Healing hurts: past

The big picture of the London Riots is very disturbing. The burnt out shell of the 140 year old Reeves furniture store is symbolic of the losses London has suffered. “It is now likely that the damage which was ‘worse than the blitz’ would force the ravaged building to be demolished and rebuilt.” How to explain the mindless and pointless destruction and the reckless endangering of life supposedly by a twentyone year old?

So is it social division, or a bizarre new form of recreation to relieve ennui, the result of political correctness, a new phenomenon of virtual gangs or some other cause?

More importantly, how should London rebuilt to heal hurts past and with a renewed confidence as the Olympic city? And what lessons does the experiences in London hold for the sustainable urban design and planning of other complex global cities?

26 thoughts on “Healing hurts: past

  1. Earth Designs

    I feel so sorry for the innocent people that have lost homes and livelihoods as a result of the handful of opportunists that wreaked havoc. I would like to think they were demonstrating for a cause, but sadly it is fuelled by greed. I also feel sorry for all the innocent youths that are part of this generation, I hope we are able to see the bright lights in the darkness.

  2. Tom Turner

    Wiki has collected some explanations for the 2011 riots and I am sorry to see that the welfare trap/unemployment trap is not yet on the list. I would not want to take the other causes off the list but it is a pity that the bankers are not being blamed. The Bank of England is willing to lend money to other bankers at 0.5% but if you want to borrow money for a job-creating commercial scheme then (1) you will probably be refused (2) you will be charged 12.5% if you can give the deeds of your house to the bank as collateral. This means that too few jobs are being created so they give people welfare at a higher rate than the minimum wage. So they do not want a job and they get bored. We cannot blame them for being poor and bored, though we can blame them for criminal behaviour. The bankers do not go to jail for borrowing money at 0.5% and lending it at 12.5%. Nor do they need to break into shops to get they consumer goods they want, because they have 6- and 7-figure salaries. Nice work if you can get it, but not as socially useful as growing organic food or looking after the elderly.

  3. Christine

    I guess there are two sides to the question. 1) What do people think are the causes of the riots? 2) And who actually was involved and why? [ http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/world/europe/14looters.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1 ]

    The riots in the UK have started soul searching in the US. [ http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/riots-in-britain-raise-questions-about-whether-america-could-face-similar-violence/2011/08/13/gIQABU4SDJ_story_1.html ]

    Perhaps the riots in Tottenham could be compared to events in Oakland:

    “Last summer, Davey D witnessed the explosion of anger in Oakland after a white police officer who shot an unarmed, prone black man in the back at close range was acquitted of murder. Thirty downtown businesses were damaged, bank windows were smashed, a few stores looted and 78 people arrested.”

    However as one writer who lives in Tottenham and found himself caught within the unfolding scene suggests there was a point of transition:

    “But even as I watched on that first night, a crucial negotiation was unfolding, a turning point almost utterly obscured by all that followed across London and other English cities, as those protesters who felt their point about Duggan’s killing had been made were superseded by those with a different agenda. It was a group, some of whom had been part of the protest, defined not by anger but by self-interest.”
    [ http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/13/tottenham-riots-youth-hackney-haringey ]

    It seems this was the point at which gang involvement emerged in Tottenham from the ‘other’ London?

    So maybe the causes are different at each location? Perhaps there needs to be virtual reconstructions of how events unfolded at each location to get an accurate picture of the dynamics involved?

  4. Tom Turner

    I have listened to a lot of analysis from politicians and journalists. Most of them are treating the riots as an opportunity to grind their own axes eg ‘it proves what I have been saying about the need for free childcare for working mums’.
    The interviews with participants have been much more interesting – and are much more depressing. The typical reply is ‘we just want stuff’. Gangs have discovered, perhaps from the Philadelphia ‘flash mobs’, or perhaps from the Arab Spring, that smart phone can be used to organise mass larceny. Also, the police have been taught that the prevention of injuries, to themselves or to the public, is more important than anything which might happen to property. So an opportunity for profitable adventurism has arisen and has been snatched.
    The gang culture is a significant context for the ‘riots’. Poor people live on grim ‘housing estates’ with many mums, few dads, few employment opportunities and little physical security – unless you belong to a gang. So the gang gets up to mischief and then meets up to tell tales about all the fun which has been had.
    These are my impressions from the few interviews I have heard – a full sociological analysis should be done.

  5. Grant

    Tom your first two answers brilliant, here i have added my pennies worth.

    All my comments are inspired by U.S. Pres. Franklin Roosevelt, and the New Deal, bottom line it worked!!

    Devoured the papers for answers this weekend. The similarity to the early 80’s when i was living on the Isle of Dogs is uncanny.
    Same problems , disaffected youth (i was one of them then), no jobs, no prospects, a government blaming all societies ills on the youth/unions.
    Cut,cuts and more cuts no real investment in jobs, all candy floss (including the development of the Isle of Dogs) short term stuff, got rid of apprenticeships (what was ‘She’ thinking)!

    Also the ‘do as i say, not as i do’ from our supposed betters. so were is the incentive to look for the long term, none ,so short term thrills. It will keep happening until investment in Local community with work and prospects. When you are on the edge with a crap job then you are asked to take less hours (the modern way round the minimum wage) then disquiet, they are not stupid, they know when they are being taken for a ride….All actions have consequences whether they are drawn up by politicians to control the ‘Chavs’ or the supposed Chavs looting and burning down. The word Chav now in my opinion is a term of racism, thus mob mentality (as the Brixton Riots proved in my era).

    They have no investment or responsibility in their communities, just alienation from the press, politicians, and bankers, push a badger in a corner and it will come out fighting.

    Youth will always be challenging and unruly, thats their job, but divert that energy into opportunity and a future.


    Close the wealth Gap!!!!!!!!! Sweden, Norway Switzerland all work, and we are constantly reminded of their success so why not copy?????

    Investment in jobs and education, environment, the Garden cites (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-13979860) quality construction and design, space for play, heat sinks, mixed wealth communities. (ie higher initial cost but built for a 100 year life rather than 50)

    1. Tom Turner

      Grant, I think your own experience is a better guide to understanding the riots than the Sunday papers. I heard a bishop on the radio talking about ‘declining moral standards’ and the announcer saying that he was thinking about the leaders rather than the led. I think he would have done something much better for the church and for society if he had taken off his kid gloves and said that the MPs expenses scandal have set a very bad example to the young. He could then have pointed out that in the EU parliament rigging your expenses claims for your own benefit is actually legal. So why should we have legalised theft for the rich and ‘the full force of the law’ for the poor? It was a bad week for David Cameron. Another interesting point is that Spain has far higher youth unemployment than the UK and much bigger street demonstrations but, so far as I know, they have not been burning or looting ‘stuff’. Why?

  6. Christine

    I agree 1) that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was an important political initiative to keep the population feed and employed at a time of economic crisis and 2) that young people need a sense of optimism in their future to give them a goal to strive (put in the required time, effort and commitment) whether they choose to take up an apprenticeship or go on to university.

    Housing estates (as islands of deprivation) are probably integral in the formation of gangs, although urban gangs with criminal behaviour existed before modernism.

    However, as the story of the daughter of the wealthy businessman demonstrates the behaviour witnessed was not all down to the wealth gap or to a bleak environment. Perhaps her home life left something to be desired? Or her parents were too permissive?

    1. Tom Turner

      The Economist has a simple explanation of the riots: ‘Near-American levels of inequality’ combined with ‘laxer European attitudes to criminal justice’ and ‘soft’ policing to create ‘an incendiary mix of rage and boldness’. My guesses are that tougher policing, which is easy, and the prosecution of 3,000+ offenders will prevent the problems happening again this year – and so nothing will be done about the inequality. Reform of the welfare trap is in hand.

  7. Christine

    Someone who might know the answer to your question Tom, and have some positive solutions to offer the UK government is Fr Chris Riley. [ http://www.youthoffthestreets.com.au/ ] There is no reason for the UK to feel a collective sense of shame – riots and the idea that something not right with the youth – have a long history and a wide cultural spread.
    [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_of_Socrates ] and [ http://www.danwei.org/crime/gangs_of_beijing.php ] Find a solution, and the UK will lead the world in this area.

    Perhaps unemployment in Spain is more mainstream and therefore young people feel less stigma?

    1. Tom Turner

      I was surprised to learn about a problem with gangs of youths in Beijing – but I should not have been. China has a long history of ‘warring states’ and ‘gangs of outlaws’ and indeed of criminal gangs.
      On the pessimistic side, I see no prospect whatsoever of eliminating crime. It is a survival strategy which often works.

  8. Christine

    Although it seems UK rates second behind the US for crime statistics, I would assume that these figures are somewhat misleading? [ http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_tot_cri-crime-total-crimes ]

    For example which crimes are included/excluded? When are crimes recorded, upon arrest, conviction or incarceration? Are some countries tougher on crime than others? What are the per capita crime statistics etc.

    If it is possible to make a list to is possible to change a countries position on a list, so room here for optimism in crime minimization I say.

  9. Grant

    Spanish versis Anglo Saxon model.

    I think the Anglo Saxon cult of the individual ( which i imagine is a recent thing) has a lot to do with the difference. The detachment from the family can mean, no responsibility whereas the close family unit (and thus dishonour to said unit ) would make the individual think twice about crime. As the emotional consequences of being disowned by a strong family unit has more power than any police force. The disadvantage of this model is the overbearing parent who will not let the child follow their talent/dream i.e. the Family business model, of following your parents footsteps into the Business or even the arranged marriage.

    Both systems throw up problems, and yet both offer solutions.

    Other examples of action and consequence

    Japan has low crime, but suicide and loneliness due to social pressures of family (you can hire friends for your wedding!!!)

    New York in the 70’s had an incredible murder rate, gangs etc. Then 3 strikes and your out, plus slum clearance and investment. Now considered safer than London. So ‘a line drawn in the sand’ (cross it and face the consequences) seems to work.

    We could write lists of pro’s and con’s of various systems for an eternity and never really come up with an ideal solution, but to strive toward a goal is always better than to sit in despair.

    I think in all our examples of society being manipulated by government, social/family pressure and faith/religion they al seem about control. Keeping the lid on the pressure pot. Thank God for those who step above the parapet and say No! Who question the status quo, and say Why?
    Normally this comes with upheaval and disturbance, which those in power are always reluctant to let go. (Arab spring, 1917 etc). So the Daily Mail can rant all it likes in its comfortable rinse of blue, if change is needed you can bet it will come from the youth.Can you imagine a world were the Daily Mail and Express got their way, A place were every one knows their place, welcome back the work house, welcome Victoriana
    So what is the revolution for the UK?

    Opportunity for all, not the old boy network, get rid of unelected peers, ( all should be earned, not the accident of birth, love the Queen but i think the institutions time is up) ban internships (favours the wealthy). Investment in a world without oil, start the infrastructure now, become a leader and thus create meaningful jobs. Stop short trading and link all trading and reward to a long term bonus. Genuine competition with the Banks not the cosy cartel we have at present. Create hope. All of this would be messy with self interested parties resisting, but a people without a vision perish! And what is the present vision? ( knock Blair all you like but he had a vision, what honestly is Cameron’s?)

    Thus the NEW DEAL with a twist for the 21st Century! (obviously Garden Designers and LA’s would be at the core of this new utopia)

    Tom/Christine what can we do in Education and Design?

    1. Tom Turner

      Despite so many attempts ending in disappointment, I have always been in favour of radical reform. One disagreement I have with Grant’s interesting list is unelected peers. It is obviously right to get rid of heriditary peers and it is a great pity that Lloyd George did not manage it – perhaps he would have succeeded if he had not had to give his energies to the First World War. But I would like to have more unelected peers eg experts from various fields who are willing to devote time to public service but do not wish to join a political party or go through the harrowing process of standing for election and eating rubber chickens 5 nights/week.
      With regard to Design Education, I am not happy with the results in the UK. We seem to concentrate on graphic skills, which are essential to the communication of design ideas, but this concentration seems to be at the expense of both technical skills and, the most important thing of all, design imagination. What to do? I think we need to find ways of building closer links between the universities, the practices and the builders. Their collective ask is to create a better environment and they cannot do this in compartmented bomb-proof silos. Of the three parties named, I think the universities are the best at seeking co-operation. The design practices and the builders tend to think they know it all. One way forward would be for the design schools to rent facilities (office space, model-making, photography, 3D printing etc) to designers (especially to young firms).

  10. Christine

    Read some interesting statistics on the riots on the weekend. Only 17% of those arrested unemployed. (Perhaps they are underemployed rather than unemployed?) Which means 83% of those arrested were either working or too young or too old to work. Age statistics (average age 23) favours the former interpretation of too young to work if not working. Also 97% of those arrested were male. (Why are men more criminally inclined in these circumstances than women?).

    My would predominantly working, young men riot? Do they come from strong families which can mete out the emotional consequences Grant suggests? Or is the drive for ‘bling’ more than materialism?

    I don’t believe the class system or hereditary privilege is inherently the problem.

    Here is an interesting question. Do men resent male economic inequality as much as females resent inequalities of female beauty? Would all men agree not to pass on to their male children any social advantage they had accrued during their lifetime? [Think the Murdochs?]

    We are all either advantaged or disadvantaged by our birth to some extent. It is impossible to level the playing field entirely. [ http://www.ehow.com/about_5858242_male-female-effects-popularity.html ] In Asia women can suffer the crime of having acid thrown in their face if they reject male advances to destroy their beauty.
    [ http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=13760338 ] and [ http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/22/afghanistan-gender-women-taliban ].

    Consider [ http://conservativeamerican.org/conservatives/official-sarah-palin-fan-club-conservatives/attacks-on-some-women/ ]

    It is fairness (equity) not equality that is important.

    Now, how can this issue relate to design? If gender really a big part of the issue it is important that we know why?

    1. Tom Turner

      Thank you for many interesting thoughts to which I can hardly do justice with one-line answers.
      Do you have a link to the statistics? – they are very interesting.
      Here is a map which links the occurence of riots to what I would call poverty and they call deprivation. It supports the quotation that ‘we just want stuff’.
      I think it is true that modern society has been feminised in the sense of offering fewer opportunities for ‘the way of the hunter’ (danger, risk-taking, adventure, single-mindedness) than older societies.
      Re the class system, I think it has become a bogeyman in anslysis of British society. There is a divide between rich and poor, and there is too much inherited wealth, but I think there are very few jobs in which a classy background is an advantage and there are many jobs where it is a disadvantage (eg media jobs).
      Re equity and equality, I agree entirely.
      Re gender and design, (1) one of my great aunts used to argue that men should never be allowed to design kitchens because they had no experience of them – this has changed (2) I read that the campaign for women’s suffrage began at much the same time as the campaign for equality in the provision of public toilets – and only one of the battles has been won (3) I would like to see fewer projects begun with masculine 25-year master plans and more projects begun with longer-term flexible strategies (4) I have been thinking about Lawrence’s remark that there is no point in men shouting at women because the man always ends up having to apologise, whether he is right or wrong.

  11. Grant

    Yep get the Expert Peers comment Tom, very constructive rather than time wasting getting elected.

    The breaking down of the wall between profession and trade… your City is Landscape explained it perfectly. Often ‘Fear’ of each other also creates a barrier (having been on both sides of the fence, the ignorance about the ‘suits’ and ‘workers’ from each perspective is hilarious, not far off three eyes and two heads). Has to come from the University. Its all about team work, no one profession/trade has all the answers. As Jamie Liversedge put in the acknowledgements of his book thanking tradesmen for showing him that there is always more than one way of doing something, a bit of listening humility from both sides can go a long way.

    Class, well it depends on what determines your class, i think at present the class system is defined by education and thus earning ability, So the new inherited wealth is more about the opportunity to break into jobs that have a future. So the pushy (an who can blame them) middle classes will shout and scream for better schools and use their position and education to give their children the best start, where as the working class still struggles to get their children in good schools due to post code lottery (if a good school appears in an area , house prices pushed up due to demand etc etc). Whereas financial pressures on poorer families still mean getting in work is a priority. And thus Universities are for others, not us.
    Big picture, Trade and profession deserve equal respect and that is gained by a closer wage gap….Status is still about financial reward. Thus the Sweden/Germany model of respected trade.
    There will always be a categorisation whether its called class or A,B,C type, its the opportunity to climb that social ladder (or not if one so wishes, but still have a liveable wage and respect).

    Statistics, very cautious about what is published to get the whole picture. I think Toms ‘Hunter’ comment sums it up perfectly, Sport is a good outlet for all that energy and focus.

    Gender, love the Palin link, though know one called Margret Thatcher thick (they would not dare) and as for being attractive i think one of her Ministers commented on her’ attractive ankles’ whats that all about? Thats the British Tory Party for you!
    There is a definite confusion about what it is to be male, never ever here the phrase ‘a celebration of Masculinity’. But the pendulum always swings it never stops in the middle.

    For some people, economic value is greatest goal, but for both genders, others being happy in your work, either way you are right Christine its about fairness.

    Tom soooooooo agree with the ‘Flexible Strategies’, fashions, outlooks, priorities change, all in flux. i.e. Dr Beeching ripping up all those railways though i do understand why at that moment in time.

    And so back to work tomorrow, with Adele on the Dumper moving hardcore around the site at Hadlow College. Equality starts in Gardens!

    1. Tom Turner

      As long as there are sociologists they will place people into groups, which can be called classes. There is an interesting differentiation between income and class: for example, what class are English vicars in? – they have a good education and very low incomes. And what class are US tele-evangelists in? – they are super-rich but many of them show few, if any, signs of intelligence.
      Re Beeching, my biggest grudge is against the policy of ripping up the tracks, knocking down the bridges and scrapping the trains. They could have left the lot and allowed volunteers or private companies to take them over. I did not support the policy of empty trains running about the country in the 1960s – and I do not support the policy of empty busses driving around town and country now.
      An interesting point re the future is that if we switch from fossil fuels to electricity from renewable sources then the un-economics of batteries will mean that trams and trains will gain a comparative advantage over private cars.

  12. Christine

    Tom I read those statistics in the newspaper last week. Will look for the reference for you.

    I wonder whether the housing estates (poverty and deprivation) account for the 17% unemployed plus those considered children? [ http://www.couriermail.com.au/ipad/london-riots/story-fn6ck45n-1226114270922 ]

    One comment is that the contrast of poverty next to wealth was fueling resentment. Perhaps mixed socioeconomic areas are not the panacea they were held out to be?

    Yes. Giving growing boys opportunities for ‘danger, risk-taking, adventure, single-mindedness’ is important. Equally, it is important for girls. [ http://www.girlsrugby.org/ ] The physicality and interests of the individual might determine the boundaries for these attributes. It is important to let both genders self-select. [ http://www.abc.net.au/btn/story/s3172607.htm ]

    Tom if a man has to apologise for shouting (at women) is he merely apologising because ‘it is not good to shout at women?’ Would it be OK to shout at a women if a) she was just about to take a step over a cliff b) there was a car coming very quickly towards her or c) she had done something that really annoyed you?

    Should women shout at men? If so when?

    Grant, my view is respect is only evidenced by pay when there is an inherent unfairness in what is being paid. Many corporate positions offer higher remuneration than political positions but the social respect is not directly related to the financial reward.

    1. Tom Turner

      Compared to many European cities, London has a more intimate mix of rich and poor within neighbourhoods, as well as having a greater disparity between rich and poor. But this has been the case for a long time and I do not think it can be used to explain the 2011 riots.
      Since my voice is not strong, I have little experience of shouting and will leave Lawrence to respond on the relativities of shouting/apologising. But yes, I would do my best to shout at, or grab, anyone who was about to fall over a cliff or be hit by a car. Political correctness would not enter my mind!
      I think the gender-roles of males and females are diminishing rapidly but that they derive from the norms of hunter-gatherer socieities and still have some way to run.
      A China Daily commentator makes the following observation on the London riots: ‘British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday that he would not be restrained by phony human rights concerns, and he was prepared to use rubber bullets and water guns against the rioters. He also referred to the youngsters who were rioting as thugs, criminals and so on. The people of the world should examine the British prime minister’s words very carefully. When a Third World country was faced with a riot or insurrection, the British government and other Western governments always supported the rioters and rebels, and always referred to the rioters as defenders of democracy and human rights. Thus far, the British government and Western governments’ attitude toward such riots and rebellions in Third World countries has been one that only added oil to the fire by supporting the rioters and rebels.’ Fair point, but there is a difference: the Arab rioters want to change the constitutions of their countries and the British rioters ‘just want stuff’.

  13. Christine

    If my understanding is correct the philosophical underpinnings of the class system in the UK are medieval. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estates_of_the_realm ] History of course has endowed Britain with a number of unique legacies including a parliamentary monarchy and a sovereign who is defender of the faith. Thus the estates in the UK are 1) parliamentary nobility 2) royalty 3) the burghers or non-hereditary Lords 4) the commoners.

    The social system in the United States in based on the idea of the self-made man. Hence the American dream. Inherited wealth rather than intelligence demarcates the class system. (Approximately one half of the wealthy in the US).

    There is a difference between peaceful protest [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velvet_Revolution ] and civil unrest which is criminal, including riots and sabotage. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_disorder ]. The distinction also has to account for action which amounts to civil war. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_war ]

    Yes. Beeching is a false economy. Productivity gains are always to be preferred to cost cutting unless there are true efficiencies to be gained.

    1. Tom Turner

      The feudal system was certainly class based but it derived from the Anglo-Saxon and Roman systems, which were also class-based. So is current American society. Rich people do not want their kids to play with poor kids, to go to school with poor kids, to live near poor kids or to marry poor kids. So are most social systems in most countries at most points in history. Hence the current interest in facilitating social mobility instead of income equality. This appeals to the people who move up but not to the people who move down!
      Part of the reason for the Beeching cuts was that the rail unions steadfastly refused to improve productivity. The example which sticks in mind is their insistance on the employment of ‘footplatemen’ – whose distant predecessors had, I think, used the footplates of trains to clean the engines and help the fireman shovel in coal.

  14. christine

    This is not universally so. [ http://www.hellomagazine.com/profiles/crown-princess-mary-of-denmark/ ] But it is possible to imagine why this caution might exist.
    [ http://www.popularcritic.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Maria-Shriver-with-family.jpg ]

    What are the consequences of downward mobility?
    [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Destruction_of_country_houses_in_20th-century_Britain ] Perhap the comment of the Shah of Persia contributed to his downward mobility?

    1. Tom Turner

      The conditions imposed on Mary Elizabeth Donaldson suggest to me that the Danish Royal Family might have been wishing for a different princess and I imagine the Kennedys were equally sceptical about Arnie joining the clan.
      Country houses and great estates are a paradox. They ‘obviously’ should not exist but (1) they often manage the land better than smaller and more ephemeral owners (2) tourists love visiting them and countries would be poorer without them.

    1. Tom Turner

      Christine, Arnie probably spent too much time thinking “I’ll be back”
      Jerry, I think volunteering is an excellent way of maintaining parks. They do a lot of it in America and it is spreading in Britain. I am thinking about it too – and there is a danger that this is as far as I will get with the idea.


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