Estate near London’s Olympic Stadium. Source: Newham
On Oct. 25, University
College London (U.C.L.) announced
that it had gained permission to proceed with a £1 billion plan to build a new
campus in Stratford, home to the 2012 Olympic Games. This decision comes at the
end of a summer of protests, official consultations and public meetings in
opposition to the plans.
protest their university’s plans for the Carpenters Estate. Source: Demotix
The new campus will built on the Carpenters
Estate, not far from
the Olympics site. UCL management and the Newham Council see this plan as an
opportunity to “regenerate” blighted East London, promising to create 3,300
new jobs. For local
residents, however, the plans mean loss of their life-long homes and community.
In a short video for The
resident Mary Finch deplores the legacy of the Olympics: “I think that the
Olympics has lost me my home.”
A resident of the estate for the past 40 years, she is not keen to go. “I
think they’re gonna have to come in here and drag me out. Why should somebody
be able to force you out of your home? A home that’s got nothing wrong with it,
that’s standing solid? I do not want to go.”
Her criticism speaks directly to the now-common narrative of failed utopia used
by council authorities to justify regeneration plans marked by
“decanting” and demolishing. Once removed from their homes, estate
residents have little guarantee of return or access to affordable housing
elsewhere, as social housing in London is quickly disappearing.
Fran, a resident
of Carpenters Estate, in her home. Source: Flickr
At a recent meeting on Oct. 31, UCL faculty and students came together to
support the residents at Carpenters. Discussions revolved around what the role
of universities should be in urban regeneration. An overwhelming majority of
students and alumni pledged to boycott the new campus plans. The UCL Urban Laboratory released a statement asserting that
“ethical urban regeneration is only possible if community led.” So
far, residents of Carpenters Estate have fully rejected the university’s plans.
Many insist that they are not opposed to regeneration per se, only to losing
their homes in the process.
Estate, Orbit Tower and the Olympic Stadium. Source: Amanda
Speaking in front of a full auditorium, Michael Edwards, a professor at The Bartlett School of
Planning, deplored the fact that university management had not consulted its
own academic body. Stressing the loss of social housing in London, he urged all
those involved to consider the implications of a “university-led community
called for an open debate on the proposed plans.
On Nov. 28, UCL students occupied the university’s Garden Room. Discussions at
the occupation increasingly referred to the link between student debt, growing
speculation on the student housing market and acts of displacement such as the
new campus plan.
This most recent episode in the ongoing gentrification of London brings up
important questions about the university’s role in urban renewal and its
responsibilities to the city as a whole.
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