Today I attended a public consultation for an urban regeneration scheme planned for the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast. The scheme on many levels was very poorly conceived.
Once I have had the time to properly process I will write something more comprehensive; but here’s something I penned on the bus journey home — some initial thoughts.
The justification seems to be, that if the commercial reality justifies a seriously substandard scheme then so be it, because; well, it’s the commercial reality you see. But the public space (which by public they really mean privately owned, sudo-public space in which you must follow a certain set of rules and submit to a particular surveillance regime) is substandard, with not enough light and poor access; yes but you see that’s the commercial reality of the scheme. But the scheme doesn't, in any way, enter into the existing narrative of the urban environment so that it can become part of a better future narrative; it’s just cookie-cutter-capitalist modernism; yes but you see that’s the commercial reality of the scheme. But the scheme doesn't include any housing — affordable or otherwise — so when all the office workers go home, and there is nobody using the pseudo-public square, it’ll be dead space; yes but you see, that’s the commercial reality of the scheme.
The so-called ‘commercial reality’ of a scheme is really nothing more than an abstract concept — for what is commercial reality today could easily be tomorrows commercial dystopian nightmare (just look back over the past ten years). It is an abstraction inasmuch as it reduces every other element of a scheme — the wellbeing of citizens, the betterment of the city, the success of the urban environment — to a secondary status where they are enslaved by and subservient to the grand master; the myth of ‘commercial reality’. Remember the bit at the end of the Wizard of Oz when the wizard is revealed as an old man pulling levers and pressing buttons. Well its a bit like that because the reality of the commercial reality is that it is little more than a fiction; smoke and mirrors — the end product, with its smooth glass facades and photoshopped people having fun in the sun little more than the will-to-capital of the developers.
The bottom line is this. If we reduce the redevelopment of our cities to the gross abstraction that is a bottom line financial figure we grossly underestimate the positive possibilities that urban regeneration can bring forth. The myth of so-called ‘commercial reality’ is nothing more than the tail of late-integrated-capitalism vociferously wagging the dog of quality, life giving urban development. Regeneration of this kind cannot and must not be judged solely in terms of a financial singularity. What about the psychological, physiological, neurological, sociological and noological, effects of a scheme? Urban regeneration schemes are not distinct, separate, standalone interventions; they are thoroughly entangled and deeply interwoven into the complex network of heterogeneous assemblages that go to make up the city. Reduce them to a £ at your peril.