Regeneration without participation
When Jules Pipe, the mayor of Hackney, accused those opposing the regeneration of Dalston as wanting to ‘keep Hackney crap’, eponymous badges popped up everywhere, with local residents displaying their support for exactly that. But it seems that Hackney Council are still intent on cleaning up the borough, as confirmed by recent news that Hackney Council have granted permission for the demolition of the Foundry (despite being in a designated conservation area), to be replaced by a 18-story ‘Art-otel’. A hugely popular bar and art gallery, the Foundry was an important meeting place and more importantly, display space for the Young British Artists in the early 1990s, and continues to be a truly democratic space where budding art students can display work alongside household names. Those fond of the Foundry are up in arms, with a Facebook petition against the plans already having over 3,000 supporters. What makes this news more pertinent is that the council have ignored strong criticism of the scheme from both CABE and English Heritage: English Heritage arguing that there is no justification for a new building of such height in this location. The actions of Hackney Council speak volumes about our of our planning system if advice from the governments two expert advisors is simply ignored.
Yet this is not a new story. Hoxton Square, a stone’s throw away from the Foundry and the original home of the YBAs, has long been deserted of any living artists, replaced instead by naff cocktail bars and astronomically-priced loft conversions. Further afield, there are numerous examples of Hackney Council pursuing gentrification as a planning policy, to the detriment of the poorer residents and cultural talent. At Broadway Market, the council evicted three local residents and their businesses, selling their premises to property developers, further driving the gentrification of the area. This is to say nothing of their repeated attempts to stifle the bottom-up regeneration of the street market and subsequent attempts to regulate the trade once the market proved successful. The result is local antagonism and severe economic and cultural exclusion of less affluent residents, not to mention the driving out of creative talent who can no longer afford to rent space in the area. Ridley Road market, seen by many as the best market in London, is under similar threat from Hackney Councils ‘improvement scheme’.
The government waxes lyrical about the importance of fostering culture and towns across the country have been lining up for their own ‘unique’ cultural regeneration scheme. Yet the replacement of the Foundry with an Art’Otel amounts to cultural demolition. A similar process of cultural demolition has occurred a number of miles to the east. In Hackney Wick, across the canal from the great Olympic fence artists, art galleries and other cultural institutions, instead of being involved in the regeneration process find themselves aliens in their own community: roads are blocked, fences are put up and eventually they will move on. Instead of drawing on the local knowledge and cultural infrastructure that already exists, the building of the new is left to the developers and professional stakeholders.
Apparently the new hotel (part of the Park Plaza Hotel group) will be ‘a showcase for artists’. What the decision-makers involved have failed to realise is that that is exactly what the Foundry already is.