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?