The fourth ‘People, Place and Policy Conference’ was held at Collegiate Crescent Campus on 27th June. This year’s interdisciplinary theme of ‘alternative urban futures for tackling social and spatial inequalities’ attracted attendees from across the social sciences. In an opening keynote, Guy Standing set the tone for the conference with a summary of his concept of an emergent ‘precariat’ which he described as an insecure ‘supplicant’ class with unstable employment patterns lacking the social institutions that traditionally bind the working-class together. He emphasised that their lack of access to the non-wage payments that urban professionals can command, and poor long-term employment prospects, makes them a ‘dangerous class’ outside the groups that support conventional party politics. Despite their insecurities, Standing sees the ‘precariats’ as instrumental in the creation of new urban and cultural forms. In the following sessions the role of these alliances was considered in relation to re-development and regeneration projects.
These overlapping themes were explored in a session on the Universal Basic Income (UBI). The panel included Standing, Simon Duffy from the Centre for Welfare Reform and Tina Beatty from SHU. Panel members pointed to international trials of UBI demonstrating that it helped those in precarious part-time employment (often women) and, in contrast to universal credit, carried pronounced physical and mental health benefits for insecure workers. Criticisms, however, were expressed that advocates of UBI needed to counter the argument that it provided ‘something for nothing’.
Challenges to existing models of urban development were charted in the session on ‘enabling and producing alternative urban futures’. Civic crowd funding, digital technologies and the creation of socially-horizontal networks were described as providing alternatives to top-down, subsidized models for local regeneration. Studies of the Peckham Coal Line in South London and ‘makerspace’ workshop projects in Milan demonstrated some successes in creating mixed gentrifications. However, as Zsuzsa Kovacs, Peer Smets and Halleh Ghorashi from Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, pointed out, direct state intervention to encourage socially diverse communities on the model of Amsterdam East was still a preferred option to overcome social polarisation in the Netherlands.
After lunch, the conference strand ‘enabling and producing alternative urban futures’ considered ways of countering the lack of access and the spatial confinements that characterised the ‘technocratic, post-political, city.’ Basak Tanulku examined the coalition of squatters, Kurdish militants, and LGBT activists that appropriated and re-purposed neglected urban space in Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul. As Sam Vardy from SHU pointed out, the Wards Corner Community Coalition in Tottenham displays similar features and support networks to the Taksim Gezi Park movement. Jens Kaae Fisker from the University of Southern Denmark suggested the need for a new ‘spatial imaginary’ in architecture to take account of these more open movements and opportunities in an urban context.
The final session saw a summing up of the key themes of the day. The practical application of new thinking for councils and urban planners was demonstrated by discussion of the ‘Preston model’. Cllr Martyn Rawlinson from Preston Council highlighted the council’s retention of staffed advice services, commitment to hiring local firms, and support for credit unions. The conference ended with consensus expressed by Cristina Cerulli from SHU and Beth Perry from the University of Sheffield that, wherever possible, local regeneration schemes should be largely community-led. This was a lively event. By linking regeneration with societal trends the conference revealed the diverse and pluralistic nature of urban regeneration projects across European cityscapes. The range and depth of material covered at the conference made me reflect on a number of key issues, particularly the circumstances that promote ‘good’ and ‘bad’ regenerations in rapidly changing urban environments.
Sheffield Hallam University