Victory in a debate… (now with podcast)

For once the tables were slightly turned. There was an RIBA debate on whether the UK ‘urban renaissance’ really happened. Curious idea, and a bit like being at school. But it was between Roger Madelin (Argent plc) and Fred Manson (formerly Southwark LB) on the one side and myself and Austin Williams (in effect an anti-authoritarian architect) on the other. The chairman initially took a vote and found 3 on our side and everyone else, with some abstainers, on the other. But in the end we won by 42 to 41 so clearly it was possible to sway some opinion and I was enouraged by that.
Austen Williams argued that the UR was an authoritarian, demeaning, anti-human project which sanitised and subrbanised urban life; I argued mainly on its capacity to worsen impoverishment. My argument is here as a PDF and the whole thing is posted as sound files at
One of the issues was the hoary old one of the alleged need to dilute concentrations of working class people in council estates by injecting some owner-occupiers. Roger Madelin pressed this point strongly, sketching the belt of deprivatioon running from the Angel across the north of central London all the way to Paddington, interrupted only by Regent’s Park. He used exactly the same phrases as Terry Farrell does in his lecture about the Euston Road. He drew a parallel with the concentrations of poverty which had led to riots in Paris. I resisted this as strongly as I could, arguing that London’s segregation was on a much finer grain than Paris’s, that what he sees as a threatening belt of poverty is actually far more diverse than he believes it to be and that, anyway, it is no help to poor or deprived people to further reduce their access to urban space by ‘regeneration’ or ‘renaissance’ of the kind he seeks.

Author: Editors


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