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Cultures and Settlements
Advances in Art and Urban Futures Volume 3
By Malcolm Miles, Nicola Kirkham
Intellect LtdCopyright © 2003 Intellect Ltd.
All rights reserved.
Cultural Planning in East London
The city does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand Italo Calvino Invisible Cities, 1979 (p13)
In volume one of this series, Sally Morgan contrasts two Bristol characters - Protestant dissenter Sir William Wills, aka Baron Winterstoke of Blagdon, and tagger-graffiti artist 'Lewis the True Baron' (2000). Divided by a century, and at opposite ends of the socio-economic scale, both changed the urban landscape, illustrating how resistance to an urban order takes multiple forms: Baron Blagdon commissioned a statue of the radical Whig MP Edmund Burke for a prominent public space in the city, much to the affront of the Bristolian social elite. In the 1990s, graffiti by 'Lewis the True Baron' disrupted the city's iconic landscape. Both engage with the memories and meanings of place.
This chapter extends the theme of contested memory and meaning in urban landscapes by examining cases of cultures related to patterns of settlement in east London – a set of neighbourhoods with complex social histories, recently subject to programmes of renewal and regeneration. Urban renewal and regeneration implies not only a given urban order but also an 'improvement' on it, though this may misjudge or misplace local meanings and attachments to community and place to create the preconditions for resistance. The contemporary pattern of settlement in East London is fluid; actively transnational communities live alongside refugee populations and entrenched indigenous groups. These communities sometimes collide but more often than not slide past one another to create a collective urban landscape in which the imprint of regeneration has become dominant and where signs of resistance bubble under the surface.
The act of settling has material and cultural dimensions, whether in a locality or within a community based on shared interest, social class, ethnic identity, or lifestyle. The acquisition of material goods is paralleled by the absorption of social norms and values. Each place or group devises its own means of belonging and the processes of becoming settled in a place or social group (or both) creates cultural complexities. Movement from countryside to the city, within and between cities has been overlain by migration between nations. The term 'settler' also has connotations of colonisation, or of acts of economic and geo-political encroachment. In today's cities, the socio-economic factors that lead certain social or ethnic groups to live in spatial proximity also leads to the growth of residential and social segregation when areas are identified with particular groups (Marcuse, 2002). Processes of settlement in inner city and suburban zones have recently regained the interest of cultural geographers, urban designers and sociologists (Crang, 1998; Jordan-Bychov, 1999), as well as policy professionals. In Sennett's view, the physical grouping by social and ethnic quartier creates 'empathy for a select group of people allied with rejection of those not within the local circle ... creat(ing) demands for autonomy from the outside world, for being left alone by it rather than demanding that the outside world itself change. The more intimate however, the less sociable' (Sennett, 1986: 266). Settlement in the past inferred a new residential location, particularly of a previously vacant area of land, though in practice vacancy was either enforced or imposed by colonisation, state-sponsorship, or gentrification. In some cities, such as London, gentrification is now the prime agent of social and spatial change, replacing both incremental population movements and the extremes of late nineteenth and mid twentieth-century interventionist planning and urban redevelopment. Industrial change and structural employment shifts combined with modernisation programmes, particularly road building, are therefore the other major contributors to the changing physical and social profile of urban settlement in advanced economies.
Cities at any historical moment represent the accumulated cultural and physical layers of settlement – in poorer neighbourhoods this history is often recorded through successive waves of inward and outward migration, leaving its mark on the built environment. Buildings and their uses change – from methodist hall to mosque, bagel shop to balti house (Evans, 2001). Local population change reflects inter-regional, familial, inter-generational ties, the ebb and flow of employment, transnational demographic shifts and property development over time. Market demand and macroeconomic factors are important influences on patterns of intra-urban settlement as are the constraints and opportunities created by heritage planning, conservation practice, planning policy and transport infrastructure development (Evans & Shaw, 2001). All of these factors, alone or in combination, influence the attractiveness or otherwise of a neighbourhood. Despite the nostalgia of the urban village, to ring-fence a locality is often an abstract, administrative or marketing device used to inscribe a specific identity (of a ward, borough or parish) for political or cultural/tourism ends. Such boundaries identify areas for intervention through public investment programmes such as regeneration initiatives, but seldom reflect a meaningful social or cultural identity. Nonetheless settlements that have been created over time through successive rounds of migration and patterns of investment and dis-investment possess complex senses of place (Massey, 1994a) encapsulated in memories of social relations, activities, landmarks and spaces of collective participation (Keith & Pile, 1993; Cohen, 2002).
This urban complexity and historical layering distinguishes the settlement of inner city areas from suburban and outer metropolitan developments. Suburban expansion, outer metropolitan development and new towns have culminated in Edge City development expanding the city horizon through greenfield and planned urbanisation. This kind of settlement more neatly (some would say, too neatly) fits into the town planners' map of what the city ought to be - differentiated by function and traditional hierarchies of 'need'. These greenfield sites and new town settlements allowed the utopian masterplanners to play out their experiments in spatial form and urban designwhich the old industrial cities had largely frustrated. As Jencks observed: 'masterplans were drawn up with the city parts neatly split up into functional categories marked working, living, recreation, circulation ... inevitably these mechanistic models did not work; their separation of functions was too coarse and their geometry too crude to aid the fine-grained growth and decline of urban tissue. The pulsations of a living city could not be captured by the machine model' (1996: 26). Edge Cities can be interpreted as offering 'monocultural' consumption based living, as well as the appeal of gated, safe havens, leaving behind the city's residual, less-mobile communities in near ghetto neighbourhoods.
The focus of this chapter is on an area of inner-city settlement marked by the density and mobility of its population over several hundred years, which has experienced most forms of post-war intervention in its physical and social fabric redevelopment, renewal and regeneration. Stepney is in the urban core of London, sited on the fringe of the City. Its social and physical landscape today bares the imprint of many different social settlements – Huguenots, Jews, Bangladeshis, Somalis. It is overlain by a landscape of regeneration and is currently touched by the edging in of new landscapes of gentrification – commercial and residential. Stepney played host to continuous immigration in pre-industrial and especially in late-industrial eras, areas identified as multicultural workshops – from sweatshop to workspace – housing the highest proportions of minority ethnic communities in London and the country as a whole.The tendency for working-class communities to live close to where they worked meant that when Jewish immigrants settled in these low-cost working areas, property rents in neighbourhoods such as Stepney went up in the 1890s by 25% (10% for London as a whole). Stepney was the neighbourhood with the highest concentration of Jewish migrants, with declining housing quality and overcrowding (Feldman, 1989) which went against the trend in other inner urban areas at the time. A Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1889 found general agreement that pauper immigration is an evil and should be checked, while Charles Booth (social reformer and the author of Life and Labour of the People of London,1902) contrasted the East End worker's situation to that of the recent Jewish immigrant: 'He [the worker] is met and vanquished by the Jews fresh from Poland or Russia, accustomed to a lower standard of life; less skilled but in a way more fit, pliant, adaptable, adroit' (1904). Today, the presence of cheaper housing means that districts like Stepney continue to receive new immigrants and refugees alongside established settlers. However, Stepney's location close to the City of London, coupled with the reversal of deurbanisation in the 1990s, contributes to new pressures which have increased local land values as inner city dwelling becomes attractive again amongst the professional classes (Robson & Butler, 2001). Acceptance of past representations in the built as well as social urban landscape supports a sense of diversity. Marx distinguished between the concept of heritage which he saw as encompassing all historic and style periods and social formations and tradition h is an aspect of the former. Usually, social and physical heritage and urban memory are contested in interpretation so that: 'the wealth of ideas consolidated in the public mind, ... requires a choice, acceptance and interpretation of the heritage from the point of view of certain classes, social layers and groups' (Andra, 1987: 156).
A social class standpoint creates a loaded interpretation of local culture and urban settlement, particularly when notions of heritage and tradition are blurred (or purified) and public and private agencies label areas for city imaging and marketing according to heritage, ethnic or cultural stereotypes – as in Banglatown(Tower Hamlets), Curry Triangle(Birmingham), Little Vietnam(Hackney) and ubiquitous Chinatowns. Labelling and place-marketing may, however, be divisive, and bears little relationship to settlement histories which created enclaves of mutuality such as Little Italy (Clerkenwell, London) and Little Germany(Bradford).
Despite the attention devoted to inner urban areas in decline, in some localities there is a persistent failure of past and present efforts at social and economic improvement. Partly this is the inability of intervention to change the lifeworlds and opportunities of local residents, partly it is a consequence of the inherently unequal economic structure of cities. In these circumstances poverty thrives. However, some of this failure emerges from a cultural mismatch between the goals of redevelopment, renewal or regeneration, and local aspirations and capacities. In areas like Stepney this has been heightened by urban regeneration regimes, public and private, which overemphasise physical re-development and generic employment training, while minimising social and cultural development. It is particularly evident when property-led initiatives focus on flagship projects with income generating and visitor economy potential but little local regenerative power.
Recent regeneration initiatives that draw upon the 'creative' and 'rich-mix' assets of multicultural neighbourhoods are also proving divisive. It has been claimed that multicultural communities provide a vibrant backdrop, encouraging the self-motivating and innovative enterprise that underpins the regenerating possibilities of the 'creative city' (Worpole & Greenhalgh, 1999; Sassen & Roost, 1999).This multicultural urbanism represents a positive manifestation of cultural diversity and serves as the infrastructure of 'cultural quarters' in which retail and restaurant consumption, events/festivals and visitor destinations thrive. Yet multicultural neighbourhoods also carry a legacy of uncertainty. Indeed Lord Rogers, who chaired the government's Urban Task Force, emotively labels whole swathes of inner London as a 'powder keg'. This presents a paradox of neighbourhoods with a high concentration of ethnic minority communities and high indicators of deprivation, in close proximity to sites of conspicuous cultural consumption. Whilst providing experimental playgrounds for cosmopolitan urban culture they are also sites of urban stress. Both Rogers and other advocates of the 'creative city' (Landry, 2000; Hall, 1998) propose interventions based on forms of colonising settlement – such as the 'reclamation' of brown field sites, canalsides, and local markets which facilitate gentrification by appropriating space for new urbane experiences based primarily on consumption. These strategies do little to alleviate unemployment and urban distress, which are peripheralized.
However, alleviating this distress is firmly rooted in another form of East End settlement. This history of intervention is an established part of the urban memory and landscape of the inner city. In this context the term settlement was used to mean a group of social reformers from a college or other institution who established themselves in a poor or crowded urban district to provide education and recreation for local inhabitants. These groups, earlier identified with the rational recreation and temperance movements of the Victorian period (Quakers and Methodists), pre-dated municipal provision of recreational and cultural amenities such as libraries, parks, swimming baths and wash-houses. They represent an important element in the local cultural landscape, still evident today in community centres, schools, colleges, working men's associations, crafts guilds, museums and arts centres. Some are still identified with and endowed by their original foundations (East End Mission, Oxford House, Oval House, Toynbee Hall), others have been absorbed into mainstream institutions (colleges/universities, local councils), such as the East End's own short-lived People's Palace(Evans & Foord, 2002; Weiner, 1989). The legacy of the cultural and social institutions and the activism of settlement volunteers form a crucial part of the story of the East End. It also marks the emergence of a new form of governmentality that prioritised improving self-governance (Foucault, 1991; Gordon, 1991). Over the past century this form of governmentality has influenced local movements to clean up music halls and pleasure gardens, 'convert' Jewish migrants to Christianity and 'integrate' Bangladeshi communities into post-industrial urban society.
Multi-cultural Britain, in its industrial cities, is stereotyped by academics (Power, 2001), politicians and the media alike by high rates of unemployment, poor health and housing, a perceived lack of social cohesion and the occupation of some of the environmentally poorer areas of their former industrial quarters. Layers of established and recent migrant communities often co-exist, exacerbating strains on public facilities and amenities and perpetuating the image of such areas as dependent upon government programmes. Indeed the extent of deprivation and de-generation is a prerequisite for eligibility for national and European structural intervention programmes where public funding is based on a 'basket' of deprivation indicators. In public policy articulated though urban, social, as well as cultural manifestos, today concern for the socially excluded, or rather, concern for the costs - direct and 'opportunity' - borne by the included, can also be conceptualised as the search for a more positive embrace of cosmopolitanism. This classical term has shifted in meaning since its representation of empire and city-state and therefore of military then trade-based expansion. Sennett (1986) identifies the cosmopolitan with the rising bourgeoisie and construction of public space in the eighteenth century, and with coffee-house society (see also Burgers, 1995: 151).The term became perjorative in the nineteenth century, as anti-nationalistic (Hobsbawm, 1990), and again today in the context of the recent rise of far right, anti-immigration movements in Europe.
Excerpted from Cultures and Settlements by Malcolm Miles, Nicola Kirkham. Copyright © 2003 Intellect Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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