Q&A: Anna Minton

Anna Minton, author of the controversial book Ground Control which criticised privatisation of the public realm, is about to head up a post-graduate course at the University of East London. What can it teach us about our future cities?

The course looks at changes to the city over the last 30 years. Are you blaming it all on Thatcher?

Reaganomics was not the result of just one person, but it set off the sort of trends we’re investigating. There are a lot of things behind the deregulated economy but the Thatcher period was key and reflected heavily on the built environment. Privatisation of the public realm at the core of the Canary Wharf development has become a model for city regeneration everywhere.

The course has the whiff of revolution about it - who do you think is going to sign up for it?

Architects are at heart a self-critical bunch, so we’re assuming them primarily, but we’re looking to cast the net wide really. We think it’s of interest to architects and developers but we’re keen to get students in from a whole host of other disciplines, like socio-economics or psychology, that are affected by the built environment. The extent to which you wish to be radical is up to you, but we encourage community engagement and want  research to be future-facing and propositional. 

Have your views changed since Ground Control, and are recent critiques on capitalist society picking up on a zeitgeist?

Two things have happened since Ground Control. Wealth and poverty have become more pronounced and people are more aware of extreme speculation and privatisation. Both conditions have been highlighted by the likes of Piketty’s’ Capital in the 21st Century’ and Owen Jones’ ‘The Establishment’ and that’s an emerging body of criticism about capitalism that we would like to be part of.

Can we rely on the private sector to meet our housing needs?

In the time of the ‘Boris Boom’ we’ve had dozens of housing estates and communities being demolished mainly for private development, with people moved on, resulting in a fundamental change in the social composition of London. The private sector has pretty consistently been building 150,000 houses a year since the 1950s and the public sector added another 100,000 to that annual amount. Since the 1980s that second figure fell off a cliff, leaving us with dire housing need and virtually unregulated private rental markets, not dissimilar to 19th century slums. 

A penny for your views on the Garden Bridge?

I’ll let you guess, but a privately managed space funded with public money with the right to prevent groups of more than eight people walking onto it, with no rights as a site for public protest and able to be closed to the public for corporate events?  It’s an expensive tourist attraction – a mad folly; a shame but it illustrates the situation we’re in with our public realm just perfectly.

City crit

UEL’s Master of Research (MRes) course ‘London-Reading the neo-liberal city’ has been established to critique the impact of capitalist, neo-liberalism on development; looking at its effect over the last 30 years on urban space, architectural form, property markets and social justice. Topics for study include the privatisation, financialisation and polarisation of cities and the consequences of this on trust,fear and citizenship. Co-run by Dr Douglas Spencer, the course will be supervised by Professor Tony Fretton, Katherine Clarke, director at muf architecture/art, and C+S Architects’ Maria Allesandra Sagantini with programme leader Alan Chandler. Starting in September 2015, it will be both full and part-time.