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Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First Century City
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- Andrew Saint reviews ‘Ground Control’ by Anna Minton · LRB 19 November ;
- Ground Control : Fear and happiness in the twenty-first-century city - Anna Minton.
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Add to basket -. Watch this item Watching Watch list is full. Good: A book that has been read, but is in good condition. Reveals the untested urban planning that transforms not only our cities, but the nature of public space, of citizenship and of trust. This book argues for an alternative, continental approach that celebrates shared space.
Anna Minton's writing has always highlighted complex subject areas which are vital to the way we live but are often overlooked. Ground Control emerged from a series of three agenda setting reports, two of which were published by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and another by the think tank, Demos, looking at the enormous impact of gated communities and ghettoes in the US and how this was being transported to the UK and the growing privatization of space.
Her media experience and networks in urban policy have led her to advisory boards for a number of public and private sector clients. Anna is the recipient of five national journalism awards. She was former staff writer for the Financial Times and writes regularly for the Guardian. Ground Control is her first book. Postcode: Please enter a valid postcode.
None Royal Mail International Standard. What interests Minton more is whether barriers, guards and cameras make people feel safer. Indeed, there is much evidence to show that they make people more fearful. She cites the case of a woman living in a gated community who was terrified at hearing of an unidentified stranger inside the compound. Though the gates were there to relieve her craving for security, when it came to the test they did no such thing. Minton also reflects on one of the many side-effects of mobile phones. These, too, work as barriers of a kind.
Now that most people have them, almost every visit to a friend or neighbour is preceded by a call, often a whole string of them. The unexpected rap on the door is rarer. For many it now conjures up instant fear of the criminal or confidence-trickster.
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No matter how often and conclusively official figures set out the decline in urban crime, the public refuses to believe them. Imagining that they are being lied to, they carry on fortifying their houses. The bloodthirstiness of popular journalism and the cult of the penny dreadful terrified many Victorian urban families.
Perhaps the difference now is that we tend to believe we can call on a technical fix to counter fear.
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Older answers stressed a personal response: vigilance and aloofness in public places, and rigorously respectable behaviour. Both solutions are about closing off, not opening up.
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We seem to have a congenital disposition to find interaction with strangers more dangerous than it is. The second main subject of Ground Control is the sorry state of current British housing policy and design, which Minton relates instructively to the security obsession.
She begins by reviewing the history of the Pathfinder scheme, which, in an uncanny repetition of policies from the s, has had the effect of condemning thousands of urban homes, particularly in the North-West of England. How many thousands Minton has found it hard to discover, as secretiveness shrouds such initiatives once they are subcontracted to the private sector, as almost all housing now is: the original target was ,, of which 57, had been scheduled to go in Most of these houses are still serviceable and many have been upgraded, so their demolition is an ecological scandal.
Walls, fences, grilles and intercoms dominate; shared and indeterminate space is shrunk. Many housing architects could tell a similar tale. Minton has more to say about the American influences, no doubt because they wield so much power today. As long ago as , Jane Jacobs in her Death and Life of Great American Cities presented the case for a free and open security system based on the mutual vigilance of the street. That was partly countered by Oscar Newman, whose Defensible Space of suggested design solutions to the rising tide of crime on public housing estates.
The contrast between the two books owed much to the bitter American urban clashes of the late s. Newman, no reactionary, offered a methodology and specific measures for improving tough places. She was given her head to revamp a few housing estates, but her success was short-lived. There are limits to how much can be done by design. This passionate and vivid polemic shows us the face of Britain today, revealing the untested urban planning that is transforming not only our cities, but the nature of public space, of citizenship and of trust.
Anna Minton meets those who live and work in the new private spaces, those who've fought against them and those who are excluded from them, providing forceful evidence that physical barriers are leading to a divided nation. Yet there is another way. Offering some surprising solutions, Anna Minton argues for an alternative, continental approach that celebrates shared space. Ultimately Ground Control presents a better, happier future for our communities, and our society.
Review: Ground Control by Anna Minton | Books | The Guardian
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