Designs for Living
|2 October, 2023
|Filled under Forthcoming Events, Uncategorized
Saturday 18 November 2023
The Athenaeum, Church Alley, Liverpool
Join Michael Owens (researcher, writer and lecturer; author Play the Game: How the Olympics came to East London), John Boughton (social historian, blogger; author Municipal Dreams:the Rise and Fall of Council Housing) and Ronnie Hughes (walker, reader and writer of the Liverpool blog A Sense of Place, currently titled “Seventy”) to take a historical perspective on Britain’s current housing crisis. From the golden age of post war planning to the decades of decline from the late 70s and 80s and focusing on the experience of Merseyside, we’ll ask what lessons might be learnt from Britain’s post-war vision for building a new, more modern and better future from the rubble of war.
House building in Britain has failed to keep pace with the needs and aspirations of a rising population. Over decades, slowly but surely, homes have grown older, scarcer and less affordable. Now that the crisis is upon us, the perversities of market failure and political neglect are staring us in the face: unaffordable apartment blocks go up in our big cities, only to lie empty, while millions live in squalid, even dangerous conditions. As waiting lists for social housing grow, councils spend billions housing homeless families in temporary accommodation. Everyone agrees that property prices and rentals are too high and that affordable homes in the right places would not only improve quality of life but boost economic growth and productivity. But we seem to be stuck in an endless spiral of inaction and decline.
Pledging to ‘bulldoze’ restrictive planning rules and take on the NIMBYs, Keir Starmer is the latest in a long line of political leaders pomising to tackle the housing crisis. But, what lies behind Britain’s inability to build? Too many planning rules? Not enough investment? Or is the problem more deeply rooted – a loss of faith in our capacity to plan and build a better future for all? Starmer’s promise to deliver new towns and new homes as part of a “decade of renewal” echoes what many regard as a golden age of town planning, council housing and home ownership, ushered in by Britain’s post-war Labour government after the Second World War.
From austerity to inequality and poverty, many of our problems remain the same, but the political failure to plan and make provision for the future seems strikingly at odds with that earlier idealism. Should we look for answers in the past? Or is the legacy of disappointed dreams and broken promises fuelling a fatalistic belief in the intractable nature of the problems that we face today?
John Boughton is a social historian. He has written two books, Municipal Dreams: the Rise and Fall of Council Housing (Verso, 2018) and, most recently, A History of Council Housing in 100 Estates (RIBA Books, 2022). He is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the School of Architecture of the University of Liverpool. Over the last ten years, his blog at municipaldreams.wordpress.com has provided a record and history of council housing across the country.
Dr Michael Owens is a London-based researcher, writer and lecturer focusing on urban development and the life of cities. He teaches undergraduate programmes for students from the University of California who are studying abroad in London. He is a board member of Bow Arts Trust, one of the UK’s largest artist studio providers. He formerly worked for the Mayor of London and played a senior role in London planning and development. His book, Play the Game, about the development of the site for the 2012 London Olympic Games, was published by Machine Books in November 2022.
“Ronnie Hughes is a walker, reader and writer of the Liverpool blog A Sense of Place, currently titled “Seventy” where he publishes his memoir of a life lived in and around the subject of “How and where are people living and is there any way I can help?” This has led him into a working life, mostly in Liverpool, of jobs in city council and social housing. Followed by a self-employed second half of his career working with community and social trading organisations and, as he says “being a straightforward activist as and where the situation has seemed to require that.”
The event runs from 12 midday until 1.45 pm, but doors will be open from 11.30 am and you are invited to stay afterwards to continue the conversation over drinks or a lunch in the Athenaeum’s newsroom.
Designs for Living is the latest in a series of Liverpool Salon discussions, which explore the past as a way of thinking about future possibilities and reflecting on the problems of our own time.