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Advances in Art and Urban Futures Volume 4
By Malcolm Miles, Tim Hall
Intellect LtdCopyright © 2005 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
Cultural Ambiguity in an Urban Development Master Plan. Deception or Miscalculation?
'Culture' is the latest buzz word in urban planning. In the British Prime Minister Tony Blair's popularised version of politics, the former Tory emphasis on Heritage Britain has been replaced with New Labour's Creative Britain, whereby the creative industries are marketed as the major source of economic expansion' (GLAb, 2002:5). Bringing culture to the people is a favourite theme of New Labour (a neologism of the Labour government elected in 1997 with Tony Blair as Prime Minister). The creation of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the establishment of the Greater London Authority (GLA) were two initiatives aimed at distinguishing Blair from his predecessors. Whereas Margaret Thatcher had been responsible for dismantling the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1986, thereby putting an end to strategic planning in London and diminishing the government's attention to the arts, the GLA hopes to readdress these issues. It unites the thirty-two London boroughs and the Corporation of London. It is composed of an elected mayor, Ken Livingstone, and a separately elected assembly. The Mayor is responsible for strategic planning in the city. Lately, culture has had a vital role to play within urban regeneration schemes. It is marketed as important in tackling crime and social exclusion and in restoring the nation's failing health. Livingstone, like his former Barcelona counterpart Pascual Maragall, is using culture- led regeneration schemes to project himself as powerful and reforming. In many ways, theorizing around culture has also been substituted for the former public arts dialogue. These days culture has a tough reputation to live up to.
Livingstone has devised a number of strategies for improving London, amongst them the Culture Strategy, published earlier this year. He has also drawn up a proposal for the first London-wide masterplan for twenty years, the Draft London Plan. Both the Plan and the Strategy are still in draft form and are currently being reviewed by inspectors. It claims that the '[d]esignation, development and management of cultural quarters can help address the need for affordable workspace for creative industries, provide flexible live/work space, encourage clusters of activity and provide a trigger for local regeneration' (GLAa, 2002:207). This comes under the section heading of 'Development and Promotion of Arts and Culture' (GLAa, 2002: 206) which deals with the development of cultural quarters, in particular in deprived areas, where they should be 'sustained by the planning system and supported by wider economic and cultural development initiatives' (GLAa, 2002: 207).The Plan is to replace the regional planning guidances, the Unitary Development Plans(UDP), that each borough devises for its area. It will provide general design and planning guidance with which local boroughs are expected to produce plans in 'general conformity' (GLAa, 2002: v).
But what exactly is culture? The Culture Strategy makes it clear that it is 'about culture in its broadest sense, encapsulating areas as diverse as creative industries and sport, green space and museums' (GLAc, 2003: 1011).Within anthropological discourse, the idea of culture is more or less interchangeable with the activities of daily life. The Strategy claims to promote a diverse and varied culture but it offers only a monotone prescriptive culture by its focus on venues, events and contrived cultural quarters. Whereas previously culture was reserved for the middle and upper classes, now it is sold as accessible to all classes who have more spending money and more free time. The theory behind this notion of culture accessible to everyone is that it is a basic 'right'. This implies, however, that it is only the prescribed entertainment and associated licensing laws and infrastructure, the planned culture, which is accessible as a right. In turn, this can mean the loss of spontaneity within real life authentic spaces. Already in the late forties, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer used the term 'culture industry' to designate the products and processes of mass culture, which they held responsible for producing cultural homogeneity and predictability (Storey, 1993: 100). Today, culture has become synonymous with entertainment for the masses, yet it is promoted as a vehicle to improve London as a 'world-class' city.
The government pays homage to access, diversity and excellence in its mission to recreate London as a world-class city of culture. In a climate where the definition of culture is becoming more and more elusive, culture in its many guises has infiltrated most aspects of our daily lives. But culture is contested. Anthropologists have been tackling the idea of culture since they began studying the practices of other peoples and societies. In the initial stages of the discipline the idea of culture was straightforward. It was something that could be studied, described and even judged. It was the 'other'. Now, culture is seen not only as a way of living but also as the source of the explanation, the reason why people act and live and think as they do. Whereas anthropologists might recognize that an understanding of culture as habit, beliefs and traditions might indeed aid in resolving society's problems, the government's adamant marketing of the benefits of culture is of a narrower definition. Even within anthropological discourse the definitions of culture vary. Generally it is viewed as either being vernacular, as something which cannot be understood from outside its own realm, or as a universal law, similar to a language. Despite its insistence otherwise, the government is primarily concerned with culture as 'high art' but wants to bring it 'down' to 'the people'. Culture is something you do. Ultimately, it is something consumed, whether it be visiting an art gallery, going to an event or joining in a sports activity.
Culture is also valued as a supposed catalyst for regeneration. The object of regeneration is economic, social, political and cultural renewal. Urban regeneration is defined as the 'comprehensive and integrated vision and action that leads to the resolution of urban problems and which seeks to bring about lasting improvement in the economic, physical, social and environmental conditions of an area that has been or is subject to change' (Roberts and Sykes, 2000: 17). Both the London Plan and the DCMS view the arts as offering a major contribution to neighbourhood renewal. The former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith, maintains that the 'five principal reasons for state subsidy of the arts in the modern world [are] to ensure excellence; to protect innovation; to assist access for as many people as possible, both to create and appreciate; to help provide the seedbed for the creative economy; and to assist in the regeneration of areas of deprivation' (Smith quoted in Selwood, 2001: xlvi). This is reflected in the proposal that all boroughs should produce Creative Strategies (GLAb, 2002: 49) and in the DCMS insistence that the arts in society should not only contribute to neighbourhood renewal but should be accessible by as many people as possible (DCMS website). However, measuring the arts is problematic, in terms of governmental demands for accountability and excellence and of a demonstrable contribution to regeneration.
Regeneration exploits the city's wastelands and fringe. The dispossessed are marginalised, as are the artists who attracted the developers to the locality in the first place. There is a concern about who will benefit from regeneration schemes overall. Urban planners have a tendency to adopt a moralistic tone and equate redevelopment with social benefit (Deutsche, 1996: 66). This echoes the rhetoric used as an alibi for imperialism. 'If culture is to be protected ... is it not precisely from those whose business it is to protect culture?' (Owens quoted in Deutsche, 1996: 291). Instead, urban planning should pay more consideration to issues relating to the real conservation and preservation of the environment. To what extent urban regeneration is actually culturally led is not clear. Much of the money comes from the European funding system which focuses on the arts infrastructure and limits direct intervention. It is concerned with regional aid and large-scale projects for economic gain. This is not arts planning but regional economic planning (Evans, 2001: 216).
The East End has been selected as 'the priority area for new development' (GLAa, 2002: 8) according to the forthcoming London Plan. It has a high proportion of artists, immigrants and refugees but maintains a position peripheral to the wider society. There are several schemes, however, to integrate it into the mainstream, both physically by railway and tube extensions and symbolically by the development of 'cultural quarters'. The creation of cultural quarters is merely a kind of cultural branding. The Brick Lane area, for example, is promoted as 'Banglatown', referencing its large Bangladeshi community, or as 'Eastside' in an attempt to market it as the eastern 'West End'. However, the surrounding Stepney remains one of the poorest areas in London with severe drug-related issues and problems with integration into the wider society. The East London Line Extension (ELLX) caused a dispute over the planned demolition of the old Bishopsgate Goodsyard. It is a structure dating from the mid-nineteenth century which remained closed for over thirty years after a fire only to be rediscovered by recently evicted businesses (Spaces, 2003: 3). It is one of the inner city's lost spaces but developers have now been given the go-ahead for demolition. The plans for an East London tube extension have existed since the Broadgate redevelopment in Moorgate in the eighties (Selwood, 1996: 99).
The East End is also heavily affected by the 'Gateway to the Continent' programmes, originally initiated in the early nineties by Michael Heseltine, a cabinet minister to Margaret Thatcher. Two artist collectives, SPACE (Space Provision, Artistic, Cultural and Educational) and Acme, were established in the seventies. They allocated studios for artists in properties earmarked for demolition or resale, leased to them temporarily by the GLC (Wedd, 2001:142). The eighties property boom and changes in the legal enforcement of tenants' rights led to Acme moving into ex-industrial spaces, frequently in the East End because of its manufacturing and production history. But both SPACE and Acme and the artists they support have suffered at the hands of government promotion of culture. In 1972 the St. Katherine's Docks studios were sold to allow a hotel-complex redevelopment. In the late eighties the massive Carpenter's Road collective sponsored by Acme had to yield to a 'Gateway to the Continent' venture, namely, the Stratford Cross-Channel Rail Station (Wedd, 2001: 146). One of the more recent downsides of urban regeneration with respect to the arts can be seen with the demise of the initially Arts Council(ACE) funded Lux Centre in Hoxton Square. In four years it reputedly ran up a huge debt, leading to closure (Art Monthly, 2001: 15). Like St. Katherine's Docks and Carpenter's Road, it is a prime site for redevelopment.
The area around Spitalfields Market is facing a similar fate. The site is owned by the Corporation of London but its Tower Hamlets location gives the borough a say in determining its future. Tower Hamlets opted for redevelopment, sacrificing cultural diversity and tradition. Half of the old Horner Market-building has been demolished to give way to an office block designed by Norman Foster, to create 'desirable' public space (SMUT website). That the office block should have been designed by Foster comes as no surprise either. Amongst other projects, he has redesigned the controversial Great Court of the British Museum and won the competition for the equally problematic Millenium Bridge. His most recent project has been the transformation of Trafalgar Square, completed in July 2003, and he is a contender for the masterplanning of the Olympic Village. Six prestigious architectural firms are chasing the redevelopment contract, most notably: Herzog and de Meuron, Richard Rogers Partnership and Arup with, once again, Foster and Partners. Herzog and de Meuron are wellknown for the Tate Modern redevelopment at Bankside and for the Laban Dance Centre in Deptford; and Richard Rogers Partnership for the Dome. 'There can never have been a moment when quite so much high-visibility architecture has been designed by so few people. Sometimes it seems as if there are just thirty architects in the world' (Teedon, 2002: 56). The other half of the market is in the hands of Ballymore Plc, whose proposed redevelopment would impose a shopping mall and Camden pastiche street market, with exorbitant market-stall prices ousting traders and leaving nothing but chain-store retail outlets. This is allowed to happen despite the Plan's specific intention to '[e]nsure that local communities benefit from economic growth and are engaged in the development process' (GLAa, 2002:.10). Ken Livingstone has admitted that the renewal scheme 'will alter the social fabric of this unique locality', but will 'increase the supply of office space'(ESa, 2002: 22). Spitalfields is a prime example of the current conflicts between regeneration and the local community and the elusive role played by culture.
'The Mayor strongly supports an Olympic Games bid based on the lower Lea Valley in the Thames Gateway. This deprived area of East London is a priority area for the Mayor and his economic arm the LDA. Work is already underway to prepare a master plan for the potential Olympic infrastructure and transport in a way that will ensure the wider regeneration of the area' (GLAc,: 52).The Olympic Village will lead to increased privatization and rob the area of large open spaces. The site for the 2012 Olympics will not be decided until 2005, leaving seven years for preparation of the venues. This halts any other possible plans for the area. However, if, in fact, the Lower Lea Valley has been identified as an area in need of regeneration its renewal should not be dependent on a bid to host a large event. If London does get the Olympics, there will be issues of displacement and cultural homogenization, followed by problems of subsequent sustainment: tourist interest may be short-lived, leaving behind a high-profile master planned Olympic Village running up huge debts and maintenance costs. The Olympic Village runs the risk of becoming the new Millenium Dome. The Dome's architect, Richard Rogers, is Ken Livingstone's chief architectural adviser. Originally, it was a Tory initiative, promoted by Heseltine. In the 1997 change of government, New Labour decided to continue the Millenium project. It quickly became an expensive white elephant. The master planning creates superficial versions of real local culture to market to tourists and to aid in the promotion of London as a 'world-class' city.
The planning of arts and culture has existed for as long as the planning of towns and cities themselves, from the Athenian polis to Haussmann's Paris, but exactly which ones are worthy of planning programmes vary over time and space. It is assumed that planning results in positive change and that culture is a progressive catalyst for urban renewal. The origins of the current emphasis on culture-driven urban renewal are in the free-market revolution of the seventies and the discovery of the 'inner city' as a political issue. By the late sixties Britain's manufacturing economic base had fallen into decline, there was growing poverty and mounting racial tensions. Previously urban renewal had been concerned with regulating urban growth and providing housing away from the slums, on greenfield sites. By the seventies, however, the focus had shifted to new economic development and the revitalization of decaying inner cities. In 1968 the Urban Programme, administered by the Home Office, was introduced as a means of focusing on the needy areas of inner city slums. A few years later the Department of the Environment (DoE) took over responsibility for urban policies. A more economy-based view of urban deprivation was developed which abandoned the previous social- welfare approach (Roberts and Sykes, 2000:29). During this period the modernist plans encountered popular resistance, for example in Covent Garden, where the plan was accused of designing to 'blanket the area' (Hebbert, 1998: 84). The Greater London Plan was devised in 1976, and revised by Ken Livingstone in 1984. It sought to revive London's manufacturing base.
Excerpted from Interventions by Malcolm Miles, Tim Hall. Copyright © 2005 Intellect Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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Table of Contents
Introduction Malcolm Miles,
Part One – Policies and Strategies,
Cultural Ambiguity in an Urban Development Master Plan: Deception or Miscalculation? Tania Carson,
Opening up the Symbolic Economy of Contemporary Mumbai Andrew Harris,
Monuments and Monkey Puzzles: Public Art in Bristol Alastair Snow,
Bürger Meister: New Tactics for Shrinking Cities Friedrich von Borries and Matthias Böttger,
Part Two – Projects,
Urban Image and Legibility in Kings Cross Ben Campkin,
Cargo Esther Salamon,
On the Edge: the Visual Arts in Remote Rural Contexts of Northern Scotland Anne Douglas,
I Fail to Agree Andy Hewitt and Mel Jordan,
Going Public: Strategies of Intervention in Lithuania Laima Kreivyte,
Instruments Laurie Palmer,
Part Three – Evaluations,
A Comparative Evaluation: Projects in Exeter, Barcelona, London, Tyneside Sarah Bennett, John Butler, Nicola Kirkham and Malcolm Miles,
Public Art in the City: Meanings, Values, Attitudes and Roles Tim Hall and Chereen Smith,