Something About the Tone
June 23, 2014
Peter Matthews, an Urban Studies lecturer with an interest in “urban inequalities,” questions the “rosy image of mixed communities.” And yet he wants to ensure more of us live next door to “the poor and marginalised.”
When trying to create a better social mix, the focus is almost always on deprived areas. Aren’t the posh bits a problem too?
You see, in his mind,
Poverty and affluence are two sides of the same coin. One would not exist without the other.
He therefore entertains a “physically radical intervention.” Specifically,
The idea that we must demolish large areas of high-value owner-occupied housing and replace it with high density, socially-rented housing is still way off the agenda. Maybe it is time this changed.
He’s so daring, our academic. And hey, what a headline.
If we really do want to mix communities, where better to start than in west London, in the decidedly unmixed Belgravia (average house price £4.4m)? Of course, such a move is unlikely to happen any time soon. The powers that be tend to live in such areas, after all,
Unlike Guardian columnists and editors, or leftwing academics, who invariably seek out only the most humble accommodation.
and are unlikely to appreciate the deliberate urban degeneration.
Imagine those three words, in bold, on the policy document. Followed by, “It’s what you people need, good and hard.”
As someone who grew up in what would now be considered a “deprived area,” amid lots of “social” housing and all manner of inventively antisocial behaviour, and then escaped, I’m not sure I’d appreciate a second taste of what it was I was hoping to get the hell away from. It’s hard to feel nostalgic for casual vandalism, routine burglary and bus stops and phone boxes that stank reliably of piss.
Our postcode class warrior also thinks that “deprived” and “marginalised” communities can be elevated, made less dysfunctional, by “the provision of services… such as… street cleaners.” Meaning more street cleaners, cleaning more frequently. He links to a report fretting about how to “narrow the gap” in litter, how to,
Achieve fairer outcomes in street cleanliness.
But neither he nor the authors of said report explore an obvious factor. The words “drop” and “littering” simply don’t appear anywhere in the report, thereby suggesting that the food-smeared detritus and other unsightly objects just fall from the clouds mysteriously when the locals are asleep.
The report that Mr Matthews cites, supposedly as evidence of unfairness, actually states that council cleaning resources are “skewed towards deprived neighbourhoods” – with councils spending up to five times more on those areas than they spend on cleaning more respectable neighbourhoods. And yet even this is insufficient to overcome the locals’ antisocial behaviour. A regular visit by a council cleaning team, even one equipped with military hardware, won’t compensate for a dysfunctional attitude towards littering among both children and their parents. And fretting about inequalities in litter density is a little odd if you don’t consider how the litter gets there in the first place. Yet this detail isn’t investigated and the report can “neither confirm nor reject the idea that resident attitudes and behaviours are significant drivers of environmental problems.”
Despite such omissions, Mr Matthews tells us that,
Neighbourhoods of concentrated deprivation only exist because we allow neighbourhoods of concentrated affluence to also exist.
That word, allow. Damn the tendency of people to prefer neighbourhoods, and neighbours, that match their own self-image and standards of behaviour. Why won’t we just do as our betters tell us? Inevitably, Mr Matthews’ boldly punitive tone and the prospect of some “physically radical intervention” draws out the most pious of Guardian readers, the kind whose high-minded humanity just gushes forth:
I would love to see that [bulldozing] happen.
The rich have become a luxury WE can no longer afford.
No need for rich parasites.
And so on, and so forth.
As so often, it’s interesting to contrast Mr Matthews’ assumptions with one’s own experience of growing up in the rougher parts of town. Our fretful Guardianista doesn’t seem to understand antisocial behaviour, why it tends to be concentrated in those areas, and why people spend so much time and effort trying to get away from it. When I was a child, a nearby garden, one that was clearly looked after, was targeted for littering and abuse. Trash would be thrown at the flowers, decapitating them, and thrown across the lawn, over and over again. When empty pop cans failed to decapitate their targets, flower heads were simply kicked off by spiteful laughing morons.
The morons in question, the gleeful garden wreckers, didn’t appear to desire their own presentable gardens. I think it’s fair to say they had zero interest in horticulture, or the effort it entails. They just didn’t want anyone else to have one, and eagerly directed their efforts to that end. The fact that the garden was attractive and orderly, and a labour of love, was precisely the reason for it being targeted in this way.
The people doing this, some of whom I went to school with, weren’t “marginalised” or somehow oppressed by a lack of “services.” In fact they seemed to suffer much less than the elderly gent whose garden was being destroyed - by people whose attitude wasn’t too dissimilar to that of Mr Matthews. And this vandalism wasn’t happening because somewhere, across town, bigger houses existed. It wasn’t a function of not living next to a big house, or in a big house, or of not being given more of other people’s earnings. And the garden being targeted was in front of a house no more grand than the houses of the people trashing it.
And yet Mr Matthews seems to imagine that if only we didn’t “allow neighbourhoods of concentrated affluence to… exist,” then people in rough parts of town would suddenly not behave as people in rough parts of town often do. And therefore other people, better people, wouldn’t want to get the hell away from them. It’s a bold view of the world, if foolish and hopelessly unrealistic. And this fool, our Mr Matthews, the Urban Studies lecturer, is educating teenagers. Telling them how it is.