The City of London Lie Machine has been working at full pelt this summer, spreading disinformation on many subjects including the Culture Mile. Last weekend in Fortune Street Park, the City was distributing an expensively printed pamphlet about the proposed Centre For Music at the current Museum of London site. As we’ve pointed out before, it would be better to combine the proposed Centre For Music with plans for a new classical concert hall in Merton and build it in south-west London, so that the Museum of London site (if it is vacated)* could be used for social housing.
Among the many absurdities in the pamphlet currently being distributed to local people is a page headlined The Partners, which lists the organisations steamrollering over any attempt at critical discussion of the Centre For Music proposal as the Barbican Arts Centre, London Symphony Orchestra, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Culture Mile and City of London Corporation. Rather than ‘partners’, the first four entities can be better described as proxies for the latter, since the Corporation provides funding for all of them; the Barbican Arts Centre, for example, is an artwashing space the City of London owns. Meanwhile the Camden New Journal reports the City is looking to cut funding to Hampstead Heath in order to pay for unwanted Culture Mile projects including the proposed Centre For Music:
Hampstead Heath managers, the City of London, are facing a £30million cash squeeze, prompting fears of cuts to services and staff on the open space, and the spectre of new charges to use facilities on the common land.
The Heath’s consultative committee, made up of groups that represent Heath users, was told at a meeting on Monday night that an annual £6m budget for open spaces is under review as the City seeks to find savings.
In a report to the committee, the City’s finance chiefs said it hoped to find around £30m by 2020 due to “an ambitious programme of activity and projects to deliver a thriving City”.
The report stated that, with huge projects such as a new £250m-plus concert hall at the Barbican and work on markets in the Square Mile ahead, “the financial budget position will become increasingly challenging”.
A trust fund known as City’s Cash paid out £6.3m in 2018 to manage the Heath – and number crunchers are looking at how the Heath’s budget can be managed to contribute to the savings needed….
The Heath and Hampstead Society’s representative, Thomas Radice, said: “We are deeply concerned about any adverse effects on the Heath’s budget because of the Museum of London and Simon Rattle’s new music venue.”
The Highgate Society’s Michael Hammerson said the City needed to be reminded of the Heath’s importance to London as a whole, adding: “Are these projects looking at raising the City’s international standing? If that is done by cutting the Heath budget, it could be very counter-productive.”
Chairwoman Karina Dostalova promised to pass the views of the committee on to members of the City’s Common Council, who will be overseeing the spending review.
A City spokesman said: “We are committed to making the most efficient and effective use of our resources for the benefit of the City, London and the nation as a whole. In the face of a challenging financial landscape, the City Corporation is determined to maintain high quality services. The City Corporation is undertaking a fundamental review to ensure we rise to this challenge. Elected members will consider a range of proposals later this year.”
Hampstead Heath could face cuts in City of London cash squeeze. Heath’s guardians search for £30million in savings as Square Mile projects put pressure on budgets by Dan Carrier, Camden New Journal, 12 July 2019.
Note the City’s spokesperson emphasizing ‘elected’ members considering the proposed cuts, when 80% of those members are ‘elected’ not by City of London residents but by undemocratic business votes given to the finance and legal industries. Meanwhile over the past few weeks the Talk Culture Mile series of events in the City demonstrated the exclusionary nature of this project, with the aim being to bring ‘together organisations from across all sectors’ while not inviting the main stakeholders, local residents. So while the Improving Social Mobility Through Creative Skills talk was held at Golden Lane Community Centre on 4 July 2019, no one involved troubled themselves to notify tenants on the council estate that houses the venue of this event, since it seems the idea is to leave the organisation of social mobility to professionals – who we assume are mostly interested in preserving their own privileges by holding back the working class. The fact this talk was intended for people unfamiliar with the area rather than local residents was underlined by the leaflet promoting it carrying the following information after the venue’s address: “The community centre is opposite Great Arthur House, EC1Y 0RD”. Local people know where the community centre is.
The other Talk Culture Mile events appeared just as absurd. The Role of Technology in Heritage Engagement at the Museum of London on 11 July 2019 seemed focused on micro-managing local people’s engagement with the history of their local area from above in ways that benefit the elite who currently control the City of London, rather than democratically following the lead of the local community in exploring how it understands its own past and the ways it wishes to shape its own future. The Relationship Between the Property and Cultural Sectors at the Gresham Centre on 27 June 2019 serves to underscore what we’ve previously had to say about the Culture Mile being about gentrification, marginalization and social cleansing.** The multinational banking and financial services corporation ING were billed as co-presenting this talk with the Culture Mile, at which the panelists were addressing ‘what makes them excited about collaborative working between the two sectors (property and cultural development), and how this relationship can grow to develop a sustainable cultural practice’. Finally there was Exploring the Role of Culture and Creativity in Business at SEI Investments (Europe) Ltd on 20 June 2019.
What the Culture Mile propaganda from the City of London Lie Machine fails to address is that living cultures emerge from living communities, whereas dead cultures are imposed from above and lead to gentrification and social exclusion. The problem with City of London artwashing is not just that it attempts to provide a fig-leaf of respectability for the Corporation and the resource plundering elite who benefit from the City’s neo-liberal lobbying, but also that it seeks to smoother living cultures with a dead art whose very blandness it seems is intended to blind us to the role it plays in social cleansing. In relation to this it is perhaps worth considering the work of Alejandro Cartagena – not yet featured in the Culture Mile! – and the text Ximena Peredo wrote to accompany his documentary photographs of a Mexican development project gathered together in A Guide to Infrastructure and Corruption:***
Urban infrastructure is a gear of political power. Its aim is to conquer the territory of the city and hold dominion over certain city relationships. Public space is more than just a polygon delineated by coordinates, it is a factory of social realities. There would be nothing problematic about this power if it weren’t exclusive. Those who build the city exercise a regulatory power over our mindset and our everyday experience. The rhythms that regulate our hours, “our place” in society and the type of roads we take on our daily commute are manifestations of this control.
Behind urban infrastructure are countless relationships of power as well as a certain repertoire of knowledge, speeches, fashion and images that tend to justify plunder or destruction. Therefore the overpass and throughway turn out to be the material outcome of coalitions between a wide range of ideas, beliefs and relationships, which constitute its true power: they represent the city on the continual path of progress. This is how planners, partners and administrators end up making public spaces an ideological issue.
Progress is no longer a visual representation but a political reality that influences what should or should not take up space in a city… Ultimately, this control will implode because it systematically denies life and memory their rightful place. Consequently, those who build the city are the fortunate winners in a cacophonic bidding war. The guidelines are dictated by construction companies that will raise the avenue in spite of public opposition. The end results are cities that are ideal for doing business but not for living.
Ximena Peredo is writing here about the building of new roads and freeways in Monterrey, Mexico, but what she says applies to many projects whose end results include social cleansing, such as the Culture Mile.
The header shows Golden Lane Community Centre with Great Arthur House behind it.
*At the beginning of this month City AM reported ballooning costs to the new Museum of London project. It is possible it will come to be considered unaffordable:
The price tag for the new Museum of London in West Smithfield market has increased by a third to £332m after studies revealed the extent of repair work needed.
The relocation, previously estimated to cost £250m, is one of the largest cultural projects underway in Europe and is set to be the UK’s most expensive cultural building project ever.
The revised budget was revealed as the museum unveiled designs for its new home, drawn up by Stanton Williams, Asif Khan and Julian Harrap Architects…
But surveys have showed the “desperate” need for repair and renewal at the West Smithfield buildings, home to the historic meat and fish market.
The City of London Corporation, which owns the market, is the project’s biggest donor, and has increased its funding from £110m to £192m. The Mayor of London has also pledged £70m to the new museum.
The museum itself still has a further £44m left to raise from its original target of £70m…
The Museum of London said its new venue will be open 24 hours a day, as it looks to take advantage of the booming night-time economy in its Farringdon location.
The organisation aims to submit a planning application by the end of 2019. The opening is expected in 2024, two years later than originally planned…
The project has also received donations of £10m from the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, £10m from the Linbury Trust and £5m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Cost of new Museum of London balloons to £332m over ‘desperate’ need for repairs by James Warrington, City AM, 1 July 2019: https://web.archive.org/web/20190702134206/https://www.cityam.com/cost-of-new-museum-of-london-balloons-to-332m-over-desperate-need-for-repairs/
** The same socially exclusionary processes seem to be taking place on land owned by the City outside its local authority boundaries. The City pushed Crossrail precisely because it benefited landowners with holdings close to the project, and the City is the biggest of those landowners. Now it seems intent on maxing out the profits on the assets it owns around London, see for example this report from the Islington Gazette:
A socially responsible collective of Brewery Road industrialists want assurances they won’t be booted out in favour of a King’s Cross-style take over by big firms.
Their sites are in “Islington’s last significant strip of light industry”, which is protected by the council. Now they want the same backing from their landlord, the City of London Corporation.
Halo Lighting – a hire company – has been asked to leave next month so landlord the City of London Corporation can redevelop the building in a two-year project.
Owner Yann Guenancia, who is moving to the Angel in the meantime, wants to know Halo will be able to return to its home of 12 years once it’s complete – but has so far received no such commitment.
Halo is a founding member of the N7 Collective, a group of creative production companies highly-valued by Islington Council, which banded together three years ago in the face of rent reviews to agree to a set of common values, such as offering posts to young people from the area. Yann estimates the N7 Collective has created 300 “high-value, desirable jobs” in the community.
He told the Gazette: “There are many examples of landlords trying to redevelop buildings and putting pressure on the council to yield on light industry.
“This is the last significant street of light industry in Islington – that’s why they have protected this cluster. The pressure is going to be enormous in years to come. We are already seeing it. The King’s Cross redevelopment has brought a whole new set of businesses and now we are next on the menu.
“We are very precarious unless we become a protected species for the benefit of all.”
‘Protect our businesses in world-renowned hub or we are doomed,’ Brewery Road collective tells City of London Corporation. A businessman asked to vacate his site so it can be redeveloped fears he won’t be allowed back – and that this could spell the end for Islington’s “globally renowned” hub of light industry by Lucas Cumiskey, Islington Gazette, 11 July 2019: https://web.archive.org/web/20190712183441/https://www.islingtongazette.co.uk/news/brewery-road-collective-urges-city-of-london-corporation-to-protect-its-globaly-renowned-businesses-1-6154045
Hampstead Heath could face cuts in City of London cash squeeze. Heath’s guardians search for £30million in savings as Square Mile projects put pressure on budgets by Dan Carrier, Camden New Journal, 12 July 2019: http://camdennewjournal.com/article/hampstead-heath-could-face-cuts-in-city-of-london-cash-squeeze