A Little History of Economic Development and Urbanism

Consider the little history of Kentish Town which began as a village. In the mid-19thC, aristocratic developers laid out streets we’re familiar with. Industrialisation followed. The houses were peppered with factories, workshops, works yards and the railways sliced through. Many houses became shops. New streets of working class housing were shoe-horned in.

Waves of development followed until post-war municipalisation which saw wholesale demolition of the rough terraced streets of West Kentish Town that housed many informal businesses as well as shops, pubs and workshops. New mono-functional housing blocks were thrown up. We live in the era since this comprehensive redevelopment and sanitisation, and have reacted against it.

Each of these development stages marks a new type of commercialisation. Ours is appreciating house values. We’ve converted lots of workspace into homes to take advantage, and built a planning system that institutionalises the primacy of residency over unpropertied interests. We have mesmerised ourselves with the purported beauty of our homes and neglected the slow suffocation of our settlements by “residential values”

Our era of "residential" commercialisation isn’t over but what might lie beyond it ? It must be a new type of commercialisation which reduces the barriers to participation in economic life.

I hope for a rediffusion of small business energy across the residential settlement, and strengthened social life solidly linked to business development, supported by a refreshed planning regime and a politics committed to dispersal of commercial power.

The consolidation of workspace in centres like Kings Cross, White City and Canary Wharf will be recognised as a power grab by monopolist developers skilled in PR and horse-trading with planning authorities. Local life will involve us in local business with significant spatial changes resulting including in my view the creation of new public spaces.

© Tom Young 2012

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