Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Makers and loosers

Two articles about subjects close to my own thoughts appeared in the newspapers this week.

Clive Aslet, "Editor at large" for Country Life magazine writes in The Daily Telegraph (19.01.2011) about the crushing weight of money and shortsightedness at work in town planning that some had kidded themselves had gone away.

Aslet writes: "The centres of decent towns like Kettering were flattened to provide new shopping centres. Terraces of artisan houses, where residents knew their neighbours and the children could play on the street, were torn down, with the families being repatriated to urine-scented tower blocks. Birmingham sacrificed its civic pride to the motorcar, its triumph proclaimed in the intertwined knot of access roads that is Spaghetti Junction."

"Today, most of us would breathe a sight of relief that such vandalism tends to meet stauncher opposition. But there are still a few dinosaurs to be found bellowing in the corridors of Britain's town halls. One of them is Councillor Len Clark, of Birmingham's planning committee. Having learnt little from the traumas of his city's past, he's had a go at the likes of The Victorian Society and English Heritage, calling them "middle-class idiots" for daring to stand up for a row of 19th-century and Edwardian villas".

However, Mr Aslet's final paragragh is over optimistic. If things have improved it must be simply that bad cases await us further down the road when money is available; and in any case, many towns have precious little left to knock about.

Read it all here.

Last Sunday's Observer carries an article on another theme of my posts, the eviction of artists' whose self-organised investment in neglected city spaces is taken over by property investors' pimping for a clientele who are art-groupies of a sort, but only up to a point ... The point being the low or no rent artists' need to be told to get out, having served their purpose. This tactic (something more deliberate I feel than mere phenomenon) is familiar to a few. However, as the head of one soon to be closed government urban regeneration quango here in north east England once told me to my face, artists' were collectively little more than perverts. Useful perverts apparently, when it comes to attracting money. The example of this tactic highlighted by the Observer happens to be in Berlin, but as I have pointed out here, it goes on around the world.

The wonder is that artists' don't yet seem to get it either and play along with these reptiles in suits until, bang! There goes the neighbourhood.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shields Road Byker

Shields Road in Byker sweeps up hill from the impressive Road Bridge over the Lower Ouseburn. The bridge has featured before in these blog pages if only as a platform from which I could photograph the valley far below. The Ouseburn cuts sharply through sandstone to reach the Tyne, creating what was once perhaps an impressive gorge rather than valley, dividing the city into east and west. To the east Byker atop its own hill has seemed almost a town inside a city, distinct and, until the dreaded 70s, untouched.

More on Byker then, another day.

Recently, I wandered up this steeper than it looks road after a heavy snow fall, photographing what remains of some impressive 19th and early 20th century architecture. Equally impressive has been the late drive to maintain and renovate these fine buildings whenever possible. Shields Road thrives for some reason, despite the main shopping centre of Eldon Square and Northumberland Street being but a short bus ride over the bridge. Shields Road is an example of 'native loyalty' in action then, that and an instinct for a bargain! Renovation of the main road to assist pedestrians and some improvements to local facilities have helped restore commercial confidence.

Shields Road however demonstrates a melancholy fact: Newcastle over the gorge to the west might have also been restored and renovated instead of being swept away by demolition lorries during the architecturally deadening 60s and 70s 'boom years'. I present this slide show as proof that a sense of place and a feeling for community can and does work.