By Rastko Novakovic
Since I moved to the UK 12 years ago, I have been frequenting Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia. I always had the impression that something got broken there, such a long time ago as to cover up any resemblance to the whole thing. The fabric of the neighbourhoods shows up where certain forces meet or erupt and it is not always possible to trace them back to the events or circumstances of their origin. What is there seems to have been there always: the violence of its regular parks and squares, the stiffness of the Georgian houses, the exposed technocratic infrastructure of the BT tower, the big roads which score into the urban and social tissue like concrete culverts.
The questions of how to use and organise this space has been answered many times by the local community, by government and capital. The recent government solutions to the problem of social housing: stock transfer, Arm’s Length Management Organisations and Private Finance Initiatives all spell out one thing: the only way for social wealth to be generated is through the initiative of finance, business and private capital. It spells the privatisation of public space, the intensification of consumer units and pixelation and dithering of communities. Any government of any colour is born into this reality. But pause or scratch the surface and what you find is a number of realities.
The old workhouse on Cleveland Street occupied through an anti-squat scheme would once have been a focus of local action, as in squats in Tolmers Square ot Huntley Street’s Squatters Union Headquarters. In 2009, 46,000 homes were repossessed which is a 14 year high. The degradation and breaking up of council housing stock is a long process which was already signalled in the late 1950s. We would do well to remember the St Pancras rent strike, its occupations and the brutal evictions that followed. We would do well to remember the betrayal of the Labour Party and its council there. The only thing that can replace grassroots movements are grassroots movements. I am not a local resident. I am a filmmaker and central to my work is an attempt to understand and show the present through a desire to remember in order to better see the openings of the future.