Anna Minton’s book, Ground Control, is about the relatively recent phenomenon of the privatization of public space in the UK. In city centres, what might once have been public space is now privately owned and managed. Although seldom noticed, this provides a very different culture and environment; certain behaviours and people are encouraged whilst others are seen as undesirable and excluded.
Minton traces this trend back to the 1980s, when London’s Canary Wharf and Broadgate centre were built. Since then private ownership has become a template for all new city developments. Similarly, most new houses are now built as gated developments. Although the perception is that only the wealthy live in these high-security environments, in fact it is equally prevalent in social housing.
The result, Minton argues, is a more divided and security conscious population and environment. Paradoxically, she writes, increased security actually makes us feel less secure, as security is as much an emotional and physical state.
One of her conclusions is that this pervasive fear over safety is linked to overall population well-being. Levels of UK unhappiness have been reported to be twice those of continental Europe and Minton writes that this is due to their stronger civic life where the ‘architecture of fear is the exception to the rule’.
Minton’s book is interesting, and it remains timely as her ideas can now be reread in light of the recent UK-wide civil disturbances. Whilst I do find her overall conclusions somewhat speculative, she illuminates an issue that is rarely acknowledged or discussed.
Anna Minton on Start the Week R4 (she’s the last guest)
The London River Park: place for the people or a private playground? Observer 13 November 2011
(June 2018 review – broken link removed)