Tag Archives: British Library

Journeys through urban Britain talk

18 Jul

Last Friday I attended a brilliant talk at the British Library called ‘Journeys through Urban Britain’ featuring Owen Hatherley, Laura Oldfield-Ford, and Owen Jones discussing the politics of our urban landscape. My terrible memory and my note taking on a scrap of paper doesn’t really do justice to the discussion – but I thought it might be worth throwing out some of the points that were made.

Hatherley and Oldfield-Ford both reflected on their wanderings, observations, and experiences of London and further afield, whilst Jones was on hand with statistics and a historical context with which to situate the changes in British cities. The picture they painted of British cities today, which are descriptive of the politics, was indeed bleak as more and more boundaries are erected, public space lost, and people forced out of their areas but there have been moments of hope, especially in the last couple of years. The speakers described the student movements, Occupy, and the ‘euphoria’ of the riots as examples of ways in which cities can be lived in and created differently.

Here are some interesting things that I learnt:

‘There are too many people baking cupcakes’ LOF (cupcakes are the apotheosis of neoliberalism right? They promote individualism with the emphasis on everyone having to have their own tiny, perfect little cake rather than people enjoying slices from a big cake. You just can’t share a cupcake as they are the size of one mouthful. Communal cake eating and enjoyment is destroyed by cupcakes as people become preoccupied with having the daintiest, fanciest cupcake they can get to outdo everyone else’s. They’re also slightly creepy as they seem to hark back to and celebrate women’s incarceration in the kitchen in the 1950s in the name of ‘retro’. – me!)

The opening song for the Shard was ‘fanfare for the common man’

Inequality that is built into the Strata tower, in which there are separate lifts for social housing tenants at the bottom of the tower (so they don’t get the good views) and the rest of the tenants, reflects our unequal society– OJ

The drift ‘an important strategy to see how flows of the city have been re-ordered – to see how we can re-configure the urban space’ LOF

Walking around cities allows you to ‘see political processes at work…cracks are really obvious in British cities and that’s what my work brings out’. OH

What do the Tories want? ‘It’s a project of destruction rather than construction’. OH

Coin Street, a community trust housing development, is often held up (by the left?) as an example of how housing could be done, however, OH points out that actually it’s not as pleasant as it seems. They have strict vetting process for who is allowed to enter their ‘community’.

Cities and work

Seeing cities as places other than places of work

To do this – OH – need free time or a job that allows you to walk around the city.

The relationship between cities and work – ‘cities are giving us messages that we should work all the time, even when you’re relaxing having a coffee in Starbucks there’s a sign saying there is wi-fi’.


Woolwich after the riots – there was a sign up saying ‘back to business’ as if to say ‘we won’t learn anything’ OH

What does community mean? ‘the broom brigade showed how nasty and vicious the word community can be’ LOF

The future…?

Unison’s new building on the Euston road has social housing around the back of it, Hatherley would like to see unions getting more involved in housing.

‘I think when Westfield shopping centre is looted and burnt out, it would make a good social centre’. LOF


If these disjointed notes have piqued your interest – I reckon it would be well worth checking out their books (in LOF’s talk, she showed us drawings from her book and they were fantastic!) from your local library before the government tries to close it!

A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys through Urban Britain, Owen Hatherley

Savage Messiah, Laura Oldfield-Ford

Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, Owen Jones

Free education

13 Feb

Last week, I had the best unemployment day yet (although this is not to undermine the often grim reality of being unemployed – unemployed people face stigma, pitiful benefits, and often suffer lower life expectancies in comparison to their waged counterparts – however, sometimes it can be fun to have free time). After three years of intensive study at university (I know people have this idea of students as lazy, but it is quite hard work, and what with all the pressure on yourself as a result of the debt you’ve taken on as well), I finally felt relaxed and well rested. Browsing the internet I also found loads of interesting things that were going on around London for free – I got really excited and started adding them to my diary. Whilst there are lots of things I miss about student life, including the generous bursary that I received, I realised that it’s perfectly possible to get yourself a top education for free. And with the ludicrous fees that are now being charged, as well as the changes that the government are trying to impose on universities which will mean they become even more commercialised than they already are, perhaps free education is the way forward. I thought I’d share some of my discoveries – and if you have any ideas, please feel free to contribute.

As well as being free, it is important that education is critical, and that it isn’t just understood as lectures and reading books, but can be conceived of in different ways, ways that are fun, inclusive, and participatory. Hopefully I’ll discover more sites of alternative pedagogy during my unemployed travels and I’ll be sure to report back.

As well as Free education, perhaps I should expand also to include Free London. I was in Waterstones the other day and found a nice little book called ‘Tired of London, Tired of Life: One Thing to Do a Day in London’ by Tom Jones. It had lots of good suggestions about cool things to do in our wonderful metropolis (did you know the street lamps in Covent Garden and along Green Park and the Mall are gas lamps? pretty cool), however, some of these included visiting fancy cafes, and other extravagant things, so perhaps I could do an alternative that focussed on free explorations, places, and activities.

Free education

Tent City University – Occupy London St Paul’s

Tent City has largely wound down now, but in it’s heyday, it hosted some great speakers and many lively debates – although perhaps it was a little too set on the conventional academic format of lecturer lectures at audience then audience gets to ask questions. Maybe it could have attempted to push the boundaries a little bit and experimented with different ways of learning that weren’t dependent on old middle class white men. This criticism aside, Tent City shows us that we can make our own free and open spaces for learning. I hope we’ll give this a try again sometime soon.

Public lectures at the London School of Economics

I’ve been attending loads of these recently – Paul Mason on why it’s kicking off everywhere, New Economics Foundation on the 21 hour working week, and Richard Sennett on cooperation – there’s a huge programme of really interesting talks and sometimes they even have a reception afterwards with hummus and pitta! Check their website for new additions to the programme and for other free festivals that are held at the LSE – for example, Wednesday 29th February-Saturday 3rd March is the LSE Space for Thought Literary Festival.

The British Library (and the Wellcome library just down the road opposite Euston Station)

Here you can access any book published in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The British Library also has exhibitions on as well as numerous reading rooms where you can sit and work (once you’ve registered to become a member, which is free and open to everyone). I’ve been meaning to go there to read the International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest as it sounds like an exciting read.

Or how about the Women’s library http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/thewomenslibrary/


Obviously, the internet is a brilliant free resource. I’m sure there’s loads of great websites with videos and all sorts (oh yes, mustn’t forget David Harvey’s video lecture course on Marx’s Capital – I’ve been meaning to do this for years! And Capital volume 2 is being added http://davidharvey.org/) – but maybe it’s a bit overwhelming to know where to start. That’s where I’ve found Twitter so useful. Basically I’ve followed a load of people who I think seem cool and interesting – through this I’ve found all sorts of interesting articles that they’ve included in their tweets or shout outs for events. You can also pretty much just tweet a question that’s been bothering you and I’m sure someone would get back to you with an answer.


Walking around the city, whether by yourself or in a group, is also a great way to learn about your local area or other parts of London. Experiencing the city first hand is one of the best ways of learning geography. There are all sorts of fascinating objects placed around the city.

These are just some ideas for getting yourself free education, this will be updated…