The future

I have to prepare a talk for a history conference, with an eye on the future. Comments and help welcome.

[Later 9 Feb, I did the talk but now have to convert it into a text.  Really hard to do the talk in 30 minutes. The slides will be here when I can get it small enough to upload.]

The conference is called WINDOWS UPON PLANNING HISTORY. My title was given to me first as Windows on Community Movements in the UK, later as Opening new Windows on Power Structures in the UK but then I submitted an abstract and gave it a new title:

The mirror as a window: what can today’s oppositional practices tell us about future history?

The future is both hard to know and—for planners—our normal milieu. We should be confident and at home in the future.

This paper considers the strands of opposition and resistance to the neo-liberal (and post-political?) orthodoxy governing the planning of London, especially resistance to the intensified pressure on the housing conditions of low- and middle-income people which promises a substantial clear-out of these people from expensive parts of London and, indeed, from London as a whole. Shall we look back and see this crisis as something which, without resistance, ‘re-purposed’ London as a place just for the educated and the rich or as an ideological project so violent as to challenge the balance of power?

This is speculation based on some years of work with citizen groups challenging London Plans in formal arenas. One inspiration is the Australian historian Hugh Stretton who, in his 1972 Captalism, Socialism and the Environment, foresaw so much of what is happening.

Talk will be based on a re-working of a 2010 blog post here

1. What will the history of 21st C London look like if our rampant neo-liberalism persists?

What’s happening now?

The current crisis can be seen as

First: long trend since the late 1970s for the wages share in GDP to fall and the profit and rent shares to rise.  Essentially a class perspective on the struggle for control of the social surplus. (chart?)

Second: the growth of credit which has enabled workers’ consumption to grow while wages don’t (as shares of GDP). (charts)

Third: the strong growth of income inequality and wealth inequality in most countries and especially strong in UK.(charts)

Fourth: the flows of money capital in Europe increasingly into acquisition of assets whose value will rise – or can be made to rise, not least by the flow of money itself, swollen by credit.  Housing, land and real estate have been major recipients of these flows, especially where scarcity is enforced in one way or another through the practices of the development industry and the planning policies being pursued.  Thus the UK and a fortiori London and the South East have had the most extreme experience – for most of us that means the worst.

Fifth: environmental degradation and global warming

Market value of tangible asets in UK (from ONS data)
Market value of tangible asets in UK (from ONS data)

The crisis which was triggered in 2007 is thus not seen as primarily a financial crisis but as a particular moment in a long class struggle. The attacks mounted on the social wage by Labour before the election and by the coalition since the election are thus interpreted as another blow in the same struggle.  For workers in the middle and bottom of the income distribution and who are not established owner-occupiers these cuts are experienced as another blow to their survival.

Keeping this perspective–this kind of consciousness–alive in the face of the prevailing orthodoxy has been an enormous struggle (like Fahrenheit 451) in the face of the hegemonic discourse of neo-liberalism and it’s much to the credit of the EiP panel members that these voices have found a place in the Examination in Public of the DRLP.  It’s also much to the credit of the LSE that the London Group has welcomed my deviant narrative on citizen participation in the London Plan into its recent little book (2). As universities become more and more focused on the international luxury market, our community-facing activity has to be treasured and expanded. (Move this para.)

The specific experience of London in the pre-crisis period saw rapid population growth through national and international migration, rejuvenating the demographics and leading to a surge of growth through births to this young population exceeding deaths. The immigration has been at all education levels and has probably helped keep wages down, in at least the bottom half of the earnings distribution. Earnings (and unearned incomes) at the high end are very strong in London through the concentration of very high paid jobs and of global elites.  Londoners faced some of the highest reproduction costs in the world for both housing and transport.

What can we expect in coming years?

2. What resistance, what contradictions, could disturb those tendencies?

Bottom-up resistance: tenants, un-housed, powerless, social movements,

Just Space linking these + some NGOs/ green and other campaigns

London Citizens, mobilising churches, mosques etc and low-paid

groups not yet much organised: tenants in HAs, PRS; unemployed

spatial dimensions: which localities likely to produce challenges?

Sections of capital being screwed in the crisis (employers affected by staff reproduction costs, tenant businesses affected by rent regime, space shortage)

Could formal “politics” play a part?  parties and so on.

Reflection on likelihood of all this coalescing as significant change.

3. So what?

Author: Editors


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