In the top-secret Southwark Notes HQ in Walworth, we overheard this water-cooler account of our visit to the Soundings and Lend Lease consultation on what they are going to do with that nice bit of public land where the Leisure Centre now stands:
“Despite the pain of talking to community consultancy types, I would always choose an employee of a property developer above a touchy-feely consultant specialist for whom words are only a useful means to shape the consultees emotions rather than expressing any ideas attached to concrete objects, house sizes, height of buildings, cost-benefit analysis, that is, things you can name and say ‘but you could do otherwise’. I much more prefer to be quoted statistics at, even if misleading or manipulative, than adjectives such as ‘exciting’, ‘contemporary’, ‘sustainable’, ‘expensive’! *-)
“It was a marathon of patience. A Soundings employee came out of the Leisure Centre and very-very nicely explained that ‘they’ inside do not mind us outside expressing dissent with regards to the consultation, but that they ‘had’ to be out there too in the freezing cold to hand out their own leaflets in order to ‘balance’ the accounts. Otherwise, the passers-by would only see our ’iconic’ RIP OFF elephants and our very poignant five simple questions on the Leisure centre redevelopment”.
“Yeah, at this point I flipped, and just went on a rant “I am SORRY, but YOU are paid to be here, and I am not. You have the budget for full-colour printing of panels, and we have to pay for photocopying out of our own pockets. You have a whole shop on Walworth Road, the Elephant’s high street, where you can show your designs and have as many meetings as you want, and we don’t. You could mail the entire population of the whole borough twice a week if you wanted, while we rely on leaflets, word of mouth and a (free) blog. So, sorry, but I really can’t bring myself to pity you if for five minutes we are stealing your visibility.” The (naïve? clueless?) consult-automaton replied “Oh, but you must understand, our role in this is to give equal space to both accounts, combining a top down approach…” “…and a bottom up approach, yeah.” I finished the sentence for her, as we have heard this nonsensical Soundings ‘principle’ of consultation before”.
“…Once upon a time, consultation used to be run by the Councils in some pretence to accountability to us which they then ignored the result they inevitably didn’t want to hear (like the Heygate Estate survey in 1998 and the Heygate MORI in 1999). Nowadays, consultation is a panda-bear suit exercise in getting the right answers to the right questions. It is run by ‘independent’ agencies that employ happy-smiley functionaries with a background in art and design, performance and public art or less funky, in marketing and PR strategies. These people “can take you places” and “want to know what you know”. ‘we want to listen to you!”. Nothing wrong with any of the above except when it’s paid for by large corporate developers who are out to get maximum benefit from land speculation the public land grab and a mono-culture of studio and 1 and 2-bed luxury flats and certainly won’t enjoy some scruffy herberts with their questioning leaflets and ‘ironic’ RIP-OFF elephant logo raining on your parade. I mean, if I was a property developer, I would want to get something good for my money, no?”
“Yeah, like a big fat juicy Soundings-signed off Statement of Community Involvement to look good in my final Masterplan submisson to the Council Planning Committee. Anyhow, do you wanna grab some noodles, I’m starving?”.
Enough said (for now!)
For the fuller account of the day’s Regeneration Tai-Chi exercises performed outside this consultation see here! Here’s a snippet or two:
Exercise 1: Consultation
Imagine you are a developer/local council. Stretch your arms then fold them to touch your shoulders. Close your eyes. Slowly raise your arms and put your hands on your ears. If you are more experienced, you may want to nod five times. Relax.
Exercise 2: Social cleansing
Imagine you are a local council. Step to your left and bend left leg at knee for support. Turn toward your right hip where you have a bagful of council tenants on prime location property. Shuffle through and take a handful with your left hand. Slowly stretch out and throw them out as far as you can. Repeat with right leg.
Etc etc. *-)