Monday, September 07, 2009

Interview: Anna Minton

I recently wrote a piece for the Morning Star on 'Whose land is it anyway' on the privatisation of public space. During the course of researching the article I came across Ground Control author Anna Minton. I put some questions to her on how the places we live effect the lives we lead.

Who wouldn't want their neighbourhood regenerated? It sounds like a very positive thing to happen!

It's a question of how it's done. Transferring the ownership and control of streets and public spaces from the local authority to private developers is not at all necessary for regeneration. This is a new model which has only crept in over the last decade.

Is this a privatisation of public space?

This model transfers public places into private ownership, ensuring that they become private property in the same way that someone's house is private property.

The consequences of that is that it is up to the owner, rather than the government, to decide who is or is not allowed in and what they are allowed to do there. Hence, what we are seeing is the proliferation of rules and regulations in the new private estates, banning all types of behaviour from skateboarding and rollerblading to political demonstrations and handing out leaflets.

Do you think the recession will impact this tendency?

I see the recession as an opportunity to take stock and question whether or not this property led model of regeneration is the best way of changing our towns and cities. It's a model based on property price speculation and debt, which was one of the main drivers of the financial collapse.

One of the things I like about what you're saying is this intersection between physical space and our social psychology. How important do you think the shape of our towns and cities are in forming social cohesion and even democratic involvement?

Critical. When large parts of the city prohibit people going about their spontaneous business, let alone engaging in political activity, it goes without saying that inhibits the democratic process. It also violates the principle that places should be governed by democratically elected representatives rather than private developers whom nobody elected.

As to the relationship between our physical surroundings and our psychology, that is one of the main themes of the book. My argument is that the increasing emphasis on private security - guards, gates, CCTV - that comes with the new private places do not create safer environments but actually increase fear and paranoia.

What can we do to resist and then take back our cities?

We need to realise how important it is that streets and public spaces remain in public hands. This is very much a new trend, following American policies. It is very uncommon in the rest of continental Europe.

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