Saturday, 5 December 2015

Town Planners

Town planners: men and women of vision, charged with shaping our environs for the better, putting the best architectural and environmental theories into practice for the benefit of us all. Have I got that right?

The image accompanying today's blog could well depict one of those bleak, brutalist social housing experiments we associate with post-war Eastern Europe:

In fact it shows an estate built in London in the 1960s which still stands to this day.
I lived in one such for a while back at the end of the '70s. Mine was Highworth Point (!) - in a group of seven tower-blocks built on the fringes of Hackney Wick, with views across to the city in one direction and along the Lea Valley in the other. The flat itself was box-like but perfectly serviceable once inside. The views (especially of the city at night) were quite stunning. But the whole environment was soulless and to call it social housing was not so much a euphemism, more a laughable misnomer. The elevators worked sporadically and doubled as latrines. The stairwells were glass-strewn and full of rubbish. One high-rise (as they were called) was emblazoned with graffiti which read HELP THE POLICE - BEAT YOURSELF UP which soon got amended to HELP THE  LICE - EAT YOURSELF UP.  Everybody regarded everybody else with uneasy suspicion. It was not a fun place to be, which is a shame because such estates were designed in the decades after World War II to give the battered and bombed inhabitants of the East End a Brave New World to live in...only no one thought to consult them as to what they'd actually like. Maybe the tower-blocks were meant to foster a continuation of that old wartime spirit in the face of adversity! Today's poem is drawn from that experience.
The People versus The Maker Of Plans
I am bland, a maker of plans.
This one will deliver a bright, new tomorrow,
infallible blueprint for a city of dreams
(and a great opportunity for capital schemes).

We've not been consulted. Your tower-blocks look neat
but we love our community's ramshackle streets
and we won't be persuaded. We vote with our feet.
We're not looking for trouble but here we will stay.

Like that was ever going to happen!
Don't be fools.
Your neighbourhood is marked down on the list.
Utility provision starts right away.
Pre-fabrication and plate glass rule.
(There's a chance to make millions, hand over fist.
but that's none of my business,
beyond my remit.
I am bland, a maker of plans.)

So we watch the familiar vanish from sight.
The places we loved are transformed overnight:
our terraces, heritage, bull-dozed away,
those ramshackle boxes, generations of memories
all smashed and razed to rubble, to landfill...

...and this is the vision into which we'll be squeezed?

It's ready to live in and you should be pleased,
with your feet on the street and your heads in the clouds.
Why merely be friends with the families next door?
Our flats give you neighbours on twenty-six floors.

Well, we're sorry. Your skyscraper jungle is stark
and unutterably ugly except in the dark.
We, the people, condemn this new world with one voice
though we end up as tenants - we haven't much choice;
but we loathe the existence these tower-blocks entail.

I am bland. I only...

You don't dwell on the fates of the ones who can't cope
with the high-rise utopia you have decreed.
Your sleep is untroubled in gated seclusion.
You're safe in your mansion, the fruits of your greed.

I am bland, faceless, nameless, blameless...
I am merely a maker of plans.

As a bonus, because she read it at our open mic poetry night last night and I thought it fits the theme of this week's blog, I'm also posting a poem by Pamela Winning. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Industrial landscapes
Where nobody escapes
From human desolation.
Salford, grey and worn-out
Drab people hang about
Seeking some consolation,
Painted as matchstick men
Back in the decades when
Lowry found inspiration.

Shelagh's taste of honey,
Tony Wilson's money
Invested in the city.
High-rise in Broughton Park
Poems of Cooper-Clarke
So sharp and smart and witty.
A gentle summer breeze
Wafts around Salford Quays
Modern style simplicity.

Pamela Winning

Okay, thanks for reading. I wish you a well-planned week, S ;-)



Lady Curt said...

Two interesting takes on urban planning and building.