David Barrie is a UK based consultant, media producer, commentator and much more. I was reading one of his recent weblog posts* in which he said a new narrative was needed for regeneration. He comments that the number of UK citizens living in poverty has increased and that “the very purpose of regeneration is to help poor people become more prosperous – or at least that’s what it says in the manual”.
Over the past few months I have been thinking about, reading about and researching slum clearance in Australia – particularly during the postwar period. Slum clearance has been integral to Australian city-making as urban renewal and social cleansing. The discourse of slum clearance and regeneration are distinctly similar with a shared vocabulary and imaginary of ‘moral aesthetic’. The slum clearance seemed to coincide with the unfurling of suburban development and the cleansing of the city. The slum imaginary is still strong, especially as the new slum imaginary now evokes ‘slumburbia’. In my work in community consultation in the development industry, I have noted how the words ‘slum’ and ‘ghetto’ appear in community responses to change. Proposed high end developments are often characterised as ‘slums’ in the making. There is also a rejection by many urban dwellers of social or affordable housing in the proposed development on the grounds of creating ghettos. Thus, there is also a vernacular and contemporary imaginary of the slum, its population, its form and its creation.
I’ve been flipping through an issue of New Geographies, themed After Zero. Let me first just declare my fondness for ‘zero’ as a numerical enigma. Another two books sit in my shelves which will also have some bearing on this textual trajectory: one is titled In Ruins and the other is titled Rubble. Both make contributions about subtraction from the built environment. As Stephen Ramos and Neyran Turan explore in their editorial, zero presents a challenge in the urban environment – not just the zero point, but also ‘zero context’, ‘cities from scratch’, ‘zero carbon’ – the idea of zero is pervasive in our cities. The events of 9/11 also brought home the idea of ‘ground zero’ in our cities. And so, as I have said before, development and redevelopment can sometimes play out as a ‘zero sum game’. Zero confers precarity in our cities – impermanence, formlessness and vulnerability – a reducability to nothing or emptiness.
*Read David Barrie’s post online at: