Politista – From Family Estate to Housing Estates: Mixed Community or Social Cleansing?

Amongst the current crop of homogeneous, Savile Row frontbenchers, it increasingly appears that the old-fashioned democratic ideal of actually listening to what the electorate wants is becoming less and less en vogue.

This is no news to any of you I’m sure – between the repeated attacks on junior doctors, repeated attacks on the disabled and repeated attacks on the ability of just about anyone who isn’t exactly like them, it’s not hard to tell that David Cameron’s crew of cronies don’t give a shit about what you think of what they’re doing to you.

Whilst these are all hugely pertinent issues, one that managed to rile me so much – probably because I have a huge obsession with urban architecture which confuses and bores my housemates in equal measure – is Zac Goldsmith’s ill-informed and massively elitist opinions on high-rise housing in London.

In backing Create Streets, a programme that champions low and medium-rise housing instead of tower blocks, Goldsmith has (inadvertently?) also championed a doctrine that demonises the architecture so associated with those on low incomes and paints a picture of the post-war social housing model as something inherently antisocial.

Create Streets describe one of their goals as ‘encouraging mixed communities’ through the building of low-rise housing, something that despite its apparently non-partisan nature appears to sail pretty closely to the wind of Blairite thoughts on deprivation.

In a Vice article on the neoliberal attacks on council housing, it states that 73% of the post-war Aylesbury estate in Walworth voted against its demolition, despite Blair’s condescending view of its residents as ‘the forgotten people’.

In practice, it can be argued that the idea of mixed communities – something admittedly altruistic in theory which echoes sentiments of multiculturalism and diversity – is more akin to social cleansing. The bonds created between sometimes lifelong residents of large-scale housing estates can be seen time and time again to be a creative force for social inclusion in the face of less social housing, rising rents and benefit cuts. A mixed community in a Britain so obsessed with class that a form of housing is intrinsically linked to the outdated notion of the Jeremy Kyle-esque ‘chav’ is impossible. Living next door to someone who grew up with a pony is not going to automatically forge supra-class bonds.

Goldsmith is mistaken. To alleviate the social stigma and poor quality of high-rise housing estates, demolition and replacement should be the last port of call. A Conservative Party which sees fit to wage war on the poor, blaming them for their own lack of cultural, social and economic capital in the face of their repeated policy failures is speaking out of its arse if it’s talking progressive housing policy.

Goldsmith and his band of high inheritance, low intelligence boarding school boys can’t wage class war one day and propagate mixed communities the next without sparking the suspicion of a heap of Londoners, who’ll hopefully see through the smugness to finally end the Tory mayoral reign.

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