I’m the urban spaceman, baby

There should be a collective noun for a mismatched set of opinions that are almost unfailingly congenial to one particular type of person, which are unmistakeably redolent of That Sort of Person but are nonetheless stubbornly contradictory.

A “politics” perhaps. Hm. Anyway, one such set lurks in urban space. How we use it now, how we want to use it in the future, a problem particularly acute in That London, but I don’t think anyone can really ignore it. It’s a human problem. As of 2008, for the first time in history, as many of us live in cities as live outside them. So the ongoing dialogue about urban space is one of the key challenges for any far-sighted government. Ha, yes, those.

My attention was drawn to this today. I’ve never been to the Half Moon in Herne Hill (and maybe that’s part of the problem), whenever I’ve had occasion to murder a few liver cells up that way it has been at the Prince Regent, but I am nonetheless vicariously distressed to learn that it has been closed since July last year and proposals have been advanced by the owner, Dulwich Estate, to turn most of the building into flats with a pub remaining underneath. That post records a statement from Dulwich Estate, before any planning permission had actually been sought:

However, following pre-application planning advice received from Southwark’s planning department it was suggested that the Estate should look at alternative uses for the upper floors other than for residential accommodation.

Fans of planning permission and urban distopia (I know you’re out there) might care to compare and contrast the case of The Greyhound, Sydenham, which did get planning permission from Lewisham council for a similarly peculiar combination of flats around and above it, which subsequently fell apart in spectacular fashion as the developers’ real intentions were revealed. They were fined by the council for deliberate demolition of the pub (this was just after the People’s Republic arrived in the area – lawks), and in the glare of publicity had new plans to rebuild it approved… and now the shell is just sitting there. It looks sad as anything. I’ll take a picture next time I’m past, but essentially it won’t be much different to this:


There’s a campaign, of course.

And I find myself rather spoilt for piss-boiling options, because while it unquestionably boils my piss that developers do what the fuck they like and get fined the housing market equivalent of pocket change by lackwit councils that should probably never have approved this shambles in the first place, it also boils my piss that there aren’t enough places for people to live.

We can’t have it both ways. Living in urban society with limited space is a constant business of negotiation between the nice-to-haves and the must-haves, and housing is a must-have. Pubs are a nice-to-have. Now, nice-to-haves always shade into must-haves at some point – a park for every street in London is clearly just a bonkers nice-to-have; no parks at all would be an unsustainable disaster. But in a housing crisis there has to be some sort of argument for maintaining alternative space uses other than “we like it and it’s always been there”. There’s a name for that kind of argument and it begins with a small-c.

(There’s a name for the mechanism that would sort this whole business of property values and amenities out overnight, by the way, and that begins with LVT. It would be a pretty bloody night, mind.)

And these are exactly the kinds of opinions you will find simultaneously held by people, well, frankly very similar to me. We support our local arts festivals and scribble on our local forum and shop in the local butcher (cheaper than the supermarket as eny hipster kno) and wring our hands over the housing crisis and want all the pubs to remain open forever and ever.

We’re nice, I suppose. I just sometimes wish we had more of A Plan. It would almost certainly be a better plan than whoever’s actually making the plans would make.

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