Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Kevin McCloud and the Big town plan

I don't know if anyone has been watching this, but it is turning me into even more of a revolutionary socialist with every episode. It is about the regeneration of a town, my town - Castleford where a bazillion generations of my family grew up. Including my good self.

DISCLAIMER  (because I don't live there now, but all my family do I have tended to jump between 'we' and 'they' when talking about the place. I hope this doesn't seem hypocritical or grammatically annoying.)

Kevin McCloud ( clearly an insufferable ponce) wanders the downtown area pointing out how depressed people are, that we have nothing- no more mines and yet, nowhere to get a cappuccino.

He has a point, Castleford is not a happy place. Thing is, Castleford has always been poor and its people exploited. The difference is the relationship to the means of production. Once upon a time Cas folk fit neatly into a marxist analysis, now production has moved to a place where people are cheaper to exploit. All that is left is the consumption of cheap goods, and selling these goods. Our place in the line of production has moved on from the creation of goods, to the selling of goods. 

This seems like some kind of step upwards, but it really isn't. As a worker in a shop you have few skills, are more dispensible and your job is often viewed as 'not a proper job'. When you actively produce something then there is a sense of value - or at least that there is necessity to what you do. When my grandad talks about working in Rowntrees sweet factory he has a  great sense of pride about it. It never made him rich, but he got a pension that him and my gran live well on, and with my grandma working as an old people's nurse they made enough to provide for a family. His job was stable and worth something, and the workers of Rowntrees could organise socially.The company treat employees relatively well, but then they had to; workers had power, even if that power was limited.My granddad may have just sugared almonds, but it was skillful, precise and not many other people knew how to do it. Workers had some power, even if they were in a subservient role within production.

I am not suggesting that this is some kind of ideal life, but it often seems that way when compared with what has come to replace it. The jobs available now are mainly retail and call centre work- coupled with spare time spent in excessive consumption of goods produced cheaply by people who can barely afford to live.  The increasing individualism of life makes people depressed, and we are a people without a clearly defined role. One thing is for sure, we are not a people empowered. 

I am lucky, my granddad was a skilled worker, my mum and dad have middling jobs and I have had enough education to propell me somewhere else. Somewhere else being a place I was very quick to find - which in many respects is sad considering the hundreds of years of family history here. It's sad that moving away is the best option.

What I am trying to say is - I don't really think it is the design of our town making people feel empty.

Much as this show boils my blood on a very personal level, I have never felt as proud of my home-town as I did watching the program. My favourite part was when one woman stood firm to get a big fence around a new park in Cutsyke. Obviously the architechts wanted a friendly open park that anyone could use at any time, but they don't live in Castleford. In a world without social injustice all parks should be open all the time - but in a place which has absolutely nowhere for young people to go, and social problems which foster destructive tendencies within the young, parks need fences. Sad, but true.

This woman said to the presenter, when he was waffling on about freedom or design or something, she said 'I'll flatten you,  you're not listening to me'.

This 'not listnening' was a frequent occurance ; like when the designers wanted to build a market with daft umbrella things. A market trader ( big guy, tattoos) said 'what about the wind'. They ignored his point, largely because it was made in a northern accent by a guy with tattoos.

Lo and behold the prototype failed to withstand the wind.

Yet Channel 4 know best, and think that good design will help teenagers not to destroy things. What a ludicrous conceit.

In there is one particularly bad scheme in Fryston, where they actually destroy a community centre to replace it with a ridiculous sculpture ( 3 rocks on top of each other). Leaving the local residents with no-where to play bingo. Good going.

All in all it seems that Channel 4 want the residents of Castleford to be 'regenerated' into happy middle class citizens. This is obvious in what they decide to create . Markets = good, just like the farmers market, they can buy organic food and vegetables. They can be just like us...
Community centres, bingo, brass bands = not even a consideration, why would I need a community centre all you do there is hang around with other poor people and play bingo (and not in an ironic way either...) How is that supposed to boost the economy?

Yet another example of tv (white middle class run medium that it is) encouraging us to conform to a middle class ideal. It is also a particularly good example of how top down development doesn't work.  The people of Castleford are intelligent enough to decide what they want from their town, despite the fact they say it with broad accents , bad haircuts and cheap clothes. There was one point where some other ponce said 'and this woman was actually very articulate'

One wanted to take that 'actually' out of his sentence and shove it somewhere very painful. Working class people aren't thick, so stop treating Castleford like it is. Or we will flatten you.

What we should flatten is the huge new Walmart(Asda) on the edge of town. Walmart have a long history of ruining small towns in the USA, a fact conveniently omitted by this program. No wonder they don't mention it, they whole idea is to encourage new development through flimsy design concepts. The fact that big developers are one a huge factor in the destruction of the town is skirted around, and ultimately left unquestioned.

Ultimately watching the programme the people included had a good grasp of the way they were being ignored, and that they did not want to be condescended to or regenerated by the middle classes. So I guess socialism seems to still be here - but without any political force to harness it. 

Another spot on the world map betrayed by new labour. Maybe I should go home and unite an army of workers to bring the country back into the hands of the people, but then where would I get a decent cappuccino?*

Ps - The Guardian really irritated me with this little piece on the program, wittering on about the pronunciation of 'cas'. Yes our accents are different. Deal with it - and stop hoping that everyone there will regenerate into people who buy your sodding newspaper. The other annoying element of this is that despite the fact that the program is about the north, all his focus is on southerners. Yet again we are othered. I know I am taking this out of proportion and it's a tiny bit that he probably wrote in 5 minutes - but sod it, the world does not revolve around the home fucking counties......

* This is a load of nonsense, there are numerous places in Castleford where you can buy a cappuccino - I was just using it as an example of middle class consumption to illustrate my point. 
You could replace it with 'vegan smoothie' or even 'bookshop that sells something other than dan brown and mills and boon' if accuracy is your thing.