Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Living Space

'Battlefield' is the name I gave the City Stadium on the edge of Shieldfield and Heaton affording recreational space and fine views over Ouseburn and the Tyne towards Gateshead the south. The 'battle' was to ask our Council (in the late 90s) to think again about building a 1300 space car park over the 'site'. At that time I learned that this piece of greenery has no status as 'open space'. Due to history – it is actually landfill – it cannot be built on as far as I understand so the Council, or, rather, the Council's permanent officials have sought to 'do something with it'. Fortunately they haven't and recent cash-in-hand from government that helps our Council keep its large direct labour force in work meant the creation of a cycle track. The unexpected consequence has been to create er, a park. In 1997 it looked much less so than nowadays. So good things come to those that wait.

Perhaps. The latest threat is to all such informal public accessible spaces in our cities and towns. As Councils face the reality of Austerity 2.0* they have been compelled to think of all kinds of innovative ways to give away pblic spaces up to and including parks and gardens. It might be that going for a walk will involve a ticket or season ticket quite soon; and that casual 'knock up' tennis will put you back a few quid.

Meanwhile, even cities are getting in on the act. Newcastle has still, despite the Curse of Eldon Square, a walk able city centre and byways across town. But some of the newer developments have pedestrianised whole areas. Northumberland Street east of John Dobson Street past City Hall is essentially the property of Northumbria University who have smothered it in corporate business street furniture dross and bling. Other areas are being turned in 'Quarters'. This is a really bad sign. Personally, I feel anyone who thinks in terms of Quarters in a city this old is an addict of fake news and should be helped.

The Guardian is pointing out in  useful way what is happening. True some tidying up and separation of walkers (revellers) and traffic is good. But is coming at a price?

A link to the Guardian online article here. It's very London focussed but unfortunately grabbing formerly public space for a corporate possession and therefore possible exclusive uses, is not confined to London.

The image above is of the quasi open space, Granary Square around the corner from The Guardian's own offices in King's Cross. They know of that of which they write.

* I lived through Austerity 1.0 (1945 –)

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Economic Consequence

Two timely posts in one.

First, Save Newcastle Wildlife (off site link here) have made no further progress on getting Newcastle and North Tyneside Councils to face up to their plans to destroy or undermine prime local habitats with aspirational house building and playing fields. Explanations as to how these schemes fit in with previously expensively compiled master plans larded with bold declarations are awaited.

Secondly, a superb article by the ever readable and sane Rowan Moore on the 'studied decline' of a precious national asset (and exemplar to the wider world) being thrown under the bus by the Austerity process. (Full article here). Two governments and, perhaps, a third one currently have pursued an economic policy that has run down the public aspect of national life almost to nothing.

In 1919 John Maynard Keynes wrote the hugely influential The Economic Consequences of the Peace that described the outcomes of financial ignorance overruled by political ideology as leading to disaster and the probability that this in turn would return the world of catastrophic war in twenty years. I do not for a moment suggest an apocalypse will result from spec building and trashing our city parks; but the short sightedness of the policy has a crushing familiarity. Obsession with one factor and ignoring all others – or even that there might be an alternative to the current policy of avoiding accidents by cutting off one's own feet.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Exit stage left pursued by a bear

The 'jungle' that is Jesmond Vale and the dark and mysterious Ouseburn in this high Summer heatwave.

Slide show here (off site link).

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lofty motives

It looks like the entrance to smart offices, maybe a headquarters building. It is student apartments.

It seems a week doesn't go by in Newcastle than another apartment block is slated to 'open its doors' this year or next. Is there a sustainable demand? Well that's not quite the point. The spur is investor's looking for a safe bet for hot money.

The Guardian explains all here. (Off site link.)

Bubble I hear you mutter? The sometime top comment under the Guardian piece was this puncturing analysis.

'By the time there's a puff-piece in the Graun, you can be sure that what is actually happening is that incumbent investors are trying to offload to the dumb money. Adverts have started to appear that market single rooms to investors, in the same way that hotel rooms were sold to wide-eyed investors the last time there was over-capacity in the hotel industry; this is a sure-sign that cracks are starting to appear in a 'must-have' investment.
If you really want to do a deep-dive on this industry, then maybe ask how the debt-financing of developers is being guaranteed by state-financed student loans; the short-term cash-flow of the developer is thus rock-solid because the defaults are pushed twenty to thirty years out and borne entirely by the state. Remember that the only thing that is now unacceptable is capitalism for capitalists.'

My emphasis added. I imagined something like this myself when the bubble began to inflate; perhaps I should branch out into financial journalism? ... On line gambling? (Don't!)

More on Newcastle's 'Klondike' student housing bubble here (Off site link: The Evening Chronicle.) The comments below this article are worth reading. My own impression is that students are bringing very little vibrancy and life to the district; with en suite super fast broadband, why would they bother to go out and mix with the local colour? Snacks to keep them going are delivered to the plate glass entrances of these humble villagers pads by Deliveroo cyclists. The developers are, if anything, pushing diversity and variety out of Ouseburn and Shieldfield.

Portland Green Student Village looks nothing like a village. It looks like a collection of corporate dwellings one might expected a distribution hub and warehouse design and build company, Metnor, to have built, which is exactly what has happened. The village is now owned by some hot rods from Asia. Putting up Newcastle's bereft and clueless city planners against such people is like letting children play on line gambling ...

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A New Leaf

Timely article. Two mature trees have just been felled in my street and I have the uneasy feeling a mixture of enforced privatisation of street tree maintenance and pre-emptive action against 'lawfare' may be ushering in a wave of public tree felling.

The wonderful Ian Jack writing in The Guardian explains why we should value our public trees.

Read it in full here. (Off site link)