Flash Point: English Cities Ablaze

9 Aug 2011 - Viewpoint

By Yasmin Shariff 9th August 2011

Our cities are being held to ransom by thousands of disaffected youth. Commentators are all going on about the paucity of police but perhaps they should be looking at the physical and social conditions that are a catalyst for this type of anger which vents itself in such an ugly manner, reports Yasmin Shariff, director of DSA.

There is no mystery about the frustration urban youth in English cities are experiencing or the lack of opportunity and cuts that affect them directly.  There can be no excuse for the looting and destruction that has taken place, but neither can there be an excuse for ignoring the underclass and worse still exploiting them. The cost of investment in building decent affordable neighbourhoods with accessible housing, healthcare and schools is miniscule to the cost of the damage we are now facing.

Regeneration schemes have made a difference where they have offered an opportunity to the under privileged, but these projects should not be confused with developments that displace the urban poor. Riots in new regeneration areas point to the schism where ordinary people cannot afford the new peoples’ palaces‐ the £160m regeneration in Dalston by Barratt Homes for instance boasts residents gym, 24hr concierge, buzzing public square, shops a library and a 2 bed apartments will set you back £350K . It can be little surprise that these regeneration areas are being torched. As long as these kids are trapped in the poverty of their circumstance riots such as the ones we have seen will continue to erupt. What we are experiencing are the consequence of policies which pander to big business and line the pockets of bankers, developers, pfi companies, academies and other private organisations at the expense of the public purse.

Flash Point: English Cities ablaze cont…………

The urban youth are street wise‐ they are no fools. They can access information and communicate with great dexterity. How many of these rioters come from decent homes and how many have been educated in decent schools that do not leak, that are warm secure and welcoming? How many have a chance of getting a decent job or even a decent meal? How many are stranded in housing estates that have been poorly maintained and where community support and facilities are being run down and closed? Whilst estates like Pembury remain ghettos for the underprivileged where the environment is hostile and Parker Morris space standards seen as a luxury there can be little hope of change. Even if they do get into a newly built or renovated school their chances of getting a job are pretty slim.

How many research studies does it take to realise that good design and good governance are key? From the ashes there is an opportunity to regenerate these areas of deprivation imaginatively and offer hope to those communities that have been traumatised. The last thing we need is to replicate what was there. There is an opportunity to mend fences and channel the energy and vitality of these youngsters productively. The reconstruction needs to be sensitive to the problems of those who have lashed out‐ not an opportunity for yet more developer greed squeezing every centimetre of space out of stacking living coffins or cashing in on PFI contracts. It is not possible to fudge good governance any more than it is possible to pretend that imitation dolls houses represents good architecture or that sheds will do for schools and hospitals. The new urban phoenix needs intellectual room to spread its wings and not caged in puerile ‘Poundbury’ or Tesco‐toon. This is the time to engage the talent of the profession to transform these areas so that we can harness the talent of our youth and stop alienating them.

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