Posted by Chris on July 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm
London is a city built on power and restraint. Class strictures and verticality. The unending rise of the Shard, a physical metaphor for a brave new end of economic boom and bust driven by Qatari sovereign wealth. In its shadow, people are trying to live as they have done for the past forty years in state owned council housing. Over the past few months I made a couple of radio programmes about two estates in Southwark, the borough that hosts the Shard. They stretch south from Elephant and Castle, an area that is currently subject to a £1.5 billion urban regeneration project (the biggest in Europe). The Heygate estate is itself part of this regeneration plan, formerly housing around 4000 people, there are now two households left. It sits monolithic and largely empty, windows sealed with metal sheeting and electricity disconnected. Much of it is still open to the public, however and a visit will show you allotments which local residents have carved out of the open spaces, free runners climbing the concrete walkways and ruin tourists taking pictures on high end DSLRs.
I’ve been making a radio documentary over the past five months about the Heygate as it stands now, its past and its possible futures. It’s composed from the soundscape of the area and the voices of former and current residents of the estate, the original architect, a former leader of Southwark council, the head planner for the Elephant and Castle regeneration, academics and researchers. (stream below or listen here)
During this time I also worked on a hour long current affairs programme that looked at council housing and affordable housing london-wide. It was composed of some recordings from the Heygate, but also from the Aylesbury estate, a little further down the road from Elephant and Castle. This is one of the largest public housing estates in Europe and provides homes for around 10,000 people. Parts of the estate are being demolished and re-built according to a new rubric of ‘mixed communities’ containing ‘affordable housing’. Both of these are very slippery terms and, to put it mildly, there are serious concerns about how socially inclusive any new housing on the site will be. The programme was broadcast on London-based station NTS radio last month. you can listen here.