Monday, May 03, 2021

"Build Back Better" - really? by JD

I'm sure you will all be familiar with this phrase, the latest in a never-ending river of political slogans. It has become very popular among our political leaders in the western world.

The local (un)Conservative Mayoral candidate has included the phrase in his 'manifesto' and when I saw it I stopped reading and groaned inwardly. He obviously has no thoughts of his own and thinks the electorate will accept a second-hand and meaningless slogan and think him wise. The evidence of the past year is that a large percentage of the electorate is gullible enough to believe it. I shall refrain from naming the candidate to spare his embarrassment, not that politicians are ever embarrassed!

But we have been here before; Alan Hull of Lindisfarne wrote this song about T Dan Smith, 'Mr Newcastle' who wanted to 'build back better' by demolishing half of the City of Newcastle and rebuilding it as 'the Brasilia of the North'. Oscar Niemayer's plans for Brasilia didn't turn out too well either.

The results of Dan's 'plan' were the uglification of the city centre. Just one example of this was the elegant Royal Arcade, designed by John Dobson, which was demolished to make way for a huge roundabout serving the new central motorway. The Arcade was carefully 'unbuilt' and the stones were numbered and stored to be rebuilt in another location at a later date. Under the supervision of the usual crop of 'wise' civic leaders, the stones were numbered in chalk which quickly disappeared in the rain. Dan Smith subsequently ended up in jail after his involvement with John Poulson and a huge financial scandal which led to the resignation of Reginald Maudling who was Home Secretary at the time.

Smith was not the only political 'visionary' who thought he could improve our lives with grand civic projects and brand new housing, which at that time meant flattening terraced housing and replacing them with 'streets in the sky' tower blocks which were universally hated by everyone except architects and planners. I have previously posted on the subject here

It is possibly unfair to single out Dan Smith but his story is the one with which I am most familiar. However I know that planning disasters including the hated tower blocks were widespread in the 60s and 70s. I have also known and worked with many architects and every single one I have known was enthusiastic, almost evangelical about the ideas of the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and all of the other modernist vandals. Nobody bothered to ask the people who were rehoused in those tower blocks. It is no coincidence that most of these blocks have been demolished.

So the current claim that this latest slogan of 'build back better' will give us a bright shiny new future is just more of the same; in other words it is a lie because we know that politicians are not capable of building anything.

And then there will be the unintended consequences of the latest 'build back better' fad just as there were the unintended consequences of the earlier utopian plans to create cities of the future with their skyscrapers (have you noticed it is always skyscrapers?)

In the following video clip, Roger Scruton is in conversation with Hamza Yusuf about the impact of modern ugly architecture on Islamic culture and why beauty matters. He describes the modern city as looking like a mouth full of broken teeth. One of the many people who hated the destruction of human scale cities was an architectural student named Mohammed Atta who had been an architecture student in Hamburg and he hated the inhumanity of high rise buildings of the type his parents were moved into in Cairo. Scruton implies that when Atta flew an aeroplane into the World Trade Centre in New York, it was for him not only a political/religious act against the USA/unbelievers but also a symbolic blow against soulless, oppressive architecture.

Scruton talks about Mohammed Atta flying into the Twin Towers at 1:30 onwards:


MrMC said...

Regarding crushing people in to tower blocks I was reminded of a conversation I saw online about someone saying they drive for hundreds of miles in Spain and see nothing, no people or buildings yet people are crushed into little cities, and someone also pointing out the same in the UK with roads and the south East congested into small areas of population, yet hundreds of miles of nothing travellling around the country, yet someone owns this land, same with Scotland there was an interesting article somewhere about "who owns Scotland" the land apparently is in the hands of a few people.
My point is, I recall a "fact" (worth checking again maybe) that if we stood all shoulder to shoulder we would occupy an area of the Isle of White. Yes I understand the infrastructure to support will take up areas as well but it is food for thought maybe.

MrMC said...

And this is interesting:

Could the entire population of the world plausibly live in Great Britain?

Sackerson said...

Yes, given enough imported food, and sufficient militia to deal with large numbers of people going stir-crazy in their sky prisons.

Sackerson said...

... read this?

MrMC said...

Interesting, yet from 2017:

New land cover atlas reveals just six per cent of UK is built on

Land cover atlas of UK shows more than half of land use is agricultural
Around six per cent of the UK is built on with 83 per cent of the population living in towns and cities
England is the most urbanised among the home nations with nine per cent of land classed as built on