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Private greed, political negligence and housing policy after Grenfell

As the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire of 14 June 2017 has slowly revealed a shadowy background of outsourcing and deregulation, and a council turning a blind eye to health and safety concerns, many questions need answers. Stuart Hodkinson has those answers. Safe as Houses weaves together Stuart’s research over the last decade with residents’ groups in council regeneration projects across London to provide the first comprehensive account of how Grenfell happened and how it could easily have happened in multiple locations across the country. It draws on examples of unsafe housing either refurbished or built by private companies under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to show both the terrible human consequences of outsourcing and deregulation and how the PFI has enabled developers, banks and investors to profiteer from highly lucrative, taxpayer-funded contracts. The book also provides shocking testimonies of how councils and other public bodies have continuously sided with their private partners, doing everything in their power to ignore, deflect and even silence those who speak out. The book concludes that the only way to end the era of unsafe regeneration and housing provision is to end the disastrous regime of self-regulation. This means strengthening safety laws, creating new enforcement agencies independent of government and industry, and replacing PFI and similar models of outsourcing with a new model of public housing that treats the provision of shelter as ‘a social service’ democratically accountable to its residents.

A new politics of provision for an urbanized planet

This book examines how material systems such as transportation, energy and housing form the basis of human freedom. It begins by explaining this linkage by defining reliance systems, the basic way in which we become free to act not only as a result of our bodily capabilities or the absence of barriers but because of collectively produced systems. As virtually all of us rely on such systems – water, food, energy, healthcare, etc. – for freedom, the book argues that they must form the centre of a twenty-first-century politics. Rather than envisioning a healthier politics of reliance systems exclusively through rights or justice or deliberative democracy, we argue that they must become the centre of a new social contract. More specifically, we discuss the politics of reliance systems as a set of spatial contracts. Spatial contracts are the full set of politics governing any given system, and as such they are historically, geographically and system specific. In order to fully understand spatial contracts, we develop an analytical framework focused on three areas. Seeing like a system shows how systems thinking can enable us to avoid ideological approaches to understanding given spatial contracts, repurposing key ideas from mainstream and heterodox economics. Seeing like a settlement shows how systems come together in space to form human settlements, and exposes key political divides between urban and rural, and formal and informal. Adapting Iris Marion Young’s five faces of oppression enables an understanding of the specific ways in which reliance systems can be exploitative.