Odd short story. Arrived out of nowhere that one.
I suppose it was a bit trite wasn’t it?
A grumpy old person’s pop at things changing from their past.
Never mind grandad.
Of course I’ve felt like this from at least the early 1980s.
Not I suspect an accident that period of realisation that history was not an unchallenged Whig progression to English glory.
That initial realisation that things didn’t always improve was prompted by a friend trying to contact someone in the council to get something done. I can’t at forty years remove remember what it was, but I do remember his frustration at discovering that, due to the changes in local government funding being foisted on councils at the time, they no longer dealt with whatever it was because, if it were outsourced, it came under a different budget heading and they wouldn’t get grief from Westminster.
I walked past the monolith of the facade of Victoria Park Flats in Macclesfield thinking about how he could maybe persuade someone to tell him how to deal with this problem. And failing.
I mention Victoria Park flats as a cunning acknowledgement that change, ‘progress’ can be good and bad. Victoria Park flats replaced a demolished area of very tightly packed brick terrace mill workers houses. They had a sub Dickensian charm but must have been hell to live in. Victoria Park flats, ‘Viccy Park’, were medium rise concrete rat runs built in neo brutalist style that even the architect probably hated. But they were better plumbed, heated and not as rapaciously landlorded as 19th century mill owners tat.
The fact social disintegration set in shortly afterwards and the physical design encouraged that alienation beloved of social realists was the down side.
There were lots of good people in Viccy Park, but the drugs and the criminal minority got the headlines and the reputation was forged.
So thirty odd years after being ‘the finest housing development in the country’ according to Anthony Greenwood, Harold Wilson’s Housing Minister, demolition began. Traditional low rise buildings replaced the experimental work, but we should remember, that cool as those black and white photos of mill workers in their quaint dress standing outside Coronation Street style houses may look, the flats were a vast improvement for many. The sense of social togetherness and improvement that engendered the idea of replacing those terraces with the flats, may have been let down by the architecture and system build design of the private company that constructed them to the borough architect’s plan, but the recognition of owing the public something better than slums was good.
Under what social ideal were they demolished and replaced? Social justice? Better welfare? Or a desire to have a better facade for the town for visitors on the train.
So I don’t want to return to the terraced houses. Nor the collectivist vision of Viccy Park flats, but I have reservations about why they were replaced.
What worries me is that you can knock a concrete estate down and rebuild. Can you do that with a society? We’ve been through a period where the vision was; ‘no such thing as society’, and defenders of the person who said it can claim as much ‘misrepresentation’ as they like but it was taken as a mantra. A mantra that justified rapacious, devil take the hindmost excess in deregulated city firms that eventually led to the 2008 crash and a near collapse of capitalism. Oddly enough a world system saved by the intervention of governments led by Gordon Brown. A system that fell over its own greed, swallowed the state intervention medicine, kicked the doctor who saved it, and started chanting about the benefits of ‘small government’ and misquoting Ronald Reagan to say government wasn’t the solution it was the problem.
So when I looked at what was going on in the high street, in the offshoring of support services, in the crass manipulation of the language of ‘customer care’ from the viewpoint of someone looking at trying to save the world from outside the world, it became clear that maybe we, at least the western anglo-saxon version of how it works, ain’t worth saving. Even our supposed cures are nightmares: the internet of things, total digital integration to be exploited by monopoly global companies, dehumanising support chains with algorithms masquerading as artificial intelligence, and worse; the spectre of real AI hovering over us.
This isn’t an old git looking back, but a rational humanist perspective that realises there is no Whig theory of history that is going to save us. Unless we get our fingers out and make it clear: progress works for us or ships out, we are stuffed. We tell history where it goes not the other way round. We need to make sure those telling us that ‘X’ is inevitable get told where to go before they take us all to the cleaners.
Then again maybe it was just a trite bit of fun.