Space is the place

Over the last decade house prices have risen well in excess of local wages to such an extent, as to become unaffordable for the majority. All around us developers relentlessly build, yet the situation remains impossible. Even Section 106 agreements with their ‘affordable homes’ stipulations prove ineffective. Many of these ‘homes’ are ‘affordable’ in name only and remain unobtainable. Only last year the Guardian reported that out of the 15,000 Manchester City Council dwellings granted planning permission over the preceding two years, none could be deemed “affordable.”

Community spaces under threat

However, this is not the only situation in which local people are forced to suffer the consequences. Barely a week goes by without hearing of a much-loved venue or community space being closed in favour of a new development. The latest victim is Gwdihŵ in Cardiff, a community arts hub responsible for nurturing the cities’ best-known talent. Gwdihŵ is situated on Guildford Crescent, one of Cardiff’s original streets. The Council launched a consultation to give the crescent conservation status. Although this resulted in postponing the demolition of the crescent, it has not prevented the closure of Gwdihŵ.

Cardiff Street Art
Cardiff Street Art. Photo by Scott Causer.

A similar story is happening everywhere. Since 2007, 40 per cent of London’s music venues have disappeared, while Bristol’s have reduced by half. The reason for these closures is multi-faceted and incorporates rising rents, planning regulations, noise abatement notices, licensing and redevelopment. It appears scant regard is given to cultural value and community identity when it comes to the pursuit of money.

The redevelopment of cultural spaces displaces businesses and costs people their jobs. It deprives communities of their identity and prevents people from making vital connections.

Community spaces provide facilities and a lifeline to those excluded from mainstream society and can assist in reconnecting them. Brexit and austerity have all impacted our communities adversely. Gang problems are rooted in a lack of social spaces. We need these spaces to bring people together.

Stavanger Street Art
Stavanger street art. Photo by Scott Causer.

Commitment to art and culture

It would be wise to learn a lesson off the Norwegian city Stavanger which has embraced art and culture to such an extent, it is part of the fabric of everyday life. The city hosts international cultural festivals which literally leave their mark on the city. Art is visible on their streets, on their buildings, in the street furniture, resulting in a beautiful and unique tourist attraction. It is this commitment to the arts that saw Stavanger awarded the European Capital of Culture in 2008 alongside Liverpool.

Stavanger provides a platform for a vibrant culture which is reflected in the livability of the city. Unemployment and crime rates remain consistently low even for Norway, which itself experiences among the lowest rates in Europe. Culture is said to foster cohesion and understanding between different sections of the community. It can be no coincidence that incidences of hate crime in Stavanger are especially low.

When a community space is taken away, a place loses its sparkle and a large part of what made it such a special place to live in. Corporate greed impacts all of our lives, turning our towns and cities into faceless places. As housing professionals, we need to exert our influence so that developers and their enablers prioritise the wider interests of the community.

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