Park Hill's status has changed gradually from a source of intense municipal socialist pride to dilapidated sink estate.Thus perish all socialist dreams…
It is commonly described as the "largest listed building in Europe" and the largest listed brutalist or 60s building. In fact it's none of those things, with all those titles being taken by London's Barbican estate: a place that, like Park Hill, is full of bare concrete, open space, urban density, walkways, social facilities (both contain several schools and pubs, although only one an arts centre) and the separation of pedestrian and car. One is a problem that apparently had to be solved; the other one of London's most prestigious addresses. Why?I suppose the answer couldn’t be because….one’s in London, could it?
The obvious reason is that one is council housing and the other, from the very start, was built as private housing.Which makes you think that maybe it isn’t the building design, as such, but the building’s inhabitants…
Accordingly, the Barbican has always been cleaned and cared for; Park Hill has been left to rot.Because if the state owns your housing, you’ve no interest in keeping it clean and tidy – someone else can pay, innit?
It wasn’t always like this.
Many a council house in the 50s and 60s would have been kept scrupulously clean not by the council, but by the matriarch of the family and her young daughters. Woe betide anyone who didn’t, back in the days when scorn and shame were powerful motivators.
It’s only the increasing pernicious effects of years and years of depending on others and of the ‘anything goes!’ culture that has sapped that, and so produced the slums we see today.
Ed Miliband's cheering on of Thatcher's right-to-buy policy in his conference speech yesterday and his notion that council housing should be for the "deserving" poor are depressingly redolent of the era that let this happen ….Because giving free stuff to the undeserving poor has worked so well for us, eh, Owen?
Dear God, has anyone at the Guardian got any sense at all? As a Sheffielder I am not theorising about Park Hill (or its mate Hyde Park close by). I saw what happened when you put people in there. People who didn't give a shit about the quality of life of their own or anyone else's.
The lifts soon stank of piss before they broke down, people threw televisions from the elevated walkways rather than carry them downstairs (you learned to walk away from the edges of buildings), old people who had lived in houses on streets felt cut off from others and lived miserable lives.
It was all built in the good and great name of socialism, a homage to the joy that everyone was equal. Except they weren't as the scum rushed to prove.
I heard that an architect of these shit in the sky abominations pledged to live for three months in one (up at the top, with the best view) but guess what? He didn't stay any longer than he had to, unlike the poor bastards who were given no choice.
Socialism and architecture: surely the most poisonous combination ever.
“The lifts soon stank of piss before they broke down, people threw televisions from the elevated walkways rather than carry them downstairs.”
Indeed. The hazards of the flats were the stuff of local legend, and quite real. You’d think the behaviour of many of the tenants might warrant a mention in Mr Hatherley’s analysis.
“Which makes you think that maybe it isn’t the building design, as such, but the building’s inhabitants…”
I recently revisited the part of Sheffield I grew up in during the late Seventies and early Eighties - a mix of private and council housing, and home to what I’d call the respectable working class. Despite being unglamorous, I remember the area being relatively tidy, with well-kept gardens and no discernible sense of menace. The nearby problem families, of which I remember two, were openly disapproved of and occasionally challenged about noise, kids’ behaviour, etc. Challenging antisocial behaviour could still be done in relative safety, largely because other disapproving parents would make their feelings known too.
Now the place looks unspeakably grim and feels… well, desolate. Even allowing for some rose-tinted reminiscing on my part, the transformation is hard to miss. The buildings, shops and infrastructure are more or less the same, but the population – and the mood – seems radically different. My old school - now a “community arts college” - is surrounded by houses that used to be well-kept but are now squalid, barely inhabitable and covered in graffiti. Others have simply been abandoned. I definitely didn’t see boarded-up windows or graffiti as a kid. Nor did I see squalor. It looks like everyone who could leave did – apparently taking with them any vestige of bourgeois aspiration.
(Incidentally, Owen Hatherley is the chappie who thinks vaguely alternative pop music is impossible to make without unconditional benefits, a grant, a squat and a subsidised spell at art school. He also managed to the use the word “class” nineteen times in the same article.)
Yeesh. I spend around 12 hours per week maintaining my home. This includes the simple jobs of changing light bulbs and the more difficult tasks of remediating faulty wiring or jobs that weren't done to code / spec when the property was built.
I suffer massively from allergies and I'm a chronic asthma sufferer, yet somehow my gardens both front and back are neat and tidy. My driveway is normally clear (this week I have a hippo bag on it due to some DIY going on) and I manage to maintain it.
You know what I get given by other people to do this ? Nothing.
You know what happens to me if I don't do these things ? Nothing.
You know why I do it? I grew up poor in a place where poverty actually means something and I have some sense of personal pride. I do these things because I'm proud of what I have and where I am.
Why on earth, after getting GIVEN these things for free would you neglect them ?
In fact, he was quite wrong about the Barbican (where I lived as a small boy in the early 70s). It was built as high quality PUBLIC housing at reasonable rents and belonged to the City Corporation. The Corporation was in fact highly irritated when it found itself forced to sell to tenants under the Conservative right to buy legislation in the 80s and went to court to resist this; it lost. Since then, most (if not all) of the flats have indeed passed into private hands, but this was never the original intention.
The key difference with Park Hill, I suspect, was that the tenants of the Barbican were exclusively middle class; I seem to remember that our closest neighbours were an employee of the Science Museum, a barrister, a chartered accountant and a retired colonel.
Typical Guardian prejudice, I'd call this article.
My late parents always made the comment "it's not houses that make slums, it's people". Not a comment the lefties would recognise, I guess.
Gaze on in stunned silence.
i ear menshun of cash for the poor.pleese spair £5 tuwards a new computor readers.i joined the police sows i cud get in wiff my supliar.remorgage in the stokbrocker belt but tings artuff wot with my habbitts n oliday vila
"Park Hill's status has changed gradually from a source of intense municipal socialist pride to dilapidated sink estate."
Changed gradually? I don't think so.
I was shown round it on a Geography field trip in 1970. It was praised in no uncertain terms as the future of social housing. It was a shit heap even then. In 1979 I was living in Sheffield and it had gone even further downhill. The only thing it's ever done is answered the old question, "Is it the pig that makes the stye or the stye that makes the pig?"
South of the Thames, back in the early 80s, there were several blocks of high-rise flats which were pretty much a no go zone, and where no one wanted to live. The council moved the few remaining tenants out and sold the flats for a ridiculous price to developers, who tarted them up and installed 24-hour concierge-style security.
They sold like hot cakes. High rise living is dreadful for young families, great for young professionals. An acquaintance told me that the views towards Central London from the 12th floor picture windows seemed to do something to the various young women he'd invite back to listen to Sade and drink Bulgarian Cab Sauv.
See this near-legendary Peter Risdon post.
btw, I presume Park Hill's that mighty agglomeration of monoliths set on the hill above Sheffield station ?
With apologies to Wednesdayite and other Sheffielders, I recall deliberatly driving around Hyde Park and Park Hill on our way to the Peak District in the early 80's just to see if it was as awfull as our 'human geography' (ie socialist indoctrination) classes tried to pretend it wasn't. It was and very funny too.
My city has just one council house tower block, it is occupied soley by elderly working class folk who keep it pristine.
"Dear God, has anyone at the Guardian got any sense at all?"
A rhetorical question, I assume? ;)
"Now the place looks unspeakably grim and feels… well, desolate. Even allowing for some rose-tinted reminiscing on my part, the transformation is hard to miss."
I think you've had the benefit there of being away, to notice the change. I can well imagine, if you lived there, it would be harder to notice as it gradually got worse...
"Why on earth, after getting GIVEN these things for free would you neglect them ?"
Because they have no value to you. You didn't work for them.
"The key difference with Park Hill, I suspect, was that the tenants of the Barbican were exclusively middle class.."
"The only thing it's ever done is answered the old question, "Is it the pig that makes the stye or the stye that makes the pig?""
And it's a question to which we never seem to grasp the answer.
"High rise living is dreadful for young families, great for young professionals."
Indeed! So why did anyone ever think that they were ideal places for families?
"btw, I presume Park Hill's that mighty agglomeration of monoliths set on the hill above Sheffield station ?"
GoogleMaps say yes.
"My city has just one council house tower block, it is occupied soley by elderly working class folk who keep it pristine."
It can be done. So, no reason to spend more time on questioning why it isn't. Unless there's a grant in it, of course!
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