Frustrating, busy, stimulating, unproductive…

…week or two. Lots of stimulating things which it would have been good to write about, but then on to the next so there was no time. And than a really bad cold which made it hard to play a full part in an INURA meeting. Still here are a few jottings for the record. Skip this post if you are just looking for serious essays. Two weeks ago a fascinating afternoon eavesdropping on Louis Moreno interviewing Rupert Nabarro of IPD in connection with his (Louis’s) PhD. A lot of critical depth on the stupidities of the real estate field; how values get driven by floods of money in pursuit of asset value growth; how little profit is actually made by developers: it’s the subsequent investors who (sometimes) make money. Strong and interesting emphasis on the role of fees and fee-earning as a driving force in the whole system. We got on to the low grade of most of the ‘research’ in property and thus Rupert and I fell to talking about Honor Chapman whom both of us had known (more anon about her). It will be vey interesting to see what Louis makes of all this.

Off to Athens for a meeting of the INURA NMM group which is people from 63 cities (not all represented at this workshop) mapping main trends in their cities on a standardised format and following a conceptual framework in which Lefevbre and Christian Schmid had strong hands. I went mainly to see old friends whom I’d missed by not going to the last big meeting, but also hoping to get inspired to pull together a serious London contribution. The London maps so far are pathetic by comparison with what the other cities did, and it was really only Mark Saunders and his crew at Spectacle who did anything at all. I seemed to be confined to bed for part of the time, shivering in the Athens cold but am glad I went. The collective work on the mapping issues seemed to go well and now I can try and rally some of our great volunteering students in an informed way to work on London. The project will clearly now have an increased emphasis on the crisis. Hitherto the Swiss leadership in the project has found it a bit too easy to overlook the dire situation… We did tend to tease them about having no crisis, and they agreed that their city was on the other end of it: receiving the money in flight from elsewhere. Not everyone was aware that the Swiss central bank had proposed negative interest rates on deposits by foreigners to avoid excess capital inflows!

photo of meeting
Inura workshop in progress

It was strange being in Athens in these days when the nation state is basically being told to hand over its sovereignty to the IMF/EU/ECB. Discussions about all that were rather muted. Dina Vaiou commented that the much-vaunted Greek extended family, famous as the nearest there is to a welfare system, has now come under so much stress that it can hardly play that role any more. It depended on at least someone in the family having a secure job and/or pension; it depended on small family business at least ticking over. All those things are now finished in most cases and people are exhausting their savings too. It is desperate. Homeless people keeping warm round burning pallets in the square at Exarchia. The Mayor trying to close soup kitchens on the grounds of health risk! But at the airport plenty of happy rich families coming and going with skis. (The airport, the highway Attiki Odos and metro linking to the city – all of course built by German firms and (check this) still generating rent for them under PFI.)

That reminds me: strangely every single advertising hoarding between the city and the airport (and they have lots) is now blank – not just blank but papered over white… Pictures at Advertisers not paying their bills? Hoarding company bankrupt?

Back in London, our course on community participation in metropolitan planning resumed and we had an excellent session on participation procesess in London with inputs from Robin Brown (Hillingdon) Richard Lee (JustSpace) and Barbara Lipietz (DPU) and some good small-group discussion on what the priorities are. Jennifer was away at the AAG in New York.

Finally finished marking the essays by 54 students in the Planning Practices in Europe module which, this year, I have been doing with Elena Besussi. It has been going well and the students have mostly written good essays but 54 is a monster (virtual) heap to get through so it has been great to be able to share it. One unplanned highlight was when students expressed a strong need for a session on ex-communist countries, a topic on which neither of us is expert. Elena and I both hustled round for a speaker and we both found one within an hour of so (such is London). Thus it was that a week later Tauri Tuvikene from Tallin and Paul Hildreth, expert on Georgia, Ukraine & Albania both spoke – and triggered an excellent, very nuanced, discussion. It provoked some good critical thought even among some of those not pre-disposed that way…

Saturday 25th I suddenly decided to stop pruning apple trees in the garden and go to the inauguration, in a tunnel under Waterloo station, of My Fair London. This is a London branch of the trust based on Wilkinson’s and Pickett’s Spirit Level, focussing on Ken v Boris v Jenny v whatsisname but with some interesting borough-level initiatives including Islington. I mentioned about the importance of challenging Boris’s proposed Alteration to the London Plan which re-defines “affordable” housing in line with the coalition’s vicious new rule: 80% of locally-prevailing market rents. We have until 23 March to object. If the change goes through there will be next-to-no leverage to get social rental housing at (genuinely) affordable rents in planning agreements or Borough plans or in development schemes, and no monitoring data to gaugue the further dwindling of the stock. The London Tenants Federation response is here as a good model. and the document itself Early minor alterations to the London Plan is here, skulking behind this legalistic and misleading title.

The meeting had a high proportion of white middle-class but, as Sue said when I made the comment, I’m one of those myself.  But it was cheering to find NO familiar faces at all (except Deirdre McGrath from LCF).  Had the same experience a few weeks ago at a Compass/NEF meeting and that always makes me optimistic: it’s not just the same little group.  [ And talking of little groups we had some glee on Twitter today over the Daily Telegraph’s report that just 6 people (from SWP) were behind the flight of corporate retailers from the coalition’s  #workfare scheme. Are they paranoid or complacent or both? ]

Trying to find time to get a new and permanent Just Space web site up and running, to sit alongside the old one which will be frozen as an archive on the London Plan 2009/11 process. Purchased a nice new domain for it ( but haven’t yet managed to get the domain registrar to point the traffic to the new site. So for the moment access is via the old site. James from Wards Corner Community Coalition is helping.

Finally King’s Cross. The Development Forum voted to work towards becoming a ‘Neighbourhood Forum’ under the Localism Act so we have been having committee meetings and a lot of emails… We’ll see whether people want to go for it. Follow the story on the Forum blog.


Grafitti outside the immigrant centre, off Exarchia in Athens, where Inura met.

In these moods I haven’t had enough energy for serious blogging. But I have been busy on Twitter – which seems to suit me. I can just about get 140 characters out and enjoy the compression. But most of my friends aren’t there and I appreciate those who are. I do it as @michaellondonsf if you want to play. I find Twitter good on Greek situation, Occupy and the crisis. Now all the dreadful things we have been predicting in recent years are coming to pass so I have started using the hashtag #ToldYouSo – though it shows no sign of catching on yet.

Tomorrow I have to pluck up courage to do a critique of the “London World City” discourse for the LCF web site (Deirdre asked) and for other purposes + work on the Just Space response to the London Plan Implementation Plan. (Later: I did the second (here it is), not really the first: it got stuck.)

Author: Editors


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