Editorial: Our space

IssueNovember 2007

A great deal of ink is being spilled across Britain over “gun and knife crime”. As Kate MacIntosh, vice-chair of Scientists for Global Responsibility and former chair of Architects for Peace, points out in her lucid essay in this issue, anti-social behaviour is in part a response to the built environment, and the degree to which communities are permitted self-government and participatory democracy in the formation and use of the built environment.

This is about sensitive architecture, democratic architecture and urban planning. It's about the use and shaping of the spaces we inhabit.

At another level, across the world and across Britain grassroots activists are constantly struggling for the right to use public space for basic political activities such as stalls, demonstrations and fundraising. To take one example that has recently been brought to our attention, in Penzance, Cornwall, peace activist Peter Le Mare has been asserting his right to lean a placard against the wall of a bank during his two-hour Saturday morning peace vigil (of 15 years' standing).

In the face of threats by the bank, and from police (who invoked some mythical sections of the Public Order Act), Peter graciously added the following words to the bottom of his sign: “This placard has no connection real or implied with HSBC or any other wall it is leaning against.” (Despite his invitation to the police to take whatever action they feel is appropriate, Peter has not been arrested as of this writing.) There are genuine problems of anti-social behaviour in Britain's cities - and in the far-off places where British forces carry out much more anti-social and anti-human policies, policies designed in Whitehall and justified in Fleet Street.

Solving these two different kinds of problems is not going to be easy, but one thing is clear. They will not be overcome by a focus on repression, force and control. They can only be overcome by increasing freedom - including freedom of expression - and increasing justice.

We need to give each member of each community a direct and real say over the allocation, distribution and use of our available resources/ property/investment capacities. We need direct workers' control of the economy and we need direct community control of society. Of the spaces we work in, and the spaces we live in. Our space.

It is this kind of economic democracy that can lay the foundation for an architecture that works, and a genuine culture of peace.

We can embody this vision to some extent in our everyday lives, in Radical Routes housing co-ops or social centres, in Solidarity Networks, in “Utopias” near and far, or in our peace groups.

At the same time, we are faced with our literal or metaphorical neighbours. Virginia Moffat's thoughtful and honest essay on her time living next to Molesworth can help to inspire us as we face these challenges.

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