Reclamémos nuestros espacios publicos de modo que tengamos acceso a todos lados

vía Give us back our public spaces so we can have access to all areas | Will Hutton.

Lugares como el Canary Wharf de Londres serian mas vibrantes si no fueran tan restringidos en cuanto a que podemos hacer ahi.

 Photograph: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images

Canary Wharf es un desarrollo atrevido: mas banqueros trabajan ahora en sus oficinas que en la City de Londres. Junto con el Parque Olimpico, ha desplazado el centro de gravedad decididamente hacia el este. Es un tributo a la modernidad y la audacia por igual. Pero poca gente que conozco gusta de trabajar ahi.

Emerges a la superficie desde la gloriosamente amplia estacion del metro para ser aplastado por un grupo de rascacielos e inhumanas altas torres, que extrañamente no parecen estar orgullosas de si mismas, como las de Nueva York. Las tiendas en los pasillos comerciales subterraneos brillan y relumbran y estan llenas de mercancia tentadora. Todo es como lo plasmo el arquitecto en sus dibujos; me ha tomado largo tiempo comprender porque no me siento atraido a nada de eso.

La razon se me aclaro en una reciente visita, es que Canary Wharf tiene muy poco espacio publico. Nada es comun. Es un “no-lugar”, cuya falta de corazon es brutalmente expuesta los fines de semana y en la noche, cuando se vacia. Privatizacion y los valores del mercado transaccional anonimo llevados demasiado lejos. Un presente distopico prediciendo un futuro  mas distopico.

Los desarrolladores comerciales detras de los similares de Canary Whraf – pionero de los vastos espacios controlados privadamente despues emulados en los centrso comerciales de Liverpool One y  Cabot Circus en Bristol – quieren reducir el espacio publico tanto como puedan. Quieren ser libres de configurar por donde caminamos, que visitamos y quien tiene acceso porque asi pueden maximizar las ventas por metro cuadrado de piso de ventas y el valor de las rentas.

El espacio publico cuesta dinero por partida doble: debe ser pagado por los impuestos (y sabemos que muchas corporaciones hacen lo imposible para eludir impuestos) y el espacio publico representa ingresos perdidos. En un mundo en el que todo debe consagrarse a la “generacion de riqueza”, proveer una masa critica de espacio publico que puede utilizarse para multiples usos publicos y sociales ha sido  demasiada carga en casi todos los recientes proyectos a gran escala de regeneracion urbana a lo largo del pais.

Se trata de una crisis del espacio publico – unido por un hilo de oro a la reunion del G8 en Irlanda del Norte esta semana, los gobiernos por primera vez – convocados por David Cameron para su credito- van a acordar a un intercambio de informacion sobre quien esta detras de la compañias ficticias que poblan los paraisos fiscales del mundo. Es una tremula afirmacion del interes publico contra los evasores de impuestos super ricos, pero la pequeñez del paso y la falta de acuerdo para ir mas lejos es parte de la misma mentalidad que acepta que sean los desarrolladores de propiedades quienes moldeen nuestro pais con simbolicas concesiones a la necesidad de espacio publico. En esta concepcion, “la generacion de riqueza” es un asunto totalmente privado y los “generadores de riqueza” deben tener lo que quieran ya sea en regals fiscales o en regulaciones de planificacion.

Para ganar la discusion, tiene que haber pasion que acompañe la idea de revivir lo publico y desafie frontalmente a los super ricos sobre que el mundo privado que estan creando es totalmente esteril. Los No_Lugares como Canary Wharf en donde trabajar, las Comunidades enrejadas en donde vivir y las escuelas privadas segregadas en donde educar a sus hijos-  ninguno es bueno para la sociedad. La generacion de riqueza sin sentido de lo publico es solamente generacion de riqueza de nombre.

Anna Minton, en su cruzada maravillosa con su libro Ground Control, arremete contra la privatizacion del espacio publico y el acallar de cualquier voz que pretenda hacer valer como deben vivirse nuestros pueblos y ciudades. El poder de los gobiernos locales ha sido destruido por la virtual eliminacion de su capacidad de cobrar impuestos locales, y doblemente destruidos por la persistente reduccion en las leyes de planificacion del concepto que haya tierra o espacio que deba mantenerse en comun para propositos publicos y sociales. La bestia negra particular de Minton es la oscura Ley del 2004 de Planificacion y Expropiacion Forzosa, que permite, por el simple beneficio economico, la expropiacion justificada.

She warmly endorses the ideas of the Danish urbanist Jan Gehl. In his Cities for People, Gehl insists that the key to enjoyable city living is the chance to interact and that everything – in particular where you can walk – should help the pleasures of accidental encounters with others. That in turn needs public space – squares and pavements that are free for everyone rather than policed by private security guards. And it needs well-resourced, engaged municipal authorities, backed by planning law, to argue on level terms with private developers that such space is an imperative for a development to go ahead.

A virtue of capitalism is that it allows scope for insurgents with new ideas to challenge incumbents, but today’s privately owned mega shopping malls are organised physically so that incumbents have all the advantages. Only they can afford the rents and we shoppers are corralled into using them because there is no possibility of chancing upon the new and unexpected.

One of the delights of Brighton’s Lanes or Oxford’s covered market is the possibility of escaping the tyranny of the shopping chains. You can go there just to hang out, shop, eat, browse or go for a stroll – and in this environment there is a chance to encounter the new shop, pub or restaurant. The insurgent is on level terms with the incumbent. Minton quotes many European architects who despair at our impoverished, weak municipal authorities unable to deliver such a social and public ethos compared with those in Europe: the Swiss, hardly tribunes of the left, have a strong civic tradition and fabulous livable cities. Why can’t we?

Maybe we are at a turning point. It is still too easy for businessmen and bankers to climb on to a public platform and complain that the burden of regulation and taxation is what holds them back – and which is too uncritically heard across the political spectrum. Yet the UK has one of the lowest corporation taxes in the G8, lowest labour market regulations in the EU and weakest planning system in the OECD. It has got us nowhere.

But now a Tory prime minister is trying to close down tax avoidance – and revive our high streets, another casualty of the privatisation of our public space. It is time to do this more wholeheartedly. Britain can do better than be a land fit for the owners of Westfield and Canary Wharf. It can be a place we want to live in; where we go to the city because we want to go to the city – not just to shop. The Victorians built great parks and civic spaces with great pride, openly revolting against the depredations of free market capitalism. They also paid their taxes. Time for us to follow suit.

Places such as London’s Canary Wharf would be more vibrant if we weren’t so restricted in what we can do there

You surface from the gloriously expansive tube station to be dwarfed by a cluster of skyscrapers and inhumanly high towers, which strangely don’t seem to have any pride in themselves like those in New York. The shops in the underground shopping walkways gleam and glimmer and are full of tempting merchandise. It is all as it must have been in the architect’s drawings; it has taken me a long time to understand why I don’t feel drawn to any of it .

The reason, it became clearer on a recent visit, is that Canary Wharf possesses so little public space. Nothing is held in common. It is a “non-place”, whose lack of heart is brutally exposed at weekends and at night, when it empties. Privatisation and the values of the transactional, anonymised market have been taken too far. It is a dystopian present foretelling a more dystopian future.

Commercial developers behind the likes of Canary Wharf – the pioneer of vast, privately controlled spaces since emulated in the shopping centres of Liverpool One and Bristol’s Cabot Circus – want to reduce public space as much as they can. They want to be free to configure where we walk, what we visit and who has access because thus they can maximise sales per square foot of shopping and rents.

Public space costs money twice over: it has to be paid for by taxes (and we know many corporations do their utmost to avoid tax) and public space represents lost revenue. In a world in which everything has to be consecrated to “wealth generation”, providing a critical mass of public space that can be used for multiple public and social uses has been a burden too far in almost all recent large-scale urban regeneration projects throughout the country.

It is a crisis of the public realm – linked by a golden thread to the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland this weekend. Governments for the first time – prompted, to his credit, by David Cameron – are to agree to swap information about who is behind the fictional companies that populate the world’s tax havens. It is a tremulous assertion of the public interest against the tax-evading super-rich, but the tiny nature of the step and the lack of agreement to go further is part of the same mindset that concedes property developers should shape our country with only token genuflections to the need for public space. In this conception, “wealth generation” is a wholly private affair and “wealth generators” must have what they want whether on tax rules or planning regulations.

But to win the argument, there has to be an accompanying passion to revive the idea of publicness and challenge the super-rich head-on that the private world that they are creating is utterly barren. Non-places such as Canary Wharf in which to work, gated communities in which to live, and segregated private schools in which to educate their children – none is good to society in the round. Wealth generation with no sense of publicness is only wealth generation in name.

Anna Minton, in her wonderfully crusading book Ground Control, inveighs against the privatisation of public space and the whittling down of any voice that seeks to assert how our towns and cities should be lived in. Local government’s power has been gutted by virtually eliminating its capacity to raise local taxes, and doubly gutted by the persistent reduction within planning law of any concept that land or space should be held in common for public or social purpose. Minton’s particular bete noire is the obscure 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, which allows for economic wellbeing alone justifying compulsory purchase.

Acerca de salvolomas

Asociación vecinal, cuyo objeto es preservar la colonia habitacional unifamiliar, sus calles arboladas con aceras caminables, con trafico calmado, seguras para bici, parques, areas verdes, centros de barrio de uso mixto accesibles a pie y oficinas solo en áreas designadas.
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