Campkin deftly illuminates how the regeneration of the urban fabric is never a straightforward process of replacing the old with the new. Rather, since urban spaces are unavoidably social, it’s individuals and communities that feel the brunt of the ‘imminent and irreversible changes’ set in motion by the re-development process. Inequality, displacement, polarisation and a reduction of social diversity can, and do, arise from urban regeneration, particularly when the focus is on stimulating economic growth and land values rather than placing people at the heart of what we think the term ‘regeneration’ actually means.
Emphasising the forms of decline and degradation that regeneration is meant to counter, Campkin sets the capital’s recent restructuring within a longer-term historical framework, taking us on a journey through five of the most hotly contested sites of renewal in the modern and late-modern city, from the Somers Town ‘slum clearance’ of the 1920s and ’30s to the mid-2000s ‘burial’ of Hackney Wick and its ‘bioremediation’ as the Olympic Park. In so doing, he underscores how both the spaces and peoples of London have been stigmatised by discourses of material degradation and social decline, inextricably tying them together through reference to base conditions and social and spatial disorder. ‘Unhealthy’, ‘ugly’, ‘sick’, ‘ruined’, ‘dirty’, ‘wasteful’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘dysfunctional’ are just some of the terms used to justify London’s re-invention.
In short, Remaking London is a beautifully crafted book and a jolly good read, drawing on multiple sources – from journalism to performance art – to elucidate what truly lies behind the façade of social improvement.
REMAKING LONDON: Decline and Regeneration in Urban Culture by Ben Campkin, IB Tauris, £18.99