Sunday, 14 December 2008

Campaigning for green space in the city

I woke early this morning feeling feisty about green space and decided to do a little more lobbying over the delay in laying out allotments and playing fields on the Victoria Jubilee Allotments - using some of my friend Luke Unsworth's images of the site in 2004 before it was cleared by the developer. I've sent this to various people in Birmingham City Council - Scrutiny in particular but also to the Portfolio Cabinet member that includes allotments, and to Adrian at The Stirrer - who mentioned the VJA on 20 November last. I'm also seeing Friends of the Earth at the Warehouse this Monday evening, in particular Ben Mabbett. His e-mail of a few days ago:
Hi There. Sorry about the delayed response, I've been a bit busy of late. Anyway, from a planning point of view as far as I know Section 106 agreements are legal agreements, so should be quite difficult for developers to wriggle out of. This is why they are used rather than conditions of planning approvals. I would imagine there is some sort of trigger level that the agreement would come into action on, and this is mentioned in one of the links on an earlier email. Do we know what this is? So many dwellings completed, so many dwellings occupied, so many dwellings sold? Also, is building work completed now, or is it still ongoing, or have the houses been finished to shell only? It may be given the current financial situation that some sellers or occupiers have pulled out of sales, or that the developer are only finishing houses to shell with no fit outs. If this is the case then they may have receded from the agreed trigger level. Equally, I know that Persimmon Homes (and Charles Church who they are part of) are having of financial difficulties at the moment and have made a large amount of redundancies, so there's the chance that they have no funding for the work, and/or the people dealing with it have left the company. They may well have agreed a breathing space with the council, or they may simply have no money and have chosen not to implement it and hence may be in breach of the Section 106. Not sure if I can make Monday as it's also my office Christmas party, but if I can offer any advice over email then you know where I am. Thanks, Ben Mabbett
My reply:
Dear Ben. I spoke to Karen and I'll drop down to the Warehouse as soon as I get back from York on Monday evening - around 8.30 pm. It should at least allow us to swap notes without disrupting your well deserved Christmas party. Our understanding from the site meeting with Alan Orr in May this year was that the trigger point - based on selling sufficient homes - had been arrived at and that work on laying out the green space next to the new houses was to begin in August 08. Alan Orr has said he understands our frustration at the delay in implementing the S106A and that the developer is now in breach of the what was legally agreed. Best wishes, Simon
* * * * Two pieces from Malcolm Brabant for the BBC on events in Athens - one an op-ed on the Greek crisis politely challenging the views of a military friend with experience of rioting in Northern Ireland who patronises events in Hellenic cities as an exercise in "blowing off steam"...

The officer, whose identity I cannot reveal, was convinced that the international media had overplayed the story of the biggest civil unrest in Greece since the end of the Colonels' military dictatorship more than 40 years ago. "You had the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. These are the Velvet Riots," he said. "No one has been hurt in the disturbances. There is an unwritten pact between those throwing stones and the riot police. Neither side is trying to hurt the other...Sure, buildings have gone up in smoke. But the government should be praised for allowing all these young people to vent their anger and that there have been no casualties. This has been a huge non-event," he said. I have nothing but respect for my friend's military experience. True, there have been no serious casualties (since the death of Alexandros Grigoropoulos). But to dismiss this past week as insignificant because nothing has really changed, is premature in my opinion...Greece has the potential to be the most wonderful country in Europe. Besides exquisite landscapes, brilliant climate, unrivalled history, it is blessed with a well-educated youth whose ambitious parents are willing to sacrifice their present to enable their children to have a better future. But young people's expectations are suffocated by a system that borders on the feudal...

...and the other reporting further violence in Exarchia last night - though no-one seriously hurt - after a day of peaceful vigils by those brave ones earnest to hold the centre. * * * * Last year the Friends of Black Patch Park knew they'd succeeded with a mix of lobbying and luck to save this park from being decommissioned and zoned for industrial/retail development. Ted Rudge's superb study of the park's connection with Gypsies gave the place prominence in history, but most delightful was having the descendants of Gypsies evicted violently from the Black Patch at the turn of the 20th Century to make a treeless cindered heath into a green oasis amid the smokestacks of Smethwick, turn up to help us save it and sign our video petition - just one of many things that helped us turn a corner. Ted's dissertation as part of a Life Long Learning Programme at Birmingham University, tutored by Carl Chinn, was published by Birmingham City Council. It's title Brum Roamin'. It recovered the history of the Black Patch onto which we added its subsequent story as a Birmingham and then a Sandwell MBC public park. Sandwell could give little attention to a small green space up against the Birmingham border, from which most surrounding industries had disappeared along with residents, that designating it as a place for new shops, houses and factories made sense to them. We made their sense look more and more like non-sense, writing surveys of the place's natural history and value to footballers and residents from Birmingham just over the 'border', running events in the park, having our own folk song by Bryn Phillipsand meeting officers from Sandwell Council, so that quite abruptly, after Emma Woolf from BBC WM had picked up that YouTube petition and made it into a broadcast item one evening in May 2007, we got a meeting arranged by her with Councillor Bob Badham - our preferred enemy - portfolio holder for the built environment in Sandwell Council, agreed to meet and talk. Almost at once it was agreed to re-write the structure plan - the local plan for that area of Sandwell - to again include Black Patch Park. Without an enemy our group faltered. now the problem was one we had to share with Sandwell. Even though we know the park is popular - especially with footballers - how is the money to be found to recover it from its state of somewhat shabby dereliction and maintain it thereafter? There are red herrings and false hopes especially around partnership - a term suffering from increasing word-fatigue. Not that we do not need to know who are our friends and how deep are their pockets but pondering the park's future, now it's 'saved', leaves us bewildered at times. Watch this space - literally - in the sense that we've drawn up a draft plan to use as a basis for proposals, negotiations and lobbying. * * * * I realise it's early days but I wonder which people amid the marches, confrontations and public forums on streets and campuses is emerging to lead in this crisis. Are there charismatic students in Athens or further afield with the ideas and the capacity to stand when histories are written? Is there anyone out there capable of making history? What ideas, among the many that might provide maps for the future, will emerge as a result of these events? Googling 'student leader' I came up with Natalia Bersi who gave Helena Smith for the Guardian an overview of the last week in Athens. Were I a student I'd be discrete about naming 'leaders', even if I lacked the spittle to say "I am Spartacus!" But when the teargas and the smoke clears who, if anyone, will emerge with what ideas about what is to be done? * * * E-mail from IA:
S. I'm writing a piece for FirstPost.co.uk tomorrow [19/12/08 - actually published in Guardian comment] and wanted to ask for your comment on whether this explosion of student feeling is exclusively related to Grigoropoulos' death, if it's a principled stand by a newly-politicised generation, or if it's one of a series of tantrums being thrown by a spoilt generation threatened by the sweep of globalization. All best, iason Well yes indeed. Have you heard any voice of substance from those who hold the streets – men or women of the potential of Cohn-Bendit, Rudi Dutschke, Petra Kelly, Angela Davis, Mario Savio, Steve Biko and others I can think of? I cannot believe they are not there and may be spoken of with assurance on the streets and campuses. Who if anyone is emerging? Perhaps you with your journalistic links know who these must be and what thinking they bring to possible futures for Greece. The ideological stuff I’ve heard so far seems juvenile. Who's been writing about how things ought to be for Greece – perhaps over a much longer time? Any new ideas would have surely to come linked to a set of workable economic and social ideas that don’t look like the one’s I’m hearing. For example - On the Greek Riots But that could be because I don’t speak Greek and am too far away. Any thoughts? I guess the leadership or lead ideas and vision could come from other places than Athens – could come from Thessaloniki or other energised populations including the Greek diaspora. There have after all been student manifestations over Europe and even in the US and there’s talk of a big pow-wow on 20 December, with bold chaps (it seems to be chaps) talking about when we are in government. There’s also the matter of who else in Europe speaks interestingly and usefully about radical reform and workable futures different from the pragmatic extrapolations that seem to be failing – technically and psychologically. All the changes I can take seriously are incremental – and to do with local government and place-shaping linked to sustainability. S PS. Googling "student leader" I came up with this article dated 13 December by Helena Smith in Athens for the Guardian mentioning Natalia Bersi; mainly a diary of the last few days. S.
S. Thanks for that Guardian piece and this thoughtful comment. Reading the piece, I can't say that she bucks the trend and her testimony comes across as a narrative of what she did rather than a vision of what she hopes to create on the ashes of the current establishment. I'm deeply disappointed with my generation and I've lived them up close and personal. The ones who are half my age (the 15 year olds) are even more dispiriting, as far as I can tell...iason Iason. ...On being 'disappointed with my generation' - people of my age are supposed to say such things about a younger generation. I would like to go on a sort of tour of Greek campus’s – dressed as a cleaner or something – and listen out for political talent. Best, Simon
Photographer Melinna Kaminari's Christmas Card
received 15 December 2008
* * * * A blog called Tapes gone loose provides reflections, analysis - including translated Greek op-eds - and a variety of links on the developing crisis.
A society in denial (personal rant): To kick off with a necessary disclaimer, I haven't turned into a political analyst overnight. To the contrary, my knowledge of political theory is very limited & either too bookish or too cartoonish, plus I always seem to not comprehend &/or leave out some important details. If you choose to read what follows, then, do not take anything for granted - do your own research & form your own opinions, don't take it from me. (More importantly: instead of reading the entire ranting below, read the translations I point out in it, those articles are really insightful.)
* * * A survey for Kathimerini, reported 15.12.08, supports descriptive terms such as 'social unrest' and 'mass phenomenon':

As an opinion poll yesterday showed that six out of 10 Greeks believe the past week of violent riots were a 'popular uprising' and not the work of 'minority activists', politicians from across the spectrum expressed differing opinions about what action should now be taken. According to a survey carried out by polling firm Public Issue for Kathimerini, 60 percent of Greeks believe last week's unrest, triggered by the police killing of a teenager, had been 'a mass phenomenon'.

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