domestic environment amid modern furnishings in order to encouraging a cultured consumer class to purchase small scale sculpture for the home. The exhibition at Park Hill includes works by some of the ‘Geometry of Fear’ artists such as Lynn Chadwick who also featured in these early Arts Council programs, as well as Constructivist artists Kenneth Martin and Mary Martin who were, like the architects of Park Hill, proponents of a pragmatic but nonetheless optimistic British version of European Modernism.

Alongside these works are muddied and nostalgic ruminations on Modernism by contemporary artists such as Toby Paterson and Martin Boyce.  The pioneering architectural work and furniture design of Charles and Ray Eames are of particular interest to Boyce. With Dark Unit and Mask (2003) Boyce remodels a small replica Eames storage unit and a little known Eames’ design for field splints produced for the navy during World War II. The splint becomes objet d’art reminiscent of the African and Oceanic artefacts collected by Picasso and his contemporaries with a mounting formed of fragments from mid twentieth century Ant and Series 7 chairs by the Danish designer Arne Jacobsen.

Most unexpectedly for visitors, I have included some key post-modern work. Only when the stories behind production are discussed does the relationship to the site of Park Hill speak. Homage to the New Wave was made in 1977 while Andrew Logan was living and working at Butler’s Wharf at Bankside, London in a community of artists, musicians and punks who occupied the post-industrial wasteland on the edge of the Thames. In 1984, Butler’s Wharf was purchased by founder of Habitat and former owner of Heals furniture store, Terence Conran, who converted it into loft-style apartments. The post-industrial space became chic, and punk was absorbed into the culture of consumerism, a move which Logan’s sculpture seems to foresee by making a unique commodity from the safety-pin, a symbol of the radical provisionality of punk.

If you hadn’t noticed already Brutalism is back in fashion and not just because English Heritage says so. In the 1950’s, British architects of Park Hill, Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn, then still in their twenties, fell for the aspirational promise of Le Corbusier. They believed society could be made better and happier through their well considered designs. Saving Park Hill from demolition in the 1990’s was seen as crucial to preserve the legacy of post-war Britain and its idealist architecture. Yet its huge scale made it too monumental to be a simply a monument, it must be occupied. Manchester based developers Urban Splash have led on a large scale renovation project. However it has not just been that good old British pragmatism which has made British Modernism a cultivated taste today. These buildings are a valuable aesthetic, they are useful for now. Most of the public housing I’ve mentioned has undergone a transformation since changing from public council housing to private. The aspiration embodied in the Brutalist Modernist soaring hulks of concrete and glass are a remade Modern. As Urban Splash have very convincingly argued they are desirable duplex apartments close to the city centre and their *unique selling point* is retro modern appeal which perfectly matches our affordable Ikea furniture.

Exhibition Details


Park Hill Estate, Sheffield, 4th May – 16 June 2012.

An Arts Council Collection exhibition curated by Helen Kaplinsky.

Exhibition Press Release.

Associated Event

Symposium with Steven Gartside (Manchester Metropolitan), Jaspar Joseph-Lester and Dale Holmes (Sheffield Hallam University), Lisa Le Feuvre (Henry Moore Institute) and Matthew Poole (University of Essex). Chaired by curator Helen Kaplinsky. View Programme.

Tuesday 22nd May 2.00 – 6.00pm, Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery.

Tax Increment Financing – a model in motion

Kevin Ward, Geography, University of Manchester

A definition

The irony!  Since the late 1990s a number of academics, consultants, professional associations and think tanks have been making the case for the introduction of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) into the UK.  This is a model based on debt-creation whereby a political entity – such as a local government – establishes a project area, sometimes on its own, sometimes through consultation with business, community and neighbourhood groups.  The property taxes (business rates in the UK) in the project area are then frozen.  The local government then borrows money against the project ‘uplift’ or ‘increment’, on the basis that if they spend the borrowed money on clean up, infrastructure, and other upfront activities then developers will come in and, well, develop!  The belief is that this will lead to an increase in property values (business rates in the UK) and this ‘increment’ will go to the political entity to pay off the debt and to reinvest in the project area.  After a period of time – normally around twenty five years – the debt will have been paid off, the project area gets dissolved and the property tax returns to going to the normal taxing authorities.



Referencing elsewhere

Beginning with the garishly yellow Towards an Urban Renaissance published in 1999 but assembled through meetings and overseas study tours in the preceding two to three years, a concerted if slightly incoherent effort has been made to get the central government of the day interested in TIF.  This publication was followed up by Paying for an Urban Renaissance and Towards a Strong Urban Renaissance.  So, first Labour and then, more recently, the Coalition have been lobbied.  This has not been easy.  Tax-talk does not always get the political pulse going.  Even those whose business it is to be interested in financing economic development have been known to roll their eyes when the conversation has turned to TIF.  The public, well they are even harder to get switched on!  There has not been much mobilization either for or against TIF in the UK – yet.



An important aspect of the grey literature produced in the UK on TIF has been the referencing of a number of other places.




These places have been pointed to as locations in which the TIF ‘model’ has worked, and from which the UK might – should? – learn.  One such place is Chicago, where the city government has since the mid-1980s established over one hundred and seven TIF areas.  It was the economic development model of choice of the former Mayor, Richard M Daley.  TIF was a significant issue in the 2011 mayoral election in the city, and new Mayor, Rahm Emmanuel has set about making the model more democratic and transparent.  That though is a blog in itself.  No, here my focus is going to be on California.  The ‘Golden State’ was where TIF began, at the end of the Second World War.

California dreaming/scheming

The 1945 California Community Redevelopment Law allowed cities and counties in the state of California to establish redevelopment agencies.   In 1952 voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow redevelopment agencies to use the property tax as a funding source, and hence, Tax Increment Financing (TIF) was established.   This essentially ‘redirected’ local property taxes away from other tax collection jurisdictions, which in some areas of California numbered over ten.  Redevelopment agencies could use TIF when they were able to demonstrate ‘blight’.  While some cities and counties established redevelopment agencies over the proceeding decades, the use of TIF did not become widespread until the late 1970s and the passing of Proposition 13.  This Proposition limited the local tax raising powers of cities and counties and required that any change in taxation rates be passed by a two-thirds majority.  Not a politically attractive option as you can imagine.   Rather like turkeys voting for Christmas!  Redevelopment agencies were separate legal entities and were not governed by this proposition, however.  So, from the 1980s onwards more and more use of TIF was made in the state of California.  Notions of ‘blight’ were stretched to almost breaking point.  Stories circulated about how some cities and counties were using their redevelopment agencies, which a generous reading would suggest went against the spirit if not the letter of the law.  Those tax collecting jurisdictions whose revenue dropped as it was ‘redirected’ to redevelopment sued, and cities and counties responded with their own legal proceedings.  Eminem domain cases, as redevelopment agencies sought to assemble parcels of land that would be attractive to developers, generated pockets of bad feeling amongst different groups.   Court case followed court case.  Proposition 98, introduced in 1988, meant the State made up for the loss in revenues experienced by the colleges and schools, which kept them happy.  And over the decades the amount sitting in the bank accounts of the four hundred plus redevelopment agencies around the state grew and grew.  By early 2011 redevelopment agencies were receiving about 12% of state wide property tax revenues.  This was compared to the 4% they were receiving in the early 1980s.

At various times State Governors, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, ‘raided’ these bank accounts, moving money into the State’s general fund, the balancing of which continued to be a significant problem.  In 2010 the California Redevelopment Association, the trade association for redevelopment in the State, had had enough.  Together with the California League of Cities, it successfully introduced Proposition 22.  This made it illegal for the State to ‘raid’ the bank accounts of the redevelopment agencies.   And this was the situation at the beginning of 2011, when the former Mayor of Oakland and a user of redevelopment funds, Jerry Brown, was elected the 39th Governor of California (he was also the 34th between 1975 and 1983).   Almost the first thing he did was to declare a ‘financial emergency’ and to eye the $5 billion reserves of the redevelopment agencies.

It gets ‘toxic’

Those of you who are still paying attention will realize that the past tense has been used throughout this blog.   And, so we come to the irony, at last!   Six weeks before George Osborn, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, mentioned TIF in his 2012 Budget Statement, the model was abolished in the State of California!  Two thousand and eleven was a year of claims and counter claims over the value-added of redevelopment agencies, debates that were often played out in both the law courts and in the media.  It got ugly – ‘toxic’ according to some – and ended up in the California Supreme Court on 29 December.  This ruled that AB27 – which would have meant the redevelopment agencies handing over large amounts of their reserves to the State – was illegal.   The Court basically reinforced Proposition 22.   So far so good for redevelopment agencies, and the California Redevelopment Association that represented them.  However, the Supreme Court upheld AB26 – which meant that as the State had created redevelopment agencies and TIF, through the 1945 Act and its 1952 addition, it could also end them.  Redevelopment agencies would be dissolved.  Panic in the California redevelopment community set in.  Attempts were made to build bridges with the Governor’s office and the State legislator, but to no avail.  TIF, and the 400 plus redevelopment agencies that used the model to fund a range of projects around the State, ceased to exist on 1 February 2012.  The result remains an absolute mess.  One sort of bureaucracy is being replaced with another.  Successor agencies around California are trying to manage the winding down of a highly complex and locally specific ‘model’.  Meanwhile, at the State level, Jerry Brown is pulling in staff from different department to oversee the processes through which it gets to give the okay to some TIF projects to continue and to end others.  Watch out for wave after wave of court cases, as all involved seek to establish landmark rulings.


Endings and beginnings

So, one of the UK’s main reference points for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) no longer exists.  The state where TIF began sixty years ago shut down the model and is now dealing the economic and political fallout.  What lessons can be learnt from what happened in California in 2011?  A few I would suggest.  First, a model never really ‘exists’ in its purest sense.  There are lots of different ‘models’ in California and they have all morphed and mutated over the years.  It is not easy to identify from which version those in the UK have looked to learn.  However, great care does need to be taken when generalizing from a model that was established at a particular time in a particular place.   Second, as models change over the years, so it is worth reflecting on the impetus for their initial establishment.  A number of the Californian redevelopment agencies of 2011, and their use of TIF, were a long way from the initial thinking of the 1950s.  A model with a quite ‘progressive’ policy DNA had in many ways become far less progressive, almost regressive in places, by the time of its cessation.  So, it is important to put in place checks and balances.  This was not the case in California.  Third, the law of unintended consequences is prone to makes its presence felt. A number of changes in the legislative and financial system, of which redevelopment agencies were one element, led inadvertently to the incentivising of certain forms of behaviour.  Proposition 13 squeezed city government and made it very attractive to establish redevelopment agencies.  Redevelopment agencies often competed with one another for capital investment.  Other changes made the system more and more complex.  This required the involvement of a growing amount of expertise – economic, environmental, financial, legal, planning, and redevelopment consultants all saw their businesses grow on the back of the increased amount of activity undertaken by redevelopment agencies.  They also then had a stake in a particular version of ‘redevelopment’ and in its continued existence.  So, try and keep it simple!

Whether TIF ever actually gets introduced into England remains unclear.  Other models are also being discussed.  Edinburgh in Scotland got its TIF business plan agreed in late 2010 but has not made as much progress as it would have liked.  What is clear however is that in all areas of policy there will continue to be models that catch the attention of consultants, policymakers and politicians.  These models will find themselves being moved from one place to another, raising issues for those places they pass through as well as for the models themselves as the places they encounter lead to changes in their very constitution.

Multi-Speed Britain: The Widening of Urban Inequalities

by Dr. Stephen Hincks, Lecturer in Spatial Planning, Centre for Urban Policy Studies, Planning &  Landscape.

‘Globalization creates interlocking fragility, while reducing volatility and giving the appearance of stability. In other words it creates devastating Black Swans. We have never lived before under the threat of a global collapse’ (Taleb, 2007: 225).

The interlocking nature of the local and the global serves to create a sense of ‘scalar nesting’ that is comfortable and familiar.  Yet, during crisis events, the outcome of this intertwined relationship is largely predictable: ‘winners continue to win’ and ‘losers lose harder’.  It is inevitably at the local level – the city, the town, the neighborhood, the street – where this Molotov cocktail reaps its havoc.

The depth and severity of the global financial crisis became fully apparent in mid 2007. Based on quarterly GDP figures, the UK experienced the longest recession between the second quarter of 2008 and the third quarter of 2009 since the publication of quarterly GDP data began in 1955. It was also the first time that the UK economy had the largest quarter-on-quarter decline since 1980.  So I was intrigued earlier this week to read Cities Outlook 2012, a report published by the non-partisan think-tank, Centre for Cities (Centre for Cities, 2012).  The report makes the case – through an analysis of recent social and economic data – that the gap between Britain’s most prosperous and poorest cities is widening as a result of the economic crisis. The report found a case for a ‘two-speed Britain’ as more resilient urban economies – including the likes of London, Edinburgh and York – adapt to changing economic circumstances as less resilient urban economies – including Swansea, Hull, Liverpool and Sunderland – struggle to respond to changing economic imperatives.  Research undertaken by the Centre for Urban Policy Studies at the University of Manchester – prior to the publication of the most recent Cities Outlook report – goes further in arguing that rather than there being a ‘two-speed Britain’ there is in fact a ‘multi-speed Britain’ as different types of urban areas respond differently to the impacts of the most recent downturn (Wong et al, 2011).

This, you might argue, is all fairly standard so far.  However, what both reports are clear on is that current government policies seem to be widening, rather than narrowing, the gap between our urban areas.  Without wanting to get too caught up here in the respective analyses, both reports contend that the scale and depth of public sector spending cuts – introduced as part of the Coalition’s austerity strategy to combat the ‘spiralling national deficit’ – are adversely affecting towns and cities up and down the country with the greatest shocks being felt in metropolitan areas that are reliant on public sector employment.  Unemployment in our metropolitan cities has risen sharply and the welfare system has become a safety net across a widening spectrum of society as individuals and households look to ride-out the economic storm.

We are all aware that the current economic climate is intimately entangled with the sovereign debt crisis.  Experiences in the Euro Zone, North America and Britain poignantly illustrate this.  And so, the arguments made for reducing the UK’s national deficit are well rehearsed: the nation’s debt needs to be brought under control for the sustainability of the national economy.  Whether this is something that you accept or not (this rationale for introducing the deficit reduction plan has been contested on the basis that net public debt was about 60% of national GDP in 2010 compared to over 200% in the 1950s following the end of the Second World War) there is political appetite for reducing the deficit.  The Prime Minister’s suggestion, however, that ‘we are all in this together’ seems to be collapsing under the weight of its own hypocrisy.  As the Welfare Reform Bill – of which there are some welcomed aspects including attempts to incentivise work in response to rising levels of worklessness – moves through the parliamentary process debates over the introduction of a benefits cap and the implications of proposed reforms to the NHS have intensified.  In a recent piece written for The Guardian (23 January, 2012), Randeep Ramesh points out that the proposals contained within the Welfare Bill – irrespective of the nature of the transition period adopted as one welfare regime replaces the other – have the potential to increase child poverty and to adversely affect certain disabled groups in society which is something that has been acknowledged by the Coalition itself.  Position these proposals in the context of wider reforms in housing benefit and cuts in regeneration funding – the adverse effects of which are likely to be disproportionately concentrated in our metropolitan areas according to recent research by the Centre for Urban Policy Studies (Wong et al, 2012) – and you catch my drift.

For most people, the arguments made for reducing the deficit, including the need to improve the sustainability of national finances, are, however, broadly palatable.  But, it is the nature and intensity of the cuts that has proven most contentious.  Cut fast, cut hard to reduce the deficit quickly or cut in a slower and arguably more ‘managed’ way: broadly speaking, this has been the crux of the debate.  Clearly, it is too early to judge the success of the government’s strategy but recent OECD figures suggests that the markets have been slow to respond to the deficit reduction strategy adopted so far.

However, in my view, the deficit reduction debate has served to mask a more fundamental and altogether more toxic set of policy assumptions; namely that the claiming of welfare support (and state aid in general) is indicative of a mentality that ‘living off the state pays’.  Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting for one moment that the much maligned ‘Gallagher-esque’ situation – a reference to the dysfunctional family through which ‘contemporary council estate culture’ is portrayed in the British television drama Shameless – does not exist.  Clearly it does.  But what I am clear on in my own mind is that it is extremely unwise, dangerous even, for politicians and society in general to adopt extreme denominators as benchmarks against which to measure the characteristics and cultures of a place, a situation, a scenario, an individual or a family let along to use these benchmarks as springboards for the development of policy.  Since assuming office in the spring of 2010, under the guise of ‘Localism’, the Coalition has introduced a raft of reforms and proposals including neighbourhood forums, mayoral systems, and the further ‘decentralisation’ of powers to local authorities all of which form part of a plan to reduce the democratic deficit that emerged (perceived or otherwise) under previous administrations.  In many quarters these ‘innovations’ have been welcomed with open-arms.  Yet, as the raft of Coalition reforms, Bills, Acts and amendments meander their way through the parliamentary process, I cannot help but feel that there is a politics of survival being actively played out here through which inequality could bloom further; a politics that the most vulnerable in society – who are disproportionately concentrated in our metropolitan areas – are least equipped to play.


Centre for Cities (2012) Cities Outlook, 2012. Centre for Cities, London.

Ramesh, R. (2012) ‘Iain Duncan Smith holds the line on welfare cap’ The Guardian, 23rd January.

Taleb, N.N. (2007) The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Random House, New York.

Wong, C., Gibb, K., McGreal, S., Webb, B., Leishman, C., Blair, N., Hincks, S. and McIntyre, S. (2011) Housing and Neighbourhoods Monitor 2011 – Fragility and Recovery. York, JRF.

Wong, C., Baker, M., Hincks, S., Schultz-Baing, A. and Webb, B.  (2012) A Map for England: Spatial Expression of Government Policies and Programmes. London, RTPI.



Nicaragua: the road to ‘pacification’

The transformation of Managua’s road system should be seen as a case of “infrastructural violence” which is intrinsic to a broader regime of injustice, argues Dennis Rodgers (BWPI).

Managua has undergone many metamorphoses during the past half century. The reasons range from a devastating earthquake in 1972 to the utopian urban planning of the Sandinista revolution during the 1980s, and subsequent attempts by right-wing post-revolutionary governments to erase these material and symbolic traces of Sandinismo. Since 1998, however, Managua has undergone a remarkable and wide-ranging makeover, which has fundamentally changed the metropolis’ morphology in an unprecedented manner.

From a ramshackle, sprawled out, and impoverished city widely nicknamed “la ciudad caótica” (“the chaotic city”), the metropolis has been completely re-organized, its transport network improved, new buildings erected, and it now has numerous expensive restaurants, bars, night clubs, hotels, casinos, designer stores, and malls. Although these transformations can be linked to the post-1990 market economy suppressed during the Sandinista period, the city’s makeover has also been the result of a very purposeful process of state-led planned transformation.

This is especially obvious when considering the striking transformation of Managua’s legendarily abysmal road infrastructure over the past decade and a half. As late as 1997, potholes were a chronic driving hazard, traffic was chaotic, car-jackings frequent and there was no discernable logic to the city’s byzantine road infrastructure. By 2000, the Managua municipality had carried out a large-scale programme to fill in the potholes, resurfaced and widened the major arteries of the metropolis, built a suburban bypass, and replaced traffic lights with roundabouts.

These works ostensibly aimed to speed up traffic and reduce congestion, but when considered on a map, a definite pattern emerges whereby the new roads predominantly connect locations associated with the lives of the urban elite, for example linking the (newly re-modelled) international airport to the Presidential palace to malls to the “Zona Rosa” of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to the exclusive Las Colinas and Santo Domingo neighbourhoods, and so on. This particular road network has enabled the urban elite to move safely between the different points of their lives, no longer impeded by potholes, congestion, traffic lights, or crime (roundabouts considerably reducing the risk of being car-jacked).

As such, Managua’s pattern of road development has been the keystone of a veritable process of socio-spatial “disembedding”, whereby a whole layer of the city’s fabric has been “ripped out” from the general patchwork quilt of the metropolis and constituted as a “Nueva Managua” (New Managua) that is exclusively for the rich, who now live in what could be termed “splendid segregation”. At the same time, however, the process arguably goes further than this, with the road building also constituting a means of actively “pacifying” the poor, as the view from barrio Carlos Fonseca highlights well.

Barrio Carlos Fonseca is a settlement of approximately 1,500 inhabitants and about 180 households in the South-East of the city. The neighbourhood has little to distinguish it from other poor neighbourhoods in the area, except for the fact that the pista Cardenal Miguel Obando y Bravo extends through it. The pista is a four-lane highway that cuts East-West across South-Central Managua, and was built in three stages for a total cost of US$5.6 million, or about 10% of the Managua Municipality’s budget.

The first two stages of building the pista in 2006-07 involved widening and improving pre-existing roads. The third stage, in 2008, involved literally bulldozing throughbarrio Carlos Fonseca. This affected 40 households in the neighbourhood: 16 houses were completely destroyed, and 24 were partially destroyed. The details that emerged about this process from interviews that I carried out in the neighbourhood in 2009 suggest that there was very little consultation, differential compensation, and also likely instances of corruption. None of this is very surprising, however –political clientelism is a well-established practice in Nicaragua, as is corruption, and undermining possibilities for organized resistance through “divide and rule” tactics makes eminent sense.

The consequences of the pista’s construction for local barrio life have been devastating, however. Many of those whose houses were affected but not completely destroyed have found themselves living in cramped conditions. In one case, there were 19 people living in 3 rooms instead of the 6 they had previously had. Only 3 of the 16 families whose houses were completely destroyed accepted re-location outside the barrio, and the Municipality re-settled the rest in a baseball field in the neighbourhood, providing them with materials to build houses that were generally not as spacious or solid as their previous ones.

The baseball field had moreover until then constituted a primary focus for neighbourhood socialization, and the re-settlement consequently eliminated thebarrio’s primary area of public space. As a local inhabitant called Don Victor told me: “Where are the youth supposed to meet and play ball now? They used to get together in the park all the time, and we’d all gather to watch them, and you would be able to chat to other inhabitants of the barrio. Now you just talk to your neighbour, and even then, hardly ever, because everybody stays locked up in their homes due to the crime and insecurity, so it’s just hello and goodbye whenever you’re coming or going…”

The pista also literally cut the barrio in half, significantly changing local attitudes and behaviour patterns. As Doña Angelina explained: “you go less to the other side, you don’t see people anymore, there’s no exchange… If you go to the other side, they say to you, ‘but you’re from the other side’, which never happened before, we were all from barrio Carlos Fonseca, now it’s like you have Carlos Fonseca 1 and Carlos Fonseca 2.”

Although negative views about the new road were widespread, there simultaneously existed a clear acceptance. A local youth called Mungo for example responded to my critiques by saying “hey maje, this road, it’s progress, and you can’t stop progress, we’ve gotta keep on moving forward to improve things in the city…” Similarly, Doña Angelina once told me: “you know, I don’t mind living next to thepista. It’s beautiful at night, when it’s all lit up. There are no street lights in the barrio, but here yes, and so you feel that here you have progress, you know.”

Such discourses reflect a socio-psychological process of “pacification”, in the sense developed by Norbert Elias in The Civilizing Process, wherein he traces how the assimilation of a particular discourse can condition the world view of individual social agents in ways that lead them to conform. Individuals become “psychologized” into a dominant value system, even if it is oppressive and unequal, and Doña Angelina or Mungo had clearly internalized a vision of Managua’s infrastructural development that led them to believe in the inevitability – and indeed, the necessity – of transformation, irrespective of its negative impact on their lives.

When viewed from this perspective, a case can be made that Managua’s makeover constitutes a case of what might be termed “infrastructural violence”. This goes beyond seeing infrastructure simply as instrumental to instances of oppression and domination, but rather considers it as intrinsic to a broader regime of injustice. In other words, the issue here is not so much that political economy and infrastructure are inevitably interrelated, but rather the way a particular articulation of the two can come together to purposefully produce outcomes such as “pacification” in barrioCarlos Fonseca.

This is important because much recent writing belonging to the so-called “infrastructural turn” has adopted a view of urban infrastructures as complex “assemblages”, that is to say highly contingent, unplanned, and often temporary material configurations. This arguably obscures the way in which infrastructural development can constitute an intrinsic basis for oppressive forms of domination in cities. The concept of “infrastructural violence”, on the other hand, provides a lens through which to capture this. When seen from such a perspective, Managua’s makeover emerges unambiguously as a deliberate reengineering of metropolitan topography by an urban elite aiming to both segregate and manage the poor in the city. Both in terms of intent and consequence, such a pernicious process merits being labelled “violent”, but doing so also squarely situates blame and responsibility, and as such is the first step towards trying to transform this profoundly unjust reality.

This article was first published on OpenDemocracy.net (8 November 2011)

Explosive urbanism: fifteen years after 15/6

by Kevin Ward.

Manchester City Centre IRA Bomb

Image: Greater Manchester Police


It is a sunny Saturday morning in the centre of Manchester. I have just arrived into the city and I am heading from the bus station in Piccadilly Gardens to the train station. It is a ten minute walk. England are due to play football against Scotland at 3pm at Wembley, as part of Euro96. I have a ticket for the game against the Netherlands on the Tuesday. There are helicopters overhead. Why, I wonder. This normally only happens late at night when the police take to the skies. People are talking about the helicopters as I step off the bus, and begin to make my way, slowly, around the periphery of the Gardens. I am almost at the end of the street and about to turn right, to walk up to Piccadilly train station. Strange. The Gardens seem unusually busy. Last renovated in the 1970s they are not the sort of gardens you would want to spend too much time in, especially at night. Then there is a bang, a loud bang. A bang the like of which I have not heard before (or since). And then there is a hush. It is unnerving. Manchester city centre is never this quiet. And then there is noise and lots of it. People are screaming. Shop alarms are all ringing. And there is smoke where there shouldn’t be. I pause. Piccadilly Gardens is getting busier. I turn and walk to the train station. I know something has happened. I don’t know what. I figure I will find out soon. I do. My train is delayed by an hour. Not an uncommon occurrence of course. However, in this case the train instructor informs us this delay is due to an ‘unforeseen event’ in the centre of Manchester. Trains are unable to enter or exit the train station. People look at each other. No one says a word. A bomb has gone off in the centre of Manchester…

15 June 1996 and its aftermath

It is now fifteen years since a large explosion ripped through the heart of Manchester city centre. This was before New York and 9/11 and the images that accompanied it. It was before London and 7/7, the subsequent bombing in Madrid, and the more general growth in counter-terrorism urbanism. The viewing public was shocked by the scenes. Smoke was rising upwards while buildings were falling downwards. People were unsure where to run to, but had concluded that it was better to run than to walk. The three and a half thousand pound IRA bomb, left in a white van at the junction of Cross Street, Corporation Street and Market Street brought devastation to the surrounding area: literally creating a space. But what to do with it? In the immediate aftermath Manchester City Council, together with others, set about talking up the opportunities created by the destruction. While only a handful of buildings were structurally damaged, those in charge of the city would not be limited to pure necessity. They had their eyes on a bigger prize: a wholesale revalorization of a swathe of the centre.

The impetus for remaking the city centre wasn’t new or solely a result of the bomb; Manchester had already been undergoing redevelopment. To the south of the centre Hulme and Moss Side had been rebuilt. Nearer the centre, a series of new apartments had been built in Castlefield, next to the canal. All around the city centre old and disused exchanges and warehouses – remnants and reminders of the City’s industrial past – were being converted into apartments. New builds were emerging, as the price of land in the centre and to the south of the city continued to rise sharply. Gentrification was at full throttle. The ‘Northern Quarter’, adjacent to the centre, and the ‘Gay Village’ to the south were being constructed as sites of cosmopolitanism and difference, open and tolerant and ripe for marketing and exploitation. The City Council together with other city, regional and national agencies had taken a lead on the revalorization of the city centre and neighbouring areas. Capital had begun to return to the city, and people were not far behind it. That was the point. Those governing the city already knew what kind of city they wanted: theirs was a model borrowed in part from elsewhere but partly a product of Manchester.

Yet, some areas of the city centre had not kept apace. At the time there were concerns about what to do with the Arndale Centre. A prime example of all that is great about modernist architecture to some it may be but to many others it was viewed as an absolute eyesore. Next to it Shamble Squares was considered to be a magnet for social undesirables. Their behaviour, together with that of the alcoholics, the punks and the others that gathered there day in and day out was considered a threat to the project the Council was overseeing. Piccadilly Gardens, right in the centre of the city and organised loosely around a set of public gardens, showed signs of neglect. You took your chances if you walked through it at night. I was chased more than once by a group of alcohol-charged youths. That they failed to catch me said more about their drink consumption than it did about my turn of pace! In a flash at 11.15 on Saturday 15 June 1996 the future of each of these sites became up for grabs.

No sooner had the dust settled – literally – than plans were afoot to undertake a significant redevelopment of the retail core of the city. This unfolded over the following months. Speed was of the essence. The Trafford Centre was nearing completion in the neighbouring borough, and Manchester City Council were keen the city retained its share of what Harvey (1989) terms ‘the spatial division of consumption’. That it did and over the subsequent decade and a bit saw almost unbridled growth, as Manchester created a niche for itself as the regional retail centre. And the Council’s ‘silver lining’ story stuck. The following is not uncommon amongst those who write now about the city centre: ‘The IRA did the city a favour by forcing large-scale rebuilding of an area spoiled by the bad retail architecture of the 1960s’. So, the Council successfully packaged the post-Bomb redevelopment as an opportunity to radically overhaul the city centre, allowing them to pursue a narrow and aggressive consumption-driven agenda.

15 June 2011 and the current situation

Fast forward and what sort of city centre does Manchester have? Well it is one that certainly looks better. It consists of, amongst other things, cleaned up Victorian buildings, some new funky architecture, the odd piece of greenery, and a sprinkling of ‘public’ spaces. The core is punctuated by expensive clothes retailers of many sorts. It is awash with designer names. It has a Selfridges together with a Harvey Nics and the largest Marks & Spencers in Europe. It is also not possible to go far without coming across a bar, restaurant or pub. There is no shortage of hotels, at both the lower and the higher ends of the market. So, those consumer tourists who visit Manchester have somewhere to store their purchases, and don’t have to stumble far after a night eating and drinking. The Arndale Shopping Centre continues to be gentrified, although it may have reached its limits on that front. It retains a notional nod to its working class roots, while a growing proportion of its outlets seek to capture more of the middle class market. Piccadilly Gardens has been completely re-sculptured. There is now a water feature in the centre, and it is both a bus and a tram stop. At the corner of the Gardens is a large development, consisting of offices and bars and restaurants. This is an altogether more private ‘public’ space. As if to reinforce this, the area is now under the auspices of CityCo, a public-private partnership responsible for managing the city centre. This arrangement is emblematic of a new culture of ‘authoritarianism and control’ according to Anna Minton (2005: 40).

Piccadilly Gardens_EH Smith

Image: E H Smith

CityCo and its approach to urban ‘public’ space perhaps embodies the kind of centre Manchester now has in 2011. It is one made in the image of residential and retail consumption. The core is a business, the city centre an experience to be packaged and sold. It is about stakeholders (or is shareholders) rather than citizens. The over reliance on residential consumption was brought into sharp relief recently. The over-supply of apartments that had accrued in the preceding decade left the city centre housing market horribly exposed as the economic winds of change blew through the city during 2008 and 2009. Many apartments simply could not be sold and a series of incomplete building sites remain testament to how quickly capital can flow out of a city. When the sums don’t add up, capital cuts its losses and runs. While many bars and restaurants have remained viable businesses during the recession, others have not been so fortunate. Empty outlets have begun to pop up around the centre.

Whether the city centre model pursued so vigorously by an alliance of the City Council and various representatives of capital is robust and resilient enough to survive the next couple of years is a moot point. On a number of indicators those in Manchester are set to get a whole lot poorer. With more public sector employment cuts on the horizon and a private sector that is just about muddling through the omens are not good. And remember, this is already a city that is one of the poorest in the UK. Perhaps that is to miss the point however? Maybe the City Centre we have not is not for the citizens of the city. Somewhere along the line it was wrestled away from us and we did not even notice. The Council together with a number of other stakeholders placed all their bets on a particular sector of the economy, a decision which raises questions about the Centre’s very sustainability.

The Centre seems to be for those who come from elsewhere, those who can continue to engage in one form of conspicuous consumption or another. For sure the city centre remains busy. Are people spending enough money though? Perhaps out of the next couple of years will emerge a realization that there should be more to a city centre than consumption? A rebalancing to the debate might open up the possibility for a reinsertion of ‘the public’ into the city, as problematic as that term remains. We live in hope.

Harvey D (1989) The Urban Experience. John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, Maryland.
Minton A (2009) Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty First Century. Penguin Books: London

Multicultural cities don’t matter; continuing ethnic minority disadvantage does

Chinese Lanterns outside Manchester Town Hall

Dr Yasminah Beebeejaun is a lecturer in spatial planning interested in urban planning and equality.

Cities are the most visible places of difference that we have. As the world’s population becomes increasingly urban we live alongside people of different nationalities, ethnicities, sexualities and socio-economic circumstances. While this diversity has the potential to heighten conflict, it is equally possible to imagine that cities can be places where difference is mediated and even enjoyed. Manchester, for instance, enjoys a far more positive and cosmopolitan reputation for ethnic relations than neighbouring towns, such as Oldham and Burnley.

However, what concerns me is not simply the existence of difference and diversity in cities, but the ways in which that difference is represented. Just because people of different cultures physically inhabit a space does not mean that it is automatically a place of toleration or freedom. As a planning academic, I know that both city marketing and official plans acknowledge difference; but they often do so in a way that venerates ethnicity, yet divorces it from other concerns.

Planners have a tendency to give a great deal of attention to participation: they worry about getting minorities to collaborate in policy-making, or about recognising physical manifestations of difference through spaces such as the ‘Curry Mile’ or ‘Chinatown’? Along with many great planning ideas, this approach is well intentioned but flawed. The problem is that it sees minorities through a prism that sets cultural diversity as the most important difference affecting them. While race and ethnicity are hugely important, they cannot be divorced from wider political claims about representation, power, and equality. In other words, cultural difference is important, but cannot be separated from pressing issues of social, economic and political exclusion.

The result is that our cities fetishise and commodify conceptions of ethnic identity, whilst downplaying the gaps in power and socio-economic status. Though urban policy in the sixties worked to ameliorate racial discrimination and related economic disadvantages suffered by minorities, today’s policies do not recognize the structural and institutionalized nature of racial discrimination, and therefore fail to engage with its economic and political consequences.

In Manchester, this blindness to the importance of institutional representation can be seen in the membership of the Local Economic Partnership. LEPs are new, important bodies, which will guide economic development, housing, employment and other key infrastructure decisions in the city-region. They consist of local authority spokespeople and businesspeople, but excludes representatives from the voluntary or community sector. The Fabian Society recently sounded an alarm, noting that LEPs seemed to have negligible numbers of ethnic minorities on board (Sloane, 2011). Manchester’s LEP is no exception: it would seem none of the current members are from an ethnic minority background. What is more, the LEP’s focus on an agenda dominated by fiscal cutbacks has allowed it to drop a commitment to equality from its agenda altogether. In a climate where only 10 of Manchester City Council’s 96 councilors are from a visible ethnic minority (Manchester City Council Website), we should worry about the impact of this lack of institutional presence at every level of decision making.

To make matters worse, the situation of disadvantaged, ethnic minority communities has deteriorated in recent months, due to the effects of reforms enacted by the Coalition Government. These threaten to exclude minority communities not only from membership of political and administrative institutions, but from having a say over their own communities. The Coalition’s sustained attack on the planning system has put the future of communities in the hands of local people with the potential for limited planning powers to be given to local areas. While this sounds democratic, in practice it will work to the advantage of wealthier communities who are capable of developing their own neighbourhood plans and accustomed to representing themselves in the public sphere. Poorer communities, and particularly those with a large proportion of people from ethnic minorities, will struggle as professional technical expertise and funding has to be provided from the community.

Since their inception, cities contain potential for realising human happiness; but equally for human misery. Valuing cultural difference will only be credible when explicitly related to ending discrimination and increasing the political voice and power of minorities. Manchester must cease to view ethnicity in isolation from economic and political issues, and instead put itself back at the forefront of a movement that is capable of mounting a coherent attack on economic disempowerment, racial discrimination, and political exclusion.

Manchester City Council, Councillors by Name, Available at [http://www.manchester.gov.uk/councillors/name] (Date accessed 3 June 2011)
Sloane, N (2011) ‘How the Tories are embedding inequality’ Fabian Review, pp.20.-21

Urban Policy – Stone Dead or Just Resting?

The Petshop Sketch - Monty Python's Flying Circus

Professor Brian Robson is co-director of the Centre for Urban Policy Studies at the University of Manchester. Here he talks about the changing role of urban policy and what kind of future it may have.

“Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now.” The jury seems largely agreed that, like the Monty Python parrot, urban policy is no more. The hand of Pickles has killed off what had been one of the fixtures of English policy for over forty years since the Urban Programme was first announced in 1969. Some of the more obvious indicators of the death of urban policy are the abolition of RDAs, the abrupt termination of Housing Market Renewal, the closure of The Northern Way and the inevitable weighting of public-sector cuts on deprived areas. Whatever is left nailed to the parrot’s perch is no longer what we professionals have come to know and love as urban policy.

But there are, as ever, counter arguments. If the bird is dead, it was a lingering death that began under the last administration, for example with the abolition of the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit or with the replacement of the broad-ranging Neighbourhood Renewal Fund by the narrower job-related Working Neighbourhoods Fund. Both of these reflected the rather unconvincing document of the Labour administration’s final ‘regeneration framework’ which took on board many of the arguments from the siren voices at LSE that broad-based spatial targeting of deprived areas was a waste of resources. And, of course, there are powerful arguments that all the panoply of area-based programmes and regeneration structures achieved rather little over the long term – regional disparities grew ever more pronounced, the map of deprived neighbourhoods stayed obdurately unchanged, and the only unambiguous winners were the handsomely-paid bureaucrats who administered and delivered programmes and the researchers who evaluated their impacts.

So, if it is debatable whether the new administration has single-handedly brought about the death of urban policy, what have we now got? First there is a strong case for saying that things are merely on hold, that dormancy dominates – whatever new structures or concepts have been put in place, we will not know if they are fair and effective until there are realistic resources that can be spent on them. At the moment, in the absence of significant spending, any policies, programmes or projects must necessarily look threadbare. Who can tell whether Local Enterprise Partnerships will work well if they have no money to spend; or whether localism is a concept to stir the soul of communities if the voluntary sector faces disproportionate cuts? Given the admitted need for fiscal prudence such dormancy may be here for some time.

Hence, an unfashionable view might be that rather than castigate the coalition for its destructive forays into urban policy we need cooler heads to evaluate the plausibility – and, in practice, the likely effectiveness – of the new structures and policies that continue to emerge from the new administration.

An example is the abolition of RDAs and their replacement by LEPs. This is hardly the disaster that many pronounce. The RDAs increasingly became swollen bureaucracies as they took on the delivery of more and more functions; it was hardly a plausible way of addressing regional disparities to create nine RDAs covering the whole country and with identical briefs to maximise growth – and, as we all know, in practice disparities increased; their assumption of responsibility for deprivation never really looked convincing; and their boundaries made little sense in terms of mapping economic entities – and ironically most worked to a sub-regional geometry focused largely on the major cities. So, I have no regrets at the decision to abolish the RDAs. My one regret is that The Northern Way was a consequential casualty (regret because it had begun to articulate a forceful case for the North and offered a powerful reinforcement of the advocacy role of the Core Cities). The LEPs may have been scrambled together too hastily and in too great a vacuum, but I have little doubt that they will increasingly begin to trace out a geometry of functional economic areas and prove a potent framework for making good locally-informed decisions. And, of course, they build on the eventual slow conversion of the previous administration to the merits of a city-region perspective and the formal declaration of greater Leeds and Manchester as city regions.

The recent outcome of the Regional Growth Fund has proved an interesting rebuttal to the advocates of RDAs. Finance for the RGF is far less than were the budgets of the RDAs, but under the chairmanship of an astute old hand at urban policy, Lord Heseltine, the resources for the first round have not only significantly increased but they show much more regional discrimination towards poorer areas than was ever achieved by the RDAs. If the estimates of consequential job creation are right, then of the 28,000 new direct jobs, 67% would be in the three northern regions and no less than 89% in these regions and the West Midlands. And if the private sector has been the major beneficiary of the RGF allocation this is an understandable function of the sensible aim to boost private-sector growth in those areas which are disproportionately reliant on the public sector.

So, rebalancing the economy – both in terms of regional growth and private-sector investment – appears to be on track and likely to become an important element of a new emphasis in urban policy. And, even in the absence of RDAs, in practice it is clearly feasible to marry the national, regional and sub-regional scales in order to address socio-economic problems.

Second is the far less easy case that can, as yet, be made for the notion of localism. The coalition has rightly been lambasted for the emptiness of what the concept might mean and for the fact that much locally volunteering already exists in countless communities. Were the concept to take root the danger is that it is the more affluent areas that would be more likely to benefit unless there were some form of overarching structure that could ensure a degree of fairness. Localism needs to be tempered with some wider form of oversight, but perhaps this may evolve as one of the roles assumed by LEPs. Nevertheless, the aim of injecting a firmer sense of social responsibility seems an admirable one and, of course, it picks up much of the rhetoric of the previous administration – devolving down to the lowest feasible level and strengthening local communities.
However, until realistic resources are available to facilitate and leverage a greater sense of local and civic involvement the jury must remain sceptical.

There are enough promising strands in the coalition’s evolving series of policy announcements for us to hold fire for a while. Unlike the Python sketch, it would be unwise to bash the parrot too hard in case it really does have some life that we might kill off. For those of us long in the tooth who have seen the cyclical fluctuations of urban policy over its astonishing forty years, we have grown used to the circus of what goes around comes around. Many however may be too young to have so world-weary a view of the oscillations of policy – or indeed to be aware of a Flying Circus sketch that was first performed in the very year that the Urban Programme was launched.