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The book group

January 7, 2010

I’ve just finished reading Anna Minton’s book Ground Control and it’s challenged many of my assumptions about regeneration and planning.

The book talks about how since the early 1980s, free-market polices have fundamentally changed the way cities are designed, built and managed.

It talks about the privatisation of public space by developers, our obsession with security and how this making our town and city centres bland, sterilised shopping centres where nothing spontaneous or unplanned ever happens.

Money making is put ahead of ‘public good’ when designing projects and in fact ‘public good’ is now seen as maximising profit rather than in maximising people’s enjoyment and happiness.

All this, the book says, is making us paranoid and unhappy.

As I say, it’s challenged many of my previously held assumptions. I wrote a blog last year about how Liverpool has developed in the past ten years and in particular how impressive the Liverpool One development is. Having read Minton’s book, I’m not so sure whether Liverpool has changed for the better. The city centre has been transformed and has some great new architecture but I wonder at what social cost this has come?

Minton writes extensively on Liverpool One, on how it is essentially a privatised part of the city where private security guards patrol and where those who don’t fit the profile of potential shoppers are not welcome. It’s not a public place in the traditional sense of the term. This model is replicated in near identical developments across the country.

It’s a thought-provoking book but I’m sure there are counter arguments to Minton’s. Some if her ideas seem a little naïve, she seems slightly obsessed with areas becoming havens for artists and bohemian types, but don’t people enjoy shopping and aren’t councils and developers just giving people what they want?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrew Rogers permalink
    January 7, 2010 1:51 pm

    This sounds similar in many ways to Paul Barker’s The Freedoms of Suburbia which i have just read and which has much the same message: the modern planning system says “Find out what all those people are doing and tell them to stop it”. Also a good, thought-provoking read.

  2. Michael Donnelly permalink*
    January 7, 2010 2:02 pm

    I’ll look out for that. Can’t recommend Ground Control enough, made me realise just how important the built environment is. Should be compulsory reading in schools!

  3. Tom permalink
    January 7, 2010 3:33 pm

    I always find it supprising that these kind of books seem to come as a revelation to people. Its always been pretty self evident the impact that the built environment has on our lives. Its our schools, our streets, our homes and our work places, it impacts on every single aspect of our lives, all the time.

    Privately owned public spaces will always be sanitised, over designed sterile places. Even the publically owned ones are increasingly that way. Its down to the risk averse, litigation culture we seem to be living in. If its not risk assessed and designed by comittee so it cant possibly offend anyone, its does not happen.

    As for town centres. Well, are they just spaces used to funnel people between one shop and the next, or are they actual places in their own right, with their own identity, activity and focus. Unfortunatly, more and more it seems they are the first.

  4. Michael Donnelly permalink*
    January 7, 2010 3:45 pm

    It’s probably not a reveleation to town planners but I think a lot of what the book was saying is that huge changes are taking place to town’s and cities and the general public don’t really understand what these will mean in practice. Who wouldn’t support a multi-million pound investment in a neglected part of town, but would as many people support it if they knew that it would cause social problems and not actually be of long-term public good?

  5. this_old_earth_quake's_gonna_leave_me_in_the_poor_house permalink
    January 8, 2010 2:29 pm

    When a curling competition is cancelled in Scotland because fears people might slip what chance does anyone else have of standing up to litigation?

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