It’s gentrification by any other name, helping councils to force out tenants and decimate public housing
“Placemaking” wrenches social housing communities away from their homes because they don’t fit in with the developer’s dream. It’s heart-breaking.
Writer and academic Anna Minton describes how “placemaking” involves creating “‘innovation clusters’ – ideally featuring a university, commercial space, shops, restaurants and perhaps an art gallery, all alongside luxury apartments”. The fizz of culture and luxury are a cocktail that few deep-pocketed developers can resist. But this commitment is almost always to the detriment of social housing tenants, who are shooed out of the way. When the radical Hungarian architect Ernő Goldfinger designed the well-known Balfron Tower in Poplar, nearby in east London, he did so with the tenants in mind. He put all the bedrooms on the eastern side of the building so residents could enjoy the sunrise, while balconies are on the west to take in the sunset.
Yet those enjoying the personal touches of the tower are now doing so at sky-high London rents. Poplar HARCA, the housing association that manages the homes, started “decanting” residents from the property in 2008 saying that they would “possibly but not probably” have a “right of return” once the refurbishment was complete. Not a single one did. This decision to let all the flats at market rates coincided neatly with Poplar HARCA’s plans to regenerate the nearby Chrisp Street market to “create a thriving town centre”.
Elsewhere in London, Southwark’s council’s decision to demolish the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and surrounding homes to make way for a new university campus will likely result in a loss of social housing and significantly decreased space for local businesses. In all these cases, the social tenants were treated like cattle, herded elsewhere with minimal consultation about their wishes. What is left unsaid is the apparent attitude that they should just be happy to have a roof over their heads at all.