February 15, 2021

Interesting Things on the Internet: February 15th 2021 Edition

And this video is glorious.

Posted by Adrian at 05:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 14, 2021

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Reconstructing Public Housing: Liverpool's Hidden History of Collective Alternatives by Matthew Thompson

Reconstructing Public Housing: Liverpool’s hidden history of collective alternatives (and on Open Library) by Matthew Thompson is an excellent exploration of the history and present-day (and future?) of co-operative and community housing here in Liverpool. It's also nice to see that it's open access and available to read online.

I found it a really interesting read—as you can see from the quantity of dog-eared pages. The Housing Market Renewal scheme, responsible for some of the more recent State-and-private housing disasters, is something I've written about before. And it was odd but lovely to read quotes from, and references to, so many friends and acquaintances when we get to the more up-to-date sections. Well worth a read.

Page xvii

I wanted to show how similar things had been done in the not too distant past, in the same city, often in the very same street, by other collective housing movements that shared so much, if not their name, with Liverpool's budding community land trust movement.In the 1970s, fuelled by tenant protests over poor conditions and the displacement entailed by the council’s ‘slum clearance programme’, one of the largest and most imaginative housing co-operative movements in Britain if not Europe was born—Liverpool’s so-called ‘Co-op Spring’ 2 or ‘Co-operative Revolution’.

Page 8

Secondly, for all its good intentions, there were inherent problems with this state project [of council housing]—even when delivered at the municipal scale by local authorities (as is all too evident in Liverpool’s history)—to do with the way in which housing was done to and for people rather than by them.

Page 17

Rather than rights of citizenship being founded on passive membership of a nation-state and abstract entitlement to property, they derive from the active contribution of each inhabitant to the creation of a complex urban ecology as well as their necessary embeddedness within the web of social relations that make up the city.

Page 22

The foundational economy comprises two components: material infrastructure (the pipes and cables, utilities and networks of everyday life, such as transport, food and retail banking) and what the foundational economy collective call ‘providential’ services (referring to the providence—the benevolent care and guidance—to be found in health, education and welfare provision).

Page 24

With this in mind, the question then becomes how to re-engineer the state to work for, rather than against, the housing commons. How can we re-scale the state towards more decentralised and networked institutions that enable us to engage in democratic decision-making over the material and providential services that underpin our lives? How can we reform the monolithic, centralised and hierarchical versions of public ownership of the post-war past into more collective and participatory forms of common ownership? How can we bring the state into closer conversation and engagement with that third domain of economic ownership and management often referred to as the social economy?

Page 30

Liverpool was the first city in Britain to legislate against the dire urban conditions created by capitalism. The 1842 Liverpool Building Act, Dockerill demonstrates, challenged laissez-faire attitudes of the time to municipal intervention—enforcing minimum space and hygiene standards in newly constructed privately rented courts across Liverpool. In 1846, the Liverpool Sanitary Act—the first comprehensive health legislation in England, two years ahead of the national Public Health Act, which likewise made local authorities responsible for drainage, sewerage and water supply—inaugurated the world’s first Medical Officer of Health and Borough Engineer in 1847 so as to begin to ameliorate some of the worst conditions through public improvements such as sewers.

Page 37

Regeneration has become almost a self-generating industry in Liverpool—the first to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of its maritime economy. Some local academics and commentators go so far as to suggest Liverpool’s contemporary economy is primarily geared around the so-called ‘regeneration game’

Page 53

the International Co-operative Alliance ratified its five principles: (1) open and voluntary membership; (2) democratic control; (3) fair distribution of economic results according to labour or consumption rather than capital ownership; (4) education in cooperation; (5) cooperation between co-ops.

Page 58

[John F.C. Turner] proposed a housing system driven by what he called ‘resourcefulness’ as an alternative to the logic of ‘productivity’ driving the large-scale, capital-intensive, efficient yet wasteful, misallocative and unresponsive top-down system of mass housing under state-capitalism. Turner advocated more imaginative, practical, locally attuned and needs-based use of resources for self-housing, through labour-intensive craft-based production, utilising local skills and knowledge. This was to be enabled by state and professional infrastructures, but driven by spontaneous grass-roots energy of people housing themselves through cooperative labour and directly related to the final product.

Page 69

Granby Street Housing Co-operative was established in 1972, Liverpool’s first rehab co-op.

Page 73

By the mid-1970s, Liverpool Council had the largest Housing Action Area policy in the UK, covering 23 inner-city nineteenth-century neighbourhoods.

Page 100

Having lived in poorly managed council houses all their lives, the first thing co-op residents would tell their architect was that they wanted homes as different from ‘Corpy housing’ as possible.


Weller Street took on a more urban quality, of courtyard squares. Most of the other co-ops, by contrast, were typically cul-de-sacs, which Bill Taylor likens to “a sort of wagon train when they’re stopped for the night”, arranged in a tight, inward-facing circle.

Page 102

Orienting co-op housing around an inward focal point—a community anchor or communal area—is great for internal community cohesion, but has the simultaneous effect of enclosing co-ops, cutting them off from the city, discouraging through-flow, and imposing spatial barriers between surrounding neighbourhoods.

Page 111

I remember as a kid seeing this sweep through the city. Having lived in an apartment in a Torinese palazzo, I think we're too hung up on semis here in the UK.

The URS [the Militant Council's Urban Regeneration Strategy] rationale was to target 17 (later extended to 22) “Priority Areas” of modernist ‘hard-to-let’ flats and tenements built between the 1930s and 1970s, which had become unpopular sites marked by crime, vandalism, squalor and dereliction. Byrne’s assessment of council house designs revealed one promising inter-war period of problem-free semi-detached housing and concluded that this was the pinnacle of British council housing design.

Page 116

The principal proponents of the Kirkby [co-op] movement, however, were young single mothers, who often felt isolated in the flats and wanted something better for their children.

Page 127

"The poverty initiatives then have clearly not made any great inroads on inner-Liverpool’s real material problems. All they have done is to restate, usually in academic terms, what the people who live there have known for a long time."

Page 133

[...] one of the pioneering Urban Development Corporations, tasked with regenerating Liverpool’s derelict docks and overseen by a specialist quango, the Merseyside Task Force. These top-down planning prescriptions were amongst the first of their kind to be tried and tested in the UK but ultimately failed to do much more than successfully restore or redevelop specific sites, such as the historic Albert Dock, due to their narrow, noun-like focus on property-led redevelopment as opposed to a more holistic approach (such as SNAP and the CDPs) considering deeper socioeconomic structures and processes, such as skills, health, housing, resource redistribution and economic ownership.

Page 137

The social economy organises economic functions primarily according to democratic, co-operative and reciprocal principles; aims for high levels of equality, redistribution and empowerment of marginalised citizens; and works towards the satisfaction of unmet human needs.

Page 143

[Jack McBane on his interview as an advisor to the Eldonians:]

So the interview panel was like 30 people and I’ll never forget it. They had a big social hall, they had an organisation, and they were used to running things, and I said, “I don’t think you’re thinking big enough. This place is a shithole, you know that, why don’t you take on the whole neighbourhood?” And at this McGann’s eyes began to light up ... I said, “Nobody else cares for this place. It’s been abandoned by the council, the businesses have already left town, housing associations aren’t even active here. The only thing that’s alive and well here is you. What’s the point in doing a housing co-op surrounded by this? Because you’re going to waste a huge amount of resources and my time and the architect’s time doing a co-op—why don’t we just change the whole thing and gear it up?”

Page 147

Then, in 1981, Tate & Lyle, the biggest local employer, closed its sugar refinery, causing a further 1,700 job losses, leaving many of the Eldonians without work. Exacerbating this was the closure of the British American Tobacco factory in 1984, with knock-on bankruptcies of local feeder firms.

Page 148

It's complicated, but that wasn't a name I was expecting to find on the supporting side...

Through their lobbying, with the political support of Thatcher, the Eldonians managed to secure the site and the funding required for remediation.

Page 150

In the context of an intensifying battle between the Tory government and Militant-controlled Liverpool Council over the city’s budget, Thatcher was looking to undermine their authority and reassert central control. The Eldonian scheme was the perfect pawn to play.

Page 153

EGL’s [Eldonian Group Ltd] decision to explore the prospects for local energy production in a combined heat and power (CHP) system led them to consider retrofitting the Eldonian Community Based Housing Association’s stock, because, an EGL officer explains, “if we’re going to produce our own energy, we can’t put it into houses that are sieves”. They set up a non-profit energy service company, the Eldonian Energy Partnership (with E.ON, the massive multinational European energy provider, and Peel Holdings as junior partner) and developed a CHP energy centre and district heating network (DHN)—the first of its kind to be delivered by a social enterprise.

Page 154

An EGL manager is upfront about their making profit from contracts with big business and consultancy work delivered elsewhere around the country:

Profit’s not a dirty word to us, but we make profit, we bring it back here and we then use that money to subsidise services we want to provide here, so “dads’ and lads’ clubs”—costing us fifty grand each a year—“after school clubs”, things like that where the local authority will fund to a level, but we want it to be a decent level.

Page 159

The Eldonian Village is perhaps more akin, as one observer likens it, to a “community dictatorship” than a community-based cooperative.

Page 160

Bill Taylor, formerly of CDS, puts it like this:

There was always a bit called the “post-development blues” when you’d been working for four years towards this thing and, finally, “bloody hell, practical completion, move in!” And then the people who have really led the co-op through that gestation period and the delivery period go “phhhhheeeewwww, right I just want a break now, I’m going to resign ...” It’s almost like post-natal depression. You’ve been looking forward to this thing for so long, it comes along and actually then you’ve got a whole set of different challenges because you’ve got something that’s alive and squawking—things like collecting rent, and tackling people who’ve been your friends and neighbours and who live next door about their rent arrears ...

Page 166

Either way, the Eldonian leadership invited a group of local property speculators to take on EGL’s debts in the hope of retaining staff. This group was linked to the Eldonians through their business connections—partners in various property redevelopment schemes in the area and also through Tony McGann’s son, evicted from the village for drug dealing.

Soon after brokering this arrangement, it became apparent that the new owners were not all that interested in fulfilling EGL’s original ethos of community enterprise and reinvestment for social value. Instead, EGL was stripped of its assets—siphoned off through a number of shell companies. Staff numbers fell from over two hundred to around 50. The sports centre in the Eldonian Village was closed down and demolished. The site awaits profitable redevelopment as residential flats, outside of Eldonian management.

Page 167

Others suggest that it was the Eldonians’ prominent position within local politics and in the property industry that made it attractive for predatory investment and money laundering—activities for which Liverpool, an anarchic port city, has long been renowned. If indeed this is true, why was EGL so vulnerable to corruption? Asset stripping is precisely the kind of problem which the community development trust model is designed to preclude.

Page 171

Unlike their mass-produced imitations, they have stood the test of time. Almost all the co-ops, as well as the Eldonian Village, are still here today, in better condition than surrounding housing built before or after.

Page 182

The CLT tripartite governance structure—with equal parts resident-members, wider community representatives and expert stake-holders—is the result of this innovation. 22 Thus CLTs are unique among collective forms of ownership for engaging with and recycling surpluses for the wider community, and not just for member-residents, as in the case of co-ops.

Page 192

According to these critics, HMR [Housing Market Renewal] logic represents a narrowly aspirational, market-based perspective on housing as a ‘space of positions’ in which middle-class consumers vie for position on the housing ladder—disregarding use values for exchange value.

Page 197

The third commissioned research report in 2001, as Webb has demonstrated, 81 identified the student accommodation construction boom in the city centre as a causal factor in the supply and demand imbalance in low-demand inner-city areas, whereby a speculative rash of new flats were being successfully marketed to students, key workers and economic migrants, who otherwise would have settled in the inner-city terraced neighbourhoods. If HMR was to stay true to its original objective of rationalising the structure of housing markets—to rebalance supply and demand so as to reconnect failing markets with sustainable regional markets—then surely a key recommendation of the report would be to stop the building of flats that were directly creating an oversupply of accommodation [...]

Page 215

These mostly women homeowners associated with the city’s artistic and creative milieu—Eleanor Lee, Hazel Tilly and Theresa MacDermott amongst others—helped move the campaign on from reactive anti-demolition protests towards more proactive claims of ownership over the neglected, disinvested and largely vacant streets. Out of a state of despair—tenants evicted, properties boarded-up, streets collecting rubbish, blight setting in—they set about cleaning the streets, clearing rubbish, seeding wildflower meadows on vacant land, painting house frontages with colourful artistic murals and bringing garden furniture and potted plants out onto pavements and into the roads. 26 The centre of these insurgent acts of ‘guerrilla gardening’ was Cairns Street, where most of the green-fingered activists lived. Their vision was to turn the Granby Triangle into the ‘Green Triangle’.

Page 219

This strategy of zero- or very low-interest social investment was described by CLT activists as “philanthropy at four per cent return”, in reference to the early housing association trusts of the nineteenth century known as ‘five per cent philanthropy orgs’.

Page 231

It was not just the church, Juliet recalls, which was targeted by such practices:

We served on the Friday; they continued with the demolition on the Saturday. I think it was by one o’clock Monday the council agreed to stop. Guess what happened on Monday night? Huge fire in some of the properties. Coincidence? So since the day that we filed that legal action, I think it was Monday 29th January [2013], until something like mid-August, there were fires all the time. I was constantly getting phone calls ... We were just documenting the lot of them, and that was part of the evidence that was presented at the High Court. So I do blame them, absolutely, this is the battleground. It’s a war. I mean all that time, there’d never been any fires ...

Page 243

Importantly, the CLT and bakery trade as separate legal entities—the CLT is registered as a Community Interest Company (CIC) whilst the bakery is a Community Benefit Society (BenCom), a relatively new legal form of cooperative that privileges wider community benefit over member benefit. This enables the CLT to operate as the landlord; the bakery its first and foremost tenant. This makes Homebaked an unusual CLT for having a commercial as opposed to a residential tenant.

Page 250

At its heart, this is about changing place, and the way we live and interact with each other and the urban environment.

Page 252

The slum-clearance programme aimed to rehouse residents in modern tenements, tower blocks and houses, mostly built out on the city’s periphery. But providing people with all the latest amenities in clean, spacious, safe environments was necessary but not sufficient to improve quality of life and, in fact, too often destroyed the delicate web of social relations that knitted communities together and provided the socioeconomic safety nets and systems of mutual aid and solidarity so important in times of hardship and precarity. Moreover, post-war slum clearances were conducted by the municipal authorities with such fervour as to help tip the inner city into a seemingly inexorable spiral of decline.

Page 256

HMR was part of a broader trend. By the turn of the millennium, Liverpool had become very talented at playing the ‘regeneration game’: demonstrating deprivation in order to secure public funding from the EU and central government that could then be multiplied by grant regime partners. The effect on people and place, however, was equally impactful. Declining inner-city neighbourhoods like Anfield have been stuck for a long time in a self-defeating mindset of proving to authorities the severity of local deprivation and the need for external assistance. Born-and-bred local resident, artist and Homebaked co-founder Jayne Lawless (whose father Jimmy sat on the CLT board) describes the dampening, deadening effect this can have on self-esteem and collective identity:

There was a big pot of gold ... In order to access this pot, the area had to tick so many boxes in the magical world of deprivation. So suddenly, we were told all the time that we were from this deprived area. And we were like “I’m not deprived. I don’t feel deprived. We have food and clothes, both parents work. How am I deprived?” But the more you feed that in: “You’re poor, you’re this, you’re that”, you watch the standards drop; everything seemed to drop, and it took about ten years, but they finally ticked that last box they needed to tick, and that was that.

Page 257

Local resident, activist and founder of the Homegrown Collective Sam Jones describes it as a logic of resilience:

The hard-won cumulative victories and long-term asset-building that is framed in every aspect of the activities of Homebaked ... is a slow and risk-laden process. ... Homebaked has itself understood the importance of slow learning and cumulative change through this longitudinal model. ... This open and long-term modality has been a difficult commitment to retain in the face of the urgency, and even desperation, that characterises the needs of the local residents of Anfield as regeneration strategies shift and change and continue to threaten not only Homebaked but also their own homes.

Page 259

Little encapsulates this better than the generic HMR regeneration zone billboards thrown up across the city—formatted in standardised script from Granby to Anfield, which could be anywhere or nowhere at all. The taglines gesture vaguely at ‘creating neighbourhoods for the future’—not for the present.

i hate those billboards. See also this similar approach from 11 years ago. And all that's happened on that site since then is the building has been demolished and turned into waste ground...

Page 271

The commons attempts to ‘unsettle this settlement’ 25 by constituting a different conception of the public, one predicated on an expansive public sphere of participation, interaction, interdependence and cooperative self-governance.

Page 281

[Rent] Strikes effectively quell the flow of capital going to private and public landlords—and thereby break the circuit of rentier capitalism.

Page 285

The challenge for collective housing alternatives—if they are to avoid the fate of the housing associations—is to grow by ‘going viral’ 59 rather than scaling up

Page 291

The lack of counter-narratives or popular myths that tell positive stories about the commons is all too evident. Nick Blomley quips: “the tragedy of the commons ... is less its supposed internal failures than its external invisibility”.

Page 293

It would appear that the Left is much better at inventing complex yet compelling mythologies about the structural power of capitalism and the ultimate futility of any attempt to make capital impotent—short of slaying the proverbial dragon—than it is at creating utopian visions that both inspire and sustain incremental action in the here and now.

Page 295

The second and third generations of the Liverpool co-op member-residents do not have personal memories of severe housing need—they lack the life-defining experience of solidarity in struggle—which helped motivate the first generation to manage co-ops directly. Much of the voluntary ‘heavy-lifting’ required—financial, staffing, facilities management, repairs, allocations, legal services—is complex and demanding, not to mention ‘boring’, so it is understandable why residents are happy to offload these responsibilities onto trained specialists such as NWHS. For these reasons, the creation of folktales and myths about the collective struggle remains important for transmitting the value of cooperation down the generations.

We can see this too in the development of the DoES Liverpool community. It's an ongoing challenge, and partly why projects like Maintain are important.

Page 312

There are lessons here for building an institutional infrastructure from below—the need to secure an asset base and a sustainable source of revenue independent of the state.

Page 322

The culture of grants is counterproductive for the long-term regeneration of areas, as it encourages competitive bidding, vanguardism and vulnerable dependence on civic volunteerism as well as on government and philanthropic hand-outs. When combined with competitive tendering of public sector assets, this leads to a monumental waste of resources, as potential co-operators are pitted against each other in a zero sum game, resulting in time wasted, unrealised ideas and exhausted creativity for all but the winning bidder. More collaborative processes of public tendering would allow competing visions to be explored in creative dialogue.

Posted by Adrian at 01:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 06, 2021

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Creating a Culture of Innovation by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino

Creating a Culture of Innovation by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (and on OpenLibrary)

My good friend Alex's second book was published at the end of last year (my pre-ordered copy arrived on Christmas Eve as a nice coincidental early present). It's a very readable exploration of the plethora of different "innovation" spaces that companies, etc. build, with suggestions and ideas on the good ways of doing it. My dog-eared sections from it are below to give you a flavour...

Page xv

The best innovation work is also down to personal interest, peer groups, timing, and luck, no matter what the state of the carpet.

Page 22

By 1924, Olivetti was offering night courses in mathematics and professional development. In 1932, a summer camp for children was organized, and in 1934, a day nursery was set up on-site to cater to its more than 1000 employees. The cafeteria service was opened in 1936, almost 30 years after the business had started. For many, food is the easiest perk to offer, but in Olivetti's case, it came after many other advantages. Eating together became easy to instigate when every other patriarchal benefit was already being offered.

Page 39

It's impossible to tell if a Rockstar, Ninja, or Sherpa earns more or is more senior than an Alchemist, a Builder or a Change Agent. That confusion will not only confuse new applicants but won't offer clarity to any future employer. Being clear in a job title enables someone to then feel confident about their place in an industry.

Having a title that sounds clear and resonates with the rest of a sector also enables more meaningful conversations between people both inside the company and out. Going to a conference and spending two minutes explaining what kind of role you occupy is a waste of a networking opportunity.

Page 65

Perhaps because of its unattainability, Inbox Zero generated its own wave of email-focused productivity software like Flow-E, Boomerang, ManyMe, and others. None of these applications or concepts have led to anymore clarity around email culture.

Page 74

The greatest benefits of professional jargon is that it nurtures a sense of what mats Alvesson has called 'grandiosity'. Committed users of management jargon are able to transubstantiate boring administrative activities into great deeds. Management jargon can help nurture a sense of self confidence in the chronically insecure world of middle management.

There's something more interesting at play than merely trying to make yourself sound interesting. Every innovation function is, in fact, trying to emulate either a smaller entity than its own or a more artistically inclined department. This desire to emulate an artist collective, an art movement, or any other form of artistic practice can lead to a group of people behaving in a cult-like manner to both build a heightened sense of belonging, increased expectations around performance, and a nifty way to keep others out of the loop.

Page 96

These spaces are neither successful nor unsuccessful, but they are examples of a very particular corporate desire: the one where talking about innovation is as good as innovating.

Posted by Adrian at 04:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 01, 2021

Interesting Things on the Internet: February 1st 2021 Edition

Posted by Adrian at 01:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack