Ever since I was allowed out I have walked through London ; across common to school, late night treks to Chelsea Bridge to stare into the Thames, marching down Park Lane or bustling to Wardour Street to see the Fall at the Marquee. I have always thought the city was a place for us to ramble and enjoy. I have always thought the city belonged to us. All of us. The mass. No matter what “they” did there would always places for us to play.
I am less convinced this is the case now, though more convinced than ever of the need to do so.
London has been bought by corporations, oligarchs and other assorted bastards, nearly 1 in 10 properties in Westminster are owned offshore, nearly 70% of new builds in the City of London are bought by non UK residents. It is no wonder that Occupy ended up outside St Paul’s it is about the only non corporately owned public space in the City.
With the corporate acquisition of public space comes private security and company rules. Go to Paternoster Square, owned by the Mitsubishi corporation, a series of streets and alleys next to St Paul’s, try doing something you could do on public land, wave a placard, hand out a leaflet, sing a song and you will be asked politely but firmly to stop by a chap wearing a CCTV vest. Continue and the request will be less polite.
Walk along the Southbank, once home to London’s local democracy, now owned by a series of corporate and foreign owners, try holding a meeting, make a speech or even dare to busk outside one of the approved white circles and security will intervene.
And as for anyone with the audacity to want to live in London, well forget it unless you are rich or lucky. The oligarch heated housing market combined with the trashing of social housing and cuts to housing benefits has created a maelstrom of social cleansing, forcing thousands out of the capital, the scale of which has defined Boris’ terms in the Mayor’s office.
In the 1930’s the Kinder Scout Mass trespass – where 500 odd young working class ramblers trespassed onto the Peaks- inspired a generation long struggle for the right to roam across mountain , moor and heath. I am not the first nor will I be the last to call for a Kinder Scout movement for the city. We need to open this place up, to fight for public access and to play on every blade of grass and slab of concrete we can.
[A shorter version of this article first appeared in “The Big Issue”]