Wednesday, 31 October 2007

the gnome trail

the recent press release from the ubiquitous urban splash,, the now legendary manchester property developers 'with soul' made my pince nez pop out of my deeply creviced old eyeballs...

in typical cheery faux situationist style, they start with a gleeful invitation to check out Saxton in Leeds, a former social housing plot of tower blocks, just waiting to rid itself of its annoying council tenants so that it can reap the benefits of their particular brand of cheeky regentrification and post-modern irony; prices starting at just 100 grand!!!

'there's so much going on at Saxton it's hard to know where to start! We're stripping it back, spreading it out and adding just the right amount of love and attention to create 410 modern apartments. if you want to come down and find out how to buy your very own gnome sweet home... we'll make sure the kettle's on!'

they continue in mock trainspotting style...choose life, choose urban splash - i guess the target audience 'gets' the frankly rather dated cultural associations.

'our approach differs from the norm. we challenge convention. we design with imagination. our buildings work for the people inside them - and the city beyond.

result: a catalogue of spectacular spaces where urban residents and workers thrive together. like to see how? the journey starts here...

i want to regenerate my city. Urban Splash like to put down roots. we make places that work. we think East Leeds can be special. and we’re starting here.

i want a home i can afford. with prices from £99 950, Saxton is perfect for your first little nest. and what a nest it is: a beautiful apartment, in beautiful grounds, near a beautiful city'

the gnome trail, the 3 towers, chips - the wearying and jaded mock playful ‘arent we fun and young’ approach; the ‘we just make it happen man’ pseudo revolution they feign leadership of. as if they actually are urban warriors, activists, situationists, bringing back the possibility of play and detournement for the people, on the streets, when in fact they are the arch enemy of the Situationist, appropriating the tools of the derive as they do for their own, highly commercial ends.

i want to like them. i want to admire and applaud their initiatives in urban renewal and plans for neglected brown field sites but inevitably feel bitter and twisted after coming into contact with their smug little marketing campaigns, all disingenuous ‘childs play’…the enfant terrible of housing developing!

its not their fault that government, nationally and locally, are abandoning any responsibility for urban renewal, leaving it to property developers, however high minded and socially engaged, to transform our benighted city spaces and dilapidated social housing schemes into the playgrounds of the chattering classes! but the fact remains that this parcelling up of the public sphere and our dilapidated social housing only benefits those able to afford the mere 99, 000 starting price.

'i want a garden with a view. at Saxton, we’re creating a very modern english country garden: terraces, lawns, hills, but all in beautiful modern materials. let’s go outside.

i want my own allotment. Saxton has room to grow your own. we’re providing mini-allotments, so that you can provide for yourself. can you dig it?

these are the very questions being posed by all those excluded from the possibility of this very basic dream - the right not, as we have now been persuaded, to buy our own private community or society, but to live in a society where this is accessible to all; where the poor, the disenfranchised by the property boom, can be part of this utopia.

'they come with that usual Urban Splash touch, as well as low energy appliances and built in recycling bins to make your green life easier. but that's not all; Saxton is set in six acres of wide open space and we're making the best use of it. we've got ‘probably' the biggest private landscaped garden in Leeds with wildflower meadows, an orchard and 27 allotments, so you can grow your own five-a-day (and probably some for your neighbours too!)'

the terrible reality and real scandal is that the very people who would most benefit from a sense of community, of centrality to their city, of open spaces, decent homes and neighbourliness, allotments and rootedness, are the very people constantly moved on; the tenants of the old tower blocks, of all these regeneration schemes, whose fragile communities are broken up to make way for a property developers dream, for a buy-to-let investor.

'i want to make friends with my neighbours...there’s space for community to grow. allotment fences to gossip over and a back garden for a spot of deck-chair action. how are you?'

actually urban splash, they're pretty pissed off...

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