Power, Anne and John Houghton. Jigsaw Cities: Big Places, Small Spaces.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Publication:||Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774|
|Issue:||Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 19 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Jigsaw Cities: Big Places, Small Spaces (Nonfiction work); London Voices, London Lives: Tales from a Working Capital (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Power, Anne; Houghton, John; Hall, Sir Peter|
Power, Anne and John Houghton.
Jigsaw Cities: Big Places, Small Spaces.
Bristol: Policy Press, 2007.
ISBN: 9781861346582 (pbk); ISBN: 9781861346589 (cloth).
Hall, Sir Peter.
London Voices, London Lives: Tales from a Working Capital
Bristol: Policy Press, 2007.
ISBN: 9781861349835 (pbk); ISBN: 97818613498429 (cloth).
Anne Power is Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She was a Sustainable Development Commissioner with responsibility for regeneration and sustainable communities as well as a member of the government's Urban Task Force. She chaired the Independent Commission on the Future of Housing in Birmingham and this latter experience is a major element of this book. John Houghton was seconded from a government post to work as her assistant when she was chairing that Commission.
Sir Peter Hall is one of the world's most distinguished urban scholars and activists with an extraordinary depth and breadth of publications spanning over 40 years. He is the Bardett Professor of Planning and Regeneration at University College London. He has been a high-level policy adviser to Conservative and Labour governments in the UK and, as President of the Town and Country Planning Association, is actively involved in ongoing policy debates regarding urban and regional development. With such distinguished pedigrees, it might be hoped that these two books would provide a fine overview of urban policy and practice in the UK.
Jigsaw Cities certainly provides a 'big picture' perspective on urban policy in the UK. The authors "use the metaphor of the jigsaw to capture the complexity and interconnectedness of modern British cities" (p. 2). The point and substance of this metaphor, sadly, remain unclear to this reviewer. The term appears to be more of a sound-bite than a meaningful addition to existing modes of urban description and analysis.
Part I of Jigsaw Cities comprises a review of the history of UK urban policy, especially housing and planning, drawing mainly on secondary sources albeit flavoured by the authors' advocacy of community-based perspectives. They state that housing "was to be a central plank of the new cradle-to-grave welfare state, one of the 'five giants' of [William Henry] Beveridge's post-war plan." Other scholars of housing history, however, have argued that housing was not a pillar of the British welfare state, or that it was a best a very 'wobbly' pillar (1). The last chapter of Part I introduces the authors' work in Birmingham in which the authors enthusiastically endorse the 1972 shift from large-scale slum clearance towards policies of 'improvement' of homes and neighbourhoods. Power and Houghton claim that the scale of this policy "was almost on a par with the demolitions of the previous 20 years' 'Enveloping', as the new plan to 'mass improve' terraced streets was called, salvaged thousands of homes without any displacement, and greatly improved the appearance of many areas" (p 94). My only difficulty with this is that it is not true. As my colleague Bob Blackaby and I have pointed out, 'enveloping' was not introduced until the late 1970s and was largely a response to the very slow rate of uptake of house improvement grants (2). My concern is not a narrow personal gripe that the authors of Jigsaw Cities overlooked our work, (as they also overlook much of the most substantial published work on UK housing), but that the picture they paint derives largely from ideological commitments to their perspectives on cities and urban policy.
The rest of Jigsaw Cities provides a distinctive perspective on cities in Britain, both assessing recent developments and considering future policy initiatives. They describe and critique the New Labour government's policy turn relating to cities, introduced in the 'Sustainable Communities Programme'. Some of this will be informative for a Canadian audience, especially the difficulties that governments face trying to deal simultaneously with high pressure and growth imperatives in some regions bur decline and change in others. Other parts address narrow UK debates without reference to their wider international significance. Overall, then, I consider this to be an idiosyncratic book which may be of little use to oversea audiences.
London Voices, London Lives is a very different take on contemporary cities, with a specific and unashamed focus just on London. The book derives from a collaborative research project undertaken with a team of colleagues in other British universities, which culminated in the publication of a substantial book on London's political economy and contemporary life (3). The book under review here provides in-depth insights into what contemporary Londoners think about their lives and the parts of London in which they live. It reports on interviews with 132 respondents--of many varieties--in a range of case study areas selected as broadly representative of different kinds of places. It provides marvellous insights into how people live in London and relate their places of residence to work. It is not directly focused on 'policy' but, with Peter Hall at his most ethnographic, shows clearly the diversity of experiences and processes of change affecting one of the world's greatest cities. It paints both a big picture of changing regional economy and demography as well as the small intense locally-significant diversity of people and places. This book, in my view, is of relevance to anybody interested in the diverse realities of major western cities at the beginning of the 21st century.
(1) See Malpass, P. (2005). Housing and the Welfare State: The Development of Housing Policy in Britain. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
(2) Paris, C. & B. Blackaby. (1979). Not Much Improvement: Urban Renewal Policy in Birmingham. London: Heinemann.
(3) Buck, N., I. Gordon, P. Hall, M. Harloe & M. Kleinman. (2002). Working Capital: Life and Labour in Contemporary London, London: Routledge.
Chris Paris, Emeritus Professor of Housing, University of Ulster.
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