Saturday, 30 June 2007

Man's Estate

After his comment on Back Where I Belong , Bill Blunt got me thinking about estates: the sprawling housing developments that in the sixties and seventies replaced streets of terrace housing flattened in the name of progress, communities fragmented and people stacked in towers where they were highly unlikely to be able to talk over the back yard wall with their neighbours.

I have a jaundiced view, as Bill noticed, of these places after both sets of grandparents lost their homes in this manner. My paternal grandma lost her home to the Asda store in Longsight, Manchester; in fact if you stand in the frozen food section you are probably not far from her kitchen. She was moved to Armitage Court in West Gorton, which is at the centre of the inner city suburb used to film Channel 4's Shameless. The community spirit described in Shameless is not that of my grandma's back to back terraced housing.

My maternal grandparents lost out when Bertha Street and
- the hub of the community - Edge Lane Methodist Church in Oldham were crushed to make way for St Mary's Estate and Shaw Rd Estate in Oldham. They were moved onto Radcliffe St, St Mary's were I spent most of my summer holidays whilst mum and dad worked.

If communities survived after their enforced exodus they did so in spite of the new estates, not because of them; the social engineers hoped it would be otherwise. And I do feel that the architects of the time had much to answer for; I am a believer in the theory that building designs affect how we feel about a place. If you don't believe me, have a look how successful some of the more recent
enlightened designs in social housing are.

And before I forget, Bill Blunt and I are not the only people talking about the estates where they live. Tracey over at Gwelva Kernewek has been busy writing about the estate where she lives. If you need something else to convince you that where you live affects how you feel about life take a look at Tracey's post.


70steen said...

When I first moved to Manchester in 84 I lived in Longsight infact that Asda was my local (that was the years before me and hubby had a car we would troll back on foot to our flat from there laidened with goodies....) oh if only I knew then what I know now that I was treading in your grandmas parlour.... plus in latter years their carpark has proved to be an excellent discreet RV for early morning jobs south of the city.

UrbanCowgirl said...

I couldn't agree with you more: the thought that people have to live in these places fills me with sympathy and horror. A few years ago I watched a documentary about the Damilola Taylor murder (morbid, I know) and there was a built environment specialist (academic) they interviewed who laid a hefty portion of the blame for the crime rates in these estates at the door of their designers. One of his points was that not only are they dreary beyond belief thus leading to depression/despair etc, but they are designed in such a way that there are plenty of places (stairwells, covered walkways etc) where people can be up to all sorts and nobody 'happens by' or can see what's going on. People can be cornered very easily as assailants working in groups head in from two directions and trap their victim.

Sorry, I know it's not a pleasant subject, but I think the people who design these estates have much to answer for. I would love to meet one of them and ask them if they'd [swearword] live there, with their seven years of architectural school and £100k jobs. If the answer's no, why the [swearword] design something like that?

Jeez. Sorry. Can you tell it's been a while since I had a lefty socialist rant?

Bill Blunt said...

Strange how the Europeans have always adapted better to life in flats and apartments, though.
I think any spare fingers should also be pointed at the local authorities who sanctioned so much of the build them high, build them cheap housing estates.

Having said that, once Fir Tree House in Fitton Hill had its new windows and central heating systems fitted (oh, and the asbestos removed!) it wasn't actually a bad place to live.

Crofty said...

70steen: We could well have been eyeing each other suspiciously across the car park because one of the ironies of my life is that ten years ago I was sent to work in that area where I too often used the car park as an RV point.

Cowgirl: fab rant - well aimed and well deserved: architects across the nation(s) should look to their laurels.

Bill: I find it sad that there is little left of St Mary's now but the realisation that the housing was crap has come to late for my grandparents' generation.

Lisa said...

It makes me wonder what all the new flats, oops sorry, "apartments" that are springing up all over Manchester, will be like in a few years time. That is, of course, assuming that they'll still be standing in 20 years time. Looking at the rate at which they are thrown up, I can't imagine that they are a "quality build".
My best friend used to live in the flats across from Honeywell Lane. Thankfully they've been pulled down now, it was a soulless, depressing, grey place. No colour, no gardens, not even a window box. I was always pleased that my friend lived on the ground floor so I wouldn't have to use any of the "creepy" stairways.

Kevin Webster said...

I had a flat on Jespersen St, Saint Mary'sfrom 1991 to whenever it was knocked down (96, I think). Anyway, I've got to say it was the best flat I've ever had - massive rooms, airy and bright with big windows and warm as toast coz you got unlimited heat & hot water for £8 per week.

Yes estates like this had their problems, but a lot of these problems were caused by the economic circumstances of the people living in the flats rather than the flats themselves. Look at estates like Limeside and Fitton Hill - traditional houses with gardens etc, but those places aren't problem free either are they?

Let's not get too misty eyed about the mean and damp terraces they replaced - they weren't called slums for nothing.

These flats were ahead of their time so people needed time to get used to living in them. Demolition is rarely the answer - bad housing is a symptom of an area in decline rather than the cause of decline.

Crofty said...

Thanks for that comment Kevin. I think you've hit the nail on the head with the social decline point. When my grandad moved to Sam Fitton way the decline in quality in the area wasn't about the accommodation: the stairwells stank of piss, not because they were built that way!!