Sunday, February 08, 2009

Walking New Cross (12): Briant Street

For many years after the Second World War, London was dotted with bombsites. Today a new kind of wasteland is beginning to emerge, of building sites abandoned as the global crisis continues.

Briant Street, in the ‘Kender Triangle’, is supposed to see the flagship for New Cross regeneration – the scene for a new public realm with housing, a health centre and a library. But work on the building site has ground to a halt as the private developer involved in the project has pulled out.
Capitalism functions (when it does) through a series of bets on the future. In the case of a project like this, investors are betting on being able to sell off private housing for more than it costs to build, and in turn betting that there will be people with the means to buy them. Today all bets are off, with a collapse of confidence in the future. The knock on effect is that regeneration plans for affordable housing and community facilities are under threat, as these have been based on another kind of gamble – that Council-owned land could be sold off for private housing at sufficient value to pay for these plans, or that private developments would generate large capital receipts that could be re-invested in community facilities. These bets too are off.

Meanwhile behind the hoardings on Briant Street there is a strange, almost lunar landscape. Mountains of rubble from the council housing demolished to make way for the new development, a crater-like hole in the ground, and an icy ‘lake’.

Most of the rest of Briant Street is blocks of flats, including the newish Pankhurst Close. There is also a London Electricity Service Station.

At the end of the street, on the corner of New Cross Road, there is another kind of dereliction – a boarded up pub, most recently known as ‘Down the Hatch’.

It’s easy to be depressed by sites like this, when you think of all the wasted potential to meet people’s needs that is represented by empty buildings and building sites. But the skills and resources to turn them into something useful are still here – wasted too at present in the form of laid-off building workers and warehouses full of unsold building materials. We just need to find another way of using them.


Anonymous said...

it isn't working

bob said...

Do you know if Pankhurst Close was named after Sylvia or after one of her family members?

Anonymous said...

This is not a "crisis"! A crisis is a point at which something either recovers its health or hastens towards its death. A cut-off point.

This is a global attack on living-standards, even against most of those who thought they were doing OK and at least had some stability. (The rest of the working class live under more or less permanent attack).

And it's going on at the same time as a technological revolution, as was also true of the Long Depression (1870s-90s) and the Great Depression (1930s). They weren't crises either.

Unfortunately, capitalism is in rude health, albeit not undergoing growth. But then the intensification of labour and the revolutionisation within relative surplus value did always point towards the "shedding" of a big proportion of labour-power... Keynesianism was a blip.

I've been finding it difficult to label it, what with "credit crunch" being screamed out by journalists and opinion-formers as if the banks' problems were oh-so-necessarily everyone else's, and as if what we all need (even now) is to be in debt big-time. A well-chosen propaganda term indeed.

The best one-word or two-word phrase for it is probably "economic depression".

It may well be the end of consumerism. The credit boom and booming consumerism were co-dependent - a point not made in the newspapers. Walk down any High Street up until October last year and you'd see dozens of signs saying things like "See something you like? Come in and borrow some money so you can buy it!" Even art shops were shifting loads of units on tick!

End of sermon.

But it's interesting how those "ultra-leftists" or "libertarian communists" who thought they were sophisticated to say that the 1970s so-called "energy crisis" was a strategic attack on the working class are miles away from even asking whether the present so-called "crisis" might also involve such an attack!


Transpontine said...

I don't completely buy the line that the crisis (if I may use the term) started as some kind of conscious strategy of capital. In my view that is giving the ruling class too much credit by suggesting that they have been in control of events. It is true though that in response to the financial crisis we are beginning to see a global attack on living standards (wage cuts etc.) as they attempt to restore faith in future profitability.

Anonymous said...

I think it's even more impomrtant to deny that it's a crisis than it is to view it as a conscious attack by capital (although it is the latter).

Capital is extremely centralised. How one capital acts in its own interests reinforces, and helps advance the interests of, capital as a whole. (How else does capital function as a category? The economy is not based on "firms and households"). The huge expansion of working class debt was always going to have a "payback" time.

In the UK, two of the most important changes in the past 30 years were deliberately instituted in order to get working class people into debt up to their eyeballs. 1) the expansion of "higher education", where a large percentage of youths are herded into "universities" where they learn practically nothing that's of any use to them, all funded by huge debt, and 2) the running down of council housing.

With 1), you get media propaganda promoting things like "gap years". To the working class!!! If a young person is looking at being in big debt, the last thing they should do is travel the world spending money. But of course the idea of a "gap year" sounds awfully posh to the parents who didn't go to university themselves and want their children to have some of the "good life".

Similarly with the widespread promotion of the idea that being a student is about frequently getting out of your head on alcohol.

The general culture has become one of not being able to see beyond getting drunk and "enjoying" your"self" next weekend. Vance Packard said in the 1960s that this is basically about coping with what goes on on weekdays. Now it's mushroomed massively.

With 2) it would be good if those who want workers' power had some sort of real critique of finance capital and its strategy over the past 30 years, rather than being "experts" on what's on today's front pages. Even a demand for the State to take over mortgaged houses and let them at subsidised rents would be good. In any case, people with mortgages aren't the real owners. About time for the scales to fall away from people's eyes? Yes but little chance of this happening.

Which is part of the point. Minds are more numb now than they have ever been. Working class people in a country like Britain are going to get whacked and whacked again, driven back to 1880s-style poverty, because of the choices they have made and the defeats they have suffered over the past 30 years. Those few who haven't made such choices? Well, we suffer the same.

I say both "choices" and "defeats" because the idea of some sort of solid and serious, grown-up mental stance has become a thing of the past for much of the population. Most people for years now have thought that getting loans is about being "given" something by the banks. Some of us were criticising this before last October! :-)

Things have changed. Now your "average" person gets into big and growing debt as soon as they are legally allowed to sign contracts (at 18), and stays in it until they stop working, probably some time in their mid-50s. Or maybe a bit earlier if their parents kick the bucket and they inherit a house. This was always going to end in tears! Which was all very well known in the City control rooms. They are not stupid and they do not just sit back and watch events.

If you think it's a crisis, what do you mean by the term? How is my definition unhelpful? Was there a crisis in the 1930s too? And the 1870s-1890s? (Both were times of further leaps forward in centralisation and major technological revolution - ditto today). Some such as Harry Cleaver have so little sense of history as to talk of "permanent crisis".


Anonymous said...

even the Pope says capitalism isnt working

and the letter from the Archbishop of Southwark read out at all masses was critical of capitalism and greed could have been written by any lefty

Lets kill off capitalism

we can do better

Anonymous said...

what we need now is a bunch of millionaire bankers to run the country

Anonymous said...

I've just seen a hoarding offering "free" broadband, TV and telephone for three months. This is pretty typical of how all sorts of things get advertised and sold in the UK. But journos and politicos continue to talk as if over-eager lending or selling to people who can't afford it was a thing of the past...


Anonymous said...

Don't trust the pope. What does it mean to say capitalism is working or isn't working? If capitalism exists, it's working. Falling living-standards don't mean capitalism isn't working. Raising or maintaining working class living standards isn't what capitalism is for. Even negative growth for several years (which has happened before) wouldn't mean capitalism wasn't working. We need to focus on capital versus labour rather than "casino" bankers versus "high street" bankers or whatever the latest propagandist dichotomies are!

The pope cares what's in it for him and his organisation. Which could be quite a lot, because many of the soup kitchens that will soon be widely operative in places like London will have church involvement - both Catholic and Church of England. My grandmother survived in Battersea from soup kitchens in the 1920s, if anyone is interested!

Anonymous said...

spot on ban!

Anonymous said...

not just to the post above either, but all of them

Anonymous said...

And what happended to get capitalism out of the last crisis and years of nil growth

Its called fascism and War

you want it

you can have it

but count us out

most people dont believe the present system is working

we have tried capitalism in all its forms and it does not work

what are we trainning are kids for to put up sky dishes and work in MacDonalds

all the good jobs can be done cheaper elsewhere

you can take a law course in the UK but practice from Australia or India

where are the bankers who destroyed Iceland, they fled the country after making a mint, leaving the people to pick up the mess (now the EU is going to have to)

ban the rich