The NEOgate Just Community is a coalition made of local people, ex-residents, council tenants, leaseholders, shopkeepers, traders and businesses. The community has been in existence since 2012 when it became clear that the regeneration plan for the NEOgate led by the developer (Space Ltd,) and supported by the Council was not intended to benefit the local population. Our mobilization, instead, is meant to form a united voice from the point of view of the locals, of those who have been evicted and dispersed across the city and of those who have remained and whose lives and trade are being affected by a redevelopment not directed toward them. We are critical on a number of points, which have been undermined during the regeneration process. We ask for a democratic participation and active involvement of the locals in deciding the future of their area, a future that has been denied because no referendum was held, and no vote taken. We want housing to be affordable for everyone, social housing being integrated into the plan and we want to see benefits granted to the whole community. We oppose spatial developments that undermine the historical presence and existing social relations and practices of a specific territory and the privatization and commodification of our space.
Community participation is central to a successful regeneration enhancing the quality of decision making, building social capital, reducing social exclusion, improving public service delivery and facilitating local enterprise and economic activity. Regardless of discourses that place public participation as a means to legitimize neoliberal mechanisms employed to affect political, economic and social restructuring of urban areas our coalition is positive in regards to its beneficial effects in matters of empowering the community and decreasing forms of alienation and disengagement of the public from political processes. People are motivated to act on issues of daily concerns and resident’s knowledge can enhance the decision making process. Moreover community participation in the process of neighbourhood renewal enhances social capital in the forms of networks, shared norms and trust and enables groups to pursue shared objectives more effectively. In opposition to the developer renewal agenda which promotes social and economic benefits for the area through privatized and exclusive forms of regeneration, solutions for deprived neighbourhoods are to be found in a form of social regeneration emphasising upon building the capacity of neighbourhoods through assisted self-help activities. Community participation is therefore a means to resolve social exclusion and to improve public service delivery, enabling the knowledge and experience of local residents as service users to better inform decision-making and methods of delivery.
Such profit-oriented development plans are transforming and restructuring the spatial and human landscape of the city, not taking into consideration the ethnic, cultural and social diversity already present in the areas undergoing regeneration. The existent heterogeneity of the neighbourhood is dismissed and reconstructed by planner’s ideas and marketing strategies intended to attract other social groups and walks of lives under the guise of fuelling local economic development. The rise of new businesses and activities directed to higher classes will cause social and economic malaise endangering local trade on the part of the former residents and shop owners. The cultural, economic, social and ethnic diversity are not valorised, appreciated or protected by contemporary regeneration plans and will be lost with the coming social and spatial formations.
Utopian plans, models and projections are worrisome and unrealistic social constructions. The usage of utopia in the production of space is a tool in the hands of developers and experts as a means to follow dreams of order and containment of life. An injection of desires and promises, which is emptying out the production of true, authentic lives through the fabrication of ready-made, artificial lifestyles and experiences directed to specific social groups.
We oppose and desire to act upon an urban experience that is everyday more punitive and segregating towards the lower classes. We oppose the revanchist city where diversity is no longer maintained by protecting and struggling to expand the rights of the most disadvantaged, but rather through pushing the disadvantaged out and making it clear that as broken windows rather than people, they simply have no rights to the city. We instead believe that the right to the city is a human right. Through our action we want to challenge the present hegemonic rule of liberal and neo-liberal market politics and logics, the dominant forms of legality and state action, embodied here by the developer, Space Ltd., and the Council. We want to revalorize the concept of right to the city, which is evermore dismissed and forgotten.
We oppose the commodification and privatization of our public space, the construction of gated communities and enclaves and the separation of the urban space for different social classes. We believe that the neo-liberal practices of gentrification, regeneration and global consumerism re-configuring the spatial arrangements of the city are powerful mechanisms for urban exclusion and alienation. The construction of exclusionary spaces and gated enclaves in the city and in our area will reinforce political and social tensions rather than enforcing and enriching communal living. We want urban space to be accessible and open to all.
The coalition’s struggle is set in place, our place. Such processes of capitalist development are wiping out the meaning of place for people, undermining and destroying its history and rather constructing new futures based on the developer’s dream and desire for profit and marked by the withdrawal of the welfare state and the social responsibility for the part of the public sector. The return to the community and our local mobilization is against this obliteration of meaning, it is confronting profit- motivated developmentalism and, in doing so, is attempting to salvage the idea that place is not a given but something that can be constantly re-imagined and re-invented – a space where the diversity and distinctiveness of people’s lives are acknowledged. Our coalition believes that the journey made of people’s empowerment and awareness of their role in the production of the urban is as important as the results. Mobilizing around the regeneration and development process has given us a way to explore the meaning of place, the experiential and expressive way our place is known, imagined, yearned for, held, remembered, voiced, contested and struggled over. The process of re-experiencing our place, the re-definition of politics based on the everyday and on local level, through our contestation are producing a space and awareness of human existence and social action.
Charter for Community Inclusion and a Better Quality of Life for All
In March 2012 a new “‘NEOgate, Regeneration Charter for Community Inclusion and a Better Quality of Life for All” was launched by local people and businesses.
We, the communities and traders of the NEOgate area, are being excluded from the multi-billion-pound regeneration being led by the Council.
The redevelopment of the core area is subjected to a private deal with Space Ltd, who is drawing up the masterplan for the area. No information on the masterplan and none of its details have been given to us since the first Development Framework.
Meanwhile, the Council is building “Early Housing” developments on our much needed open, green and play areas, as well as removing our local amenity shops, garages, residents’ parking spaces and other community facilities.
More then three quarters of the homes in these new developments will not be for the ex-residents Tenants, despite this being an explicit rationale for their inclusion in the NEOgate Plan, but for private sale. We believe that the regeneration process must be fair, just, and socially inclusive, and must provide for affordable housing and a better quality of life for all current and future residents of the area.
Space Ltd., offers a very ‘hostile’ housing offer to the local residents. Indeed, it leads to the crisis of place, where we, pre-existing tenants and traders, are wiped out in the spatial process of capitalist development in the guise of the slogan “live the urban revolution”.
Our specific requests are set out under three principles below.
Principle 1. Open Masterplanning
It is for the Council and Space Ltd. to operate an “open masterplan” policy. Namely, to enter into a development process for the site that is democratic, actively involving the local community. Due to the impossibility to access the masterplan on time, the local community did not have a chance to express preferences and necessity on their future allocation.
Specific actions requested include:
the developers and the Council to hold a public meeting to explain the masterplan, its benefits and how they will involve the local population in future steps of this process.
Principle 2. Benefits for All
To extend the benefits of the regeneration to the existing population, which have been left outside the target of the new development. The regeneration plan aims to provide a habitat for the Bohemian Bourgeoisie (BoBo) and Creative Classes to thrive but it does not include activities and space to permit the re-integration of the previous community.
• To identify how the amenities that are to be lost for the New Housing sites will be re-provided with safe and reasonable access for their user catchments.
• To assure open accessibility or membership to the new facilities (i.e. NEO Art Gallery and Sculpture Park, NEO Cultural Exchange Centre, Private Library and Members Club, Luxury NEO Gym and Leisure Facility) for the community. The demolition of the area has destroyed the communal space of the locals who deserve new possibilities to recreate a healthy environment. Therefore, to guarantee the sustainable strategy for the new buildings to be designed not just for the inhabitants of the new blocks but also to benefit existing residents;
• To undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment of the entire regeneration area including the Early Housing Sites;
• To commit to keeping all open space as fully public access at all times – no “semi private space” and no restrictions on access to the general public through gating. The area was an essential pedestrian walking route for locals, who would be forced to spend more time walking around the Estate;
• To retain and improve local shops and services reflecting community richness and diversity (this underlines the difficulties that people who lived in the area will undertake to recreate a friendly shopping environment, affordable and tied to the ethnicity diversification that was always a strong point of the neighbourhood).
• To avoid the development of a ‘BoBo ghettoization’ of the area. While pretending to be “creating a quality private/public realm which is safe and inviting, edgy and exciting 24 hours a day; encouraging flow and networking through ‘incident highlights’ - somewhere to contemplate, engage and socialize”, the regeneration plan can only accentuate the gap between the different communities.
• To prevent the creation of an ‘artistic class’ which does not include physical/traditional artistic practices but focuses on the use of new technologies and graphic devices. The new class of socio-media workers does not give the possibility for sculptures and painters to be embraced by the new BoBo’s identity.
Principle 3. Housing that really is Affordable
Recent (early 2011) discussions with the Housing and Communities Agency, indicate that greater public funding will be needed to save the regeneration. In addition, the development plan must fulfil its promise to replace the 1212 Council homes lost by the demolition of the Estate with the same number of social rented units (preferably council housing) in the new developments.
The development proposal offers 25% of Affordable Housing; half of which will be designed to accommodate artists and their practices. The remaining 12.5% of “Affordable Housing” will never fulfil the need to reallocate the community that lived in the area. Tenants should be allowed to move directly to the Early Housing sites or given enough time to find accommodation acceptable to them.