Inspired by Patrick Keiller's The Robinson Institute, currently on show at the Tate Britain, we present Verso's guide to political walking. We also draw influence from Will Self's Guardian article in which he pronounces that "walking is political" and suggests that the "contemporary flâneur" can be one "who seeks equality of access, freedom of movement and the dissolution of corporate and state control."
1. Wanderlust - Rebecca Solnit
The first general history of walking, Rebecca Solnit's book finds a profound relationship between walking and thinking, walking and culture, and argues for the necessity of preserving the time and space in which to walk in an ever more automobile-dependent and accelerated world.
2. Savage Messiah - Laura Oldfield Ford
Savage Messiah collects Laura Oldfield Ford's black and white, cut 'n' paste, punk fanzines that document her drift through London's margins. Illustrated with haunting line drawings of forgotten people and places, Oldfield Ford records the beauty and anger at the city's edges.
Owen Hatherley condemns the governement reaction to the riots as "brutal," undemocratic and illegal. In an article for the Guardian, the author of A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain discusses controversial proposals to evict rioters' families from their homes, which have already implemented by Wandsworth council, with many other councils preparing to follow suit.
Hatherley argues that such a response is ideologically motivated and designed to accord with previously existing agendas on social housing and benefit cuts.
The coalition sets time limits on council tenancies and freezes the already meagre levels of social housebuilding; Labour councils embark on massive demolition programmes of large estates and their replacement with developer-led mixed private and supposedly affordable estates. Both have much the same effect - removing the "undeserving" poor from highly profitable inner-city sites.
One of the most succinct and intelligent descriptions of 'urban regeneration' was a film by Jonathan Meades called On the Brandwagon. It begins with the 1981 riots in Liverpool, a city whose population had halved and whose dockyards had closed down, then moves through the government's attempts to put a sticking plaster over the wound. First, ineptly, through the Garden Festivals bestowed on the city, alongside the first 'enterprise zone' version of Regeneration; then more dramatically through New Labour's abortive attempt to turn our chaotic, suburban-urban cities into places more akin to, say, Paris, that riot-free model of social peace. The middle-class return to the cities, adaptive re-use, luxury apartment blocks, Mitterandian Lottery-funded grands projets, loft conversions in the factories whose closure brought about the main problem in the first place. The film ends in Salford Quays, its gleaming titanium a ram-raid's distance from some of the poorest places in Western Europe. The likely result? 'There will be no riots within the ring-road'.
We've long congratulated ourselves, in London, of the fact that we have no banlieue. We applauded ourselves especially smugly when zoned, segregated Paris rioted a few years ago. It's not like it's untrue - give or take the odd exception (a Thamesmead, a Chelmlsey Wood) our poverty is not concentrated in peripheral housing estates. Edinburgh might wall off its poor in Muirhouse or Leith, and Oxford might try not to think about Blackbird Leys, but in London, Manchester/Salford, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham—the cities that erupted on Monday 8th August—the rich live, by and large, next to the poor: £1,000,000 Georgian terraces next to estates with some of the deepest poverty in the EU. We're so pleased with this that we've even extended the principle to how we plan the trickledown dribble of social housing built over the last two decades, those Housing Association schemes where the deserving poor are 'pepper-potted' with stockbrokers. We've learnt about 'spatial segregation', so we do things differently now. Someone commenting on James Meek's great London Review of Books article on parallel Hackneys mentioned China Miéville's recent science fiction novel The City and The City, where two cities literally do occupy the same space, with all inhabitants acting as if they don't. Miéville set it in Eastern Europe, but the inspiration is surely London.
Evoking Milan Kundera, Owen Hatherley notes that "the refusal to admit that shit exists" is a particular problem in Great Britain—a country that "has all but abolished public toilets."