My recent link to Michael Rosen's article about the Dalston project for Socialist Worker prompted a fascinating and passionate comment thread, embracing most of the competing arguments about how best to bring prosperity to inner-city neighbourhoods. I'm now working on a piece for the Guardian examining those arguments a bit more closely, and invited Jules Pipe to offer a quote or two by way of defence against Michael's criticisms. He ended up doing a little more than that and, with his blessing, I reproduce it in full below.
The other year I attended the opening of Gillett Square in Dalston. Formerly a run down car-park and prostitutes’ haunt, the site had been transformed by the then Mayor of London’s 100 Public Spaces project into a vibrant urban square with the new Vortex jazz club as its anchor tenant and small retail units for local businesses. Hundreds of residents gathered to celebrate, and seemed genuinely bemused by the bedraggled handful of protestors huddled in the corner of the square carrying banners accusing myself and Ken Livingstone of "regenocide." To the majority they were baffling. How could anybody object to such an obvious manifestation of positive change?
But object a handful do, and Michael Rosen’s ill-informed stance against the Dalston development is just the latest example of the "Keep Hackney Crap" mentality so beloved of the borough’s far left contingent. The premise of Mr Rosen’s argument is an absurdist fantasy. The idea that Hackney Council is motivated by the desire to line the pockets of big business at the expense of residents is only slightly less inventive than the myriad factual inaccuracies and unsubstantiated opinions that make up his article and subsequent posts. I suppose it makes a change from the other common charge of being in the pay of big business.
The Dalston development is being driven by the improvements in transport infrastructure that I and many residents have long been campaigning for, and that will genuinely transform the local economy. When the new tube line and station was proposed, there was the choice between an ugly, wide, railway cutting that TfL stated they would never allow to be built over at a later date, or a brand new development of housing, retail and a new library above the station. Unsurprisingly, the Council chose the latter and, like it or not, it was a decision made with the best interests of the borough at heart.
Another perverse target of Mr Rosen is the rubbishing of the East London Line Extension. Yes, it is being branded by TfL as “London Overground”. But, with an eventual 16 trains per hour going south from Dalston and joining what has been regarded as a tube line for decades, does it really deserve sneering observations about it being a “non-tube line”?
The problem with opinions like Mr Rosen’s is that they polarise the debate and serve to obscure the genuine concerns of local residents who want to see improvement in the area, but at the same time are worried by the effects of rising housing costs, and their fear that they or their children will be priced out of the area. Home ownership in places like Hackney is already well out of the reach of many local people. The greatest community cohesion challenge we face is ensuring our borough does not become a place accessible only to wealthy homeowners or those eligible for social housing. And before Mr Rosen cries “the answer is to build more council housing”, Hackney already has the highest percentage of social housing of any London borough and continues to build more, albeit through housing associations, including more family-sized homes than anywhere else in the capital.
As well as more affordable homes we need to increase access to intermediate housing. It means stimulating the local economy and creating more jobs to lift people out of poverty. It means continuing the rapid improvements in educational attainment and aspiration so that every young person in Hackney has access to the opportunities that the capital has to offer. Sadly for Mr Rosen and his fellow travellers, it’s going to take a lot more than a lick of paint and few trolley buses to achieve the economic transformation that the East End has needed and deserved for the last century.
My usual comments policy applies: all are welcome as long as they're interesting and reasonably polite. Guardian piece to follow.