Park Hill: administrative evil and the scandal that keeps on giving #ParkHill #Sheffield #Milgrams37

A year or two ago, a friend posted a comment on Facebook that she was going to be interviewed on local radio and did anyone have suggested answers to the question “What would you do if you won the Lottery?”. I replied “I’d buy Park Hill and convert it into social housing”. She chose suggestions a bit more warm and fuzzy, but that is what I would have said, had I been asked.
But no-one would ask me that question because no-one wants to hear that answer. I have already been quite outspoken about Sheffield City Council’s and Urban Splash’s failure to complete the redevelopment of Park Hill, its gentrification and also the inappropriateness of the proposed change of use of part of it to artists’ spaces when there are people sleeping in tents and doorways within its own curtilage. You can read my original post here:
https://votepleb.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/everything-of-value-has-been-removed-from-this-property-the-scandal-that-is-park-hill-parkhill-sheffield/

On Saturday 30th September 2017, I attended the opening of an art exhibition in a recently reclaimed car park, overlooked by the Duke Street wing of Park Hill that is earmarked to be converted into artists’ spaces for S1 Artspace.
http://www.s1artspace.org/

I spoke at some length with Mark Latham, the Development Manager for Urban Splash, and he was very polite to me, as I was to him, but I tried to press him on certain issues about the development, including the change-of-use of part of the site, the lack of completion of the housing units and the effective social-cleansing caused by the pricing of the new units.
http://www.urbansplash.co.uk/about-us/people/directors/mark-latham

I am sure he has had a lot of stick over the years and is used to it, and he handled me pretty well, but much of what he said amounted to “we don’t have the money”, “ooh yes, neoliberalism is a bad thing” and “ but what can we do?”. It was like punching bag of feathers and, being an admirer of Gandhi (although I am not strictly a pacifist), that is the only punching I approve of these days.

One question Latham didn’t answer was when I asked him will the rest of the dwelling units really be finished by 2022 (the current predicted finish date, confirmed by him). I’m no developer of property but there looks like a lot to be achieved in only another five years.
However, the failure of this redevelopment is written large across the skyline of Sheffield city centre, and this is an example of what Guy Adams referred to as “administrative evil”. Sound excessive, I know, but Adams, and Philip Zimbardo (the designer of the Harvard Prison Experiment) have written and spoken widely about “technical rationalism”, that is, the retreat from ethical decision-making to rule-based abdication of responsibility.

An early version of Guy Adams’ book is available online as a PDF:
The book is here:
https://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/SearchResults?bsi=0&ds=20&sortby=17&tn=Unmasking+Administrative+Evil&prevpage=2

Also look up Stanley Milgram’s infamous experiment where he found that 37 out of 40 people will continue to follow instructions, even if they believe it to be causing genuine, physical distress to another person.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

There is a lot more to say about this and I will elaborate more on administrative evil in subsequent posts.

I also asked Latham if he had seen the recent documentary “Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle” (2017 Velvet Joy Productions & 215 Productions) but he had not heard of it.
https://www.dispossessionfilm.com/
https://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/dispossession-the-great-social-housing-swindle

I was at the screening of this film at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield on 25th July 2017 and, although it is not featured in the film, Park Hill got a mention during the Q&A. I did not get the impression that Latham is a dishonest person, and I’m sure he would have acknowledged the documentary if he had heard of it, but I left feeling deeply unsatisfied with his brushing off and his nothing-we-can-do attitude.

I’m afraid it’s not good enough and it’s not true either.

If Urban Splash wanted to do something about the 600-or-so housing units that have been rendered uninhabitable (in order to prevent them being squatted), they could do something. Maybe they could could temporarily convert 20 or 30 of them into basic living units for nothing more than getting those unsightly rough sleepers out of Primark’s doorway, or those pesky people sleeping in tents and spoiling the hipsters’ view from their bijou flats. If they have no money (which I don’t believe), maybe Latham and the other employees of Urban Splash could take a pay cut to fund it? Or maybe they could borrow money? With the Bank of England’s base rate at 0.25%, surely they could get a pretty cheap loan? But maybe their business is not sound enough to be a good risk, remember what happened last time the banks lent money to the sub-prime sector.

Or maybe the City Council could borrow the money, like they did to build a new office block for HSBC.

Last but not least, maybe Urban Splash could sell one of their assets, rather like our local authorities are required to do, in order to fund the completion of the Park Hill redevelopment? Silly me, in a neoliberal world, as Noam Chomsky put it, profit is privatised and risk socialised, so why should a business that bought an asset for a song subsidise the undeserving poor? It is easy to forget that private businesses get the benefit of socially-funded infrastructure all the time. Healthy, educated workers are the product of the publicly funded National Health Service, and publicly-funded schools and their good are transported on publicly-funded roads.

However, in Thatcher’s Britain “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” Or, these days, it might be more accurate to paraphrase – “there is no such thing as society. There are individual shareholders and vice-chancellors, and there are corporations”.

But what can we do? I have asked myself that question over and over for years and the answer became obvious, eventually – do something. However, this immediately leads to a further question – do what?

My income halved in 2008 but I can still find a few pounds a month to donate to Sheffield’s Cathedral Archer Project, a non-religious supporting homeless people. I also volunteer for them and in the past have volunteered for Sheffield HARC (homeless and rootless at Christmas) and contributed to the Sheffield Homeless Shoebox Appeal.

Maybe Urban Splash could volunteer staff for the Archer Project’s breakfast club, where local businesses help cook and serve food for the clients. Maybe they already have and I have no doubt that the staff of Urban Splash, their executives and their shareholders do lots of good things that I am unaware of. But they have still failed to achieve the really important thing that needs achieving.

Tonight, Friday 13th October 2017, I will be sleeping out in the streets of Sheffield as part a fundraising and awareness-raising event for the Cathedral Archer Project, organised by the Academy of Chief Executives. Maybe the chief executive of Urban Splash will be there. Maybe the chief executive of Sheffield City Council. As Mark Latham can tell them, they probably don’t want to sleep next to me.
https://chiefexecutive.com/sheffieldcityregion/
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/overnight-sleep-out-raising-money-for-cathedral-archer-project-tickets-33614510907?aff=ebdsorderfblightbox

But this event is not going to get anyone off the street, is it? Maybe not directly, and neither is the venting of my self-righteous, middle-class spleen, but it is doing something. And if I do a little bit, and another person does a little bit, and lots of other people do a little bit, then it can add up to a lot. But I’m a nobody. I can give a little bit of money and wash up in the Archer Project’s kitchen, but I don’t have enough influence to make a big enough difference, and this is where institutions, corporations and the wealthy need to break out of their apathetic moral torpor, and put their money where the hungry mouths are.

I know it all sounds very melodramatic but I grew up in this area and have been coming to Sheffield my whole life I have never witnessed this widespread homelessness and rough-sleeping in Sheffield until the last few years. Something is very rotten in the state of England and Mark Latham and the other decision makers, executives and shareholders at Urban Splash, along with the councillors and council officers at Sheffield City Council, need to examine their consciences and ask themselves are they one of thirty-seven or one of three?

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Great Exhibition of (What’s Left of) The North – or – Fuck you, I won’t like what you tell me #GXN #GEN #GreatExhibitionOfTheNorth

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No credit given, but I found it here: http://www.wepsite.de/the_end5600pix.jpg

In April last year, I attended an evening event entitled “Everything’s Better in the North” where we endured a series of presentations by residents of Sheffield telling other residents of Sheffield about how good Sheffield is. All good people, and if you were one of those presenters (and you know who you are) please do not be offended. But I don’t need to spend two hours of my life being told that everything is going to be alright when it’s abundantly clear that it’s not.

I grew up here. Not in Sheffield itself, but in this area, and I have been coming into the city regularly for my whole life. I didn’t move to live here until 2003 but I have spent almost all of my adult life living and working in the Sheffield city region.

The speaker from Sheffield City Council did the usual thing of claiming Sheffield is well placed, amongst other things, by being next door to the Peak District, and I grew up believing that the Peak District was a special place, but I was wrong.

The Peak District is an artificially-maintained, ruined landscape. Before the Middle Ages, the whole area was forest. In fact, pretty much all of Britain was forest until it was cleared for the purposes of farming, burning, or to build ships for war and colonisation. That might seem like a long time ago but in geological terms, a few hundred years is not even the blink of an eye. In ecological terms, however, it is plenty of time to fuck up our environment.

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Name those dystopias.

Moorland is a stunted wilderness, maintained barren by what George Monbiot refers to as the great white plague. That is, sheep. There is nothing natural nor beautiful about grouse moors. They are a barren wasteland, maintained as such as a playground for the undeserving rich and we should not be celebrating that fact.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/16/grouse-shooters-kill-first-casualty-is-truth-astroturfing-botham-rspb-packham

I, too, love living in Sheffield, but where I fall out of line with many of the people who are active in the creative, business and marketing sectors is that I do not subscribe to what I would characterise as an destructively uncritical positivity-cult.

Somehow, it has become understood that to be critical is to be negative, and anything other than unfettered enthusiasm is disloyal to our home city. But someone needs to talk about the uncomfortable truths and, in the absence of any other willing soul, that someone is me.

These days, Sheffield is a shit-hole. It’s sacrilege to say so, I know, and it’s getting worse. Not all of it, of course, and there is plenty to be proud of, but also there is plenty here that we should objecting to, rather than celebrating.

Our roads are in the worst state of repair as at any point in my lifetime, homelessness is now as commonplace in Sheffield as it used to be as a cliché in London, public services are being eroded at the same time as banks and corporations are making record profits, wages are falling and employment opportunities are reducing. Publicly owned land is being sold off to corporations, and town planning control has been eviscerated to the point where we are witnessing the most poorly planned and brutal urban redevelopment since the 1960s.

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The Moor Market.
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PRIMARK!
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The Moor Market.
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Fitzalan Square, the heart of Sheffield’s vibrant financial sector.

Interesting times, and unless we do something about it, there is worse to come.

But now the Conservative government has offered the carrot of funding for The Great Exhibition of the North. The stick, of course, is not critcising the most corrupt and incompetent government in British history.

Having watched the promotional video, representing Sheffield’s bid and featuring University of Sheffield’s Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Chair of Museums Sheffield, Kim Streets and director of Sheffield Theatres Daniel Evans, I understand their dilemma and I sympathise. Although that is no compensation for their vacuous complicity.

Kim Streets enthuses about the “great spaces” available for the exhibition whilst standing in the Millennium Gallery, but fails to mention how many staff have been laid off by Museums Sheffield in the past few years due to austerity-led funding cuts, or the shortened opening hours of these great spaces. Professor Vanessa even has the disingenuous hubris to use the term “Northern Powerhouse”, having fully absorbed and regurgitated the Tory propaganda. She’s a highly-qualified academic and social historian and should know better.

Five million pounds sounds like a lot of money and like it would do the region some good, but it’s not. Not only is it a tiny amount, given the size of “The North”, but if the aim of the exhibition is to celebrate what we have, or what we achieved in the past, it belies the elephant in the region.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/competition-opens-to-host-great-exhibition-of-the-north

That is, what we have lost.

Arts and cultural activities are, mostly, the indulgences of the middle classes, and a large proportion of the population (the same people who regularly receive nothing from arts and cultural funding) will receive nothing of value from money spent on exhibitions, craft classes, seminars and walking tours.

The disenfranchised of Sheffield and “The North” will not be re-enfranchised by the enthusiasms of academics, administrators and curators. Nor will they benefit from the fees paid to accountants, solicitors and technicians, employed to enable such a celebration.

And the so-called “legacy fund” of £15 million for the whole of “The North” is little more than the retirement package of now-retired Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) chief Fred Goodwin (real name, honest).
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/feb/12/uk-banks-expected-to-pay-out-5bn-pounds-in-bonuses

Maybe some of that money could be used to repair the roads in “The North”, or maybe the PFI corporations charged with the task are restoring them back to their pre-tarmac days by uncovering all the cobbles and setts of yesteryear.

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A61, the main southbound A road in Sheffield.
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Gleedless Road. Last week, I saw a toddler fall in this pothole, it is so deep.

The problem I see with this kind of festival (and I have worked on, and been to, many of them) is that it will be primarily comprised of activities of consumption and distraction, created by middle-class people, for middle-class people and selected & funded by middle-class people. Artisan bread and carbon-neutral circuses.

But we could say no.

Conditions here in “The North” are now worse than at any other point in my lifetime and pretending that everything is going to be alright is a deluded fantasy. Rather than singing “God save the Queen”, we should be singing “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”.

That might seem angry but this is what I grew up on:

For many years, a regular sight in Sheffield city centre was a man carrying a banner, claiming “The End Is Nigh”. He always seemed a little out of place, wielding his melodramatic warning amid the thronging shoppers of Fargate.

But just the other day, walking along The Moor, Pinstone Street and Fargate was like one of the continuous follow-shots from Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” (2007), the streets lined with religious zealots, worn-out beggars and passive-aggressive chuggers, every one of them hussling for money and salvation.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_of_Men

The end was nigh, after all, although I didn’t know how nigh, and now I do know, the end is even nigher.

I never expected to be the angriest voice in the village during my own middle ages. But where is the protest? I was a young adult at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s but I do not see any of the anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian rebelliousness in young people today, just when we need it most. They seem to be too busy watching “Game of Thrones”, or playing Minecraft, or else whacked on energy drinks, too distracted to recognise what a sterile, debt-ridden dystopia they are growing up in.

There’s plenty of money about. Not in Sheffield, of course, but ask Google, ask Apple, ask Barclays or maybe even ask the Bank of England who conjured £375 billion of funny money in 2009 to support a group of businesses, supposedly too big to fail, whose operational practices are indistinguishable from organised crime.

And they did it again, only a few weeks ago. And it’s not working. Again.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/brexit-bank-of-england-qe-bonds-gilts-pensions-mark-carney-interest-rates-vat-a7182256.html

Lloyds Bank who have doubled their profits in the last year but are now laying off 3,000 staff and closing branches. No doubt a few in Sheffield and lots in “The North”.
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jul/28/lloyds-bank-to-axe-3000-jobs-and-close-200-branches

“Every day, we’re busy helping our millions of customers get to where they want to go in life. Lloyds TSB, for the journey.” Yeah, the journey to the local Job Centre Plus. God bless their crooked hearts.

We now live in a world of post-factual journalism, post-responsibility politics and post-competence institutions.

And this brings me back to the Great Exhibition of the North. The very name betrays a divisive cynicism only conceivable within the distorted mind of a Westminster-based “special adviser” to the most corrupt and destructive government in British history.

I genuinely apologise to anyone in Sheffield that I might have offended by suggesting that their endeavors are futile but, if it’s any consolation, I include my own. Especially in the creative & arts sectors, we have lied to ourselves for years that everything will be alright, and if we do this project or that job, or another exhibition for nothing or very little, it will lead to some sort of deferred future “success”.

But it didn’t, and there is no precedent to think it ever will.

The promised funding is nothing more than a bribe to keep “The North” quiet and those people who have contributed to the application should be ashamed of their complicity in such shallow and cynical manipulation.

And maybe the proposed date of the Great Exhibition of the North, summer 2018, is coincident with the proposed start of fracking operations in “The North”. Theresa May has just announced personal bribes for local residents affected by fracking.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/06/fracking-local-people-payments-theresa-may

I hardly think that such politically-savvy professionals will have missed the significance of the timing. I wonder if the Great Exhibition of the North will include an exhibit about unconventional gas extraction? Or the increase in homelessness? Or banking fraud? Or the 45% loss of invertebrate species in the past 35 years.
http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/vital-invertebrates-decline-by-45-per-cent-study-finds-9626745.html

I doubt it.

But an exhibition celebrating all the good things about “Not London” will seem pretty sick when your water has been poisoned and your house condemned due to earthquake-induced subsidence.

If Sheffield wins the bid, I’m sure The Great Exhibition of the North will be about much more than stainless steel, Park Hill and Henderson’s Relish (like most exhibitions in Sheffield are), but I hope the people involved will look beyond the end of their own suburban gardens and consider how to include those in our city and region that are unrepresented by middle-class professionals: those without homes, those without status and those without disposable income.

And in the meantime, I say fuck you, I won’t like what you tell me.

“Everything of value has been removed from this property.” The scandal that is Park Hill #ParkHill #Sheffield

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Dear Sheffield, Park Hill is a scandal so please stop celebrating it. It’s sacrilege to say it, I know, and I am one of the few people that would have happily seen the place razed to the ground rather than converted into ”new homes to buy from £100,000”. Park Hill was built as what we now call social housing, but what we used to call council housing, which were available to rent at reasonable rates for those whose financial situation would not enable them to buy a house. Yes, that’s right, this was one those evil socialist schemes that rebuilt the country and replaced slums after the Second World War.

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However, Park Hill was a monumental fuck up because it was designed without including many of the amenities required within easy reach in order to sustain a community:- shops, schools, medical centres, entertainment, pubs etc. There were all of those things, but not accessible enough for anyone other than those fully physically able, which is what led to the isolation of many people living in those estates.
I am no stranger to drinking, but when I lived in Park Hill, I never visited either of the pubs that were compressed like a fist in a vice at the ground level of the flats. Not because I am a snob, but because they both looked more like a threat than a promise.

Park Hill was a scandal when it was first built, due to the failure of those who specified it, and it was a scandal again, a generation later, when it was used a sink-estate for poor people and problem families.

I lived in Park Hill for 18 months in 2003/4 and had to move out due to the pressure of the imminent reposession & redevelopment of the flats. Internally, the flats were really good, although your doormat was only one step away from a dystopia convincing enough to feature as a ready-built set in several movies.

I’ve heard people blame Le Corbusier for the dehumanising brutalism of the 60s and 70s, but his vision was of “streets in the sky”, not “featureless & disorientating, unnaturally long prison blocks in the sky with no nearby amenities”.

Before the newly refurbished units were actually for sale, I attended a talk by employees of Urban Splash about the redevelopments and was genuinely impressed (at the time) by the amount of thought that had gone into ameliorating the physical and social problems of the site. But given the enormous delay in completion, and the “from £100,000” business, I now see Park Hill as nothing more than a land-grab by a rapacious corporate organisation that has deprived Sheffield’s people of a huge amount of affordable housing.

Ironically, the “Scottish Queen” pub (presumably named after Mary Queen of Scots who was for a time imprisoned at Manor Lodge, the source of the name of another historically infamous sink estate in Sheffield) has been gutted and turned into a demographically-opposed art exhibition space.

It gets worse. Today, I read a short, online article by Artists’ Newsletter (AN) about how Sheffield-based S1 Artspace has attracted £1 million towards a redevelopment of the Duke Street wing of Park Hill for “artist studios, creative workspace, live/work flats, production workshops and an education space”. The article is factually inaccurate so I don’t know how much of that cool million is actually at the disposal of S1 or whether their bit is part of a larger project.
https://www.a-n.co.uk/news/s1-artspace-1m-move-to-park-hill-the-first-major-step-to-realising-our-ambition

AN refer to Park Hill as being “derelict”, but it was not derelict before Urban Splash took ownership. There were nearly a thousand habitable dwellings in 2004, but now there are at least 700 of those dwellings empty, and not just empty, uninhabitable. During my previous visit to Park Hill, on 24th October 2015, there was debris and litter showing the remains of people sleeping rough.

Homeless people sleeping rough in an empty housing estate?

Today, I revisited the site in order to get my own photograph of the evidence, but the developers have now closed off that area.

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I am told that Urban Splash ensure that all the properties they take over are rendered un-squattable by removing all the internal infrastructure. How thoughtful.

Urban Splash has been sitting on these properties for 10 years and a quick look around the site suggests that it will not be finished for at least another 10 years. In the meantime, homelessness increases and people continue to die due to the punitive policies of our fascist government when they could be easily afforded modest, temporary accommodation in un-let units in a financially non-viable housing development.

Here are the 22 photos I took of empty units (with no overlaps), showing just how much housing has been removed from the market. I tweeted one photo a day to Urban Splash and Prime Fuckwit Cameron just before the election in 2015.

According to AN, the redevelopment by S1 Artspace will not be complete until 2020 and they do not mention any social housing, but there will be “an archive, auditorium and a gallery”. Oh yes, and a sculpture park.

‘Lord Bob Kerslake, a champion of the project, said: ”This is an exciting project for Sheffield that will provide a fantastic new home for arts and culture at Park Hill. I am delighted to be championing it.”’

Bob Kerslake, Sorry, Sir / Kaiser / Tzar / Shah Bob used to be the CEO of Sheffield Council and should know better. But nowadays he’s in the London Bubble and I’m sure that the idea of “derelict” buildings being turned into artists’ studios, 150 miles away, sounds very positive. But Sheffield is not short of  artists’ studios, what Sheffield is short of is employment and housing for ordinary people, and that £1 million could have been better spent investing in local manufacturing (not retail) and refurbishing Park Hill as modest dwellings for people other than fucking hipsters.

Park Hill is a scandal, yet again, and Urban Splash should be ashamed of their failure. What’s more, S1 Artspace should reconsider their plans and whoever has committed this quoted £1 million should go and visit Sheffield’s Archer Project and ask their clients if they would rather sleep rough in a disused housing estate, or a sculpture park.
http://www.archerproject.org.uk/