Book Review

Ground Control - Fear and happiness in the Twenty-First Century City

Anna Minton This book should be compulsory reading for all architecture and planning students, as well as recommended reading for already qualified practitioners in all fields impacting on towns and cities. The gradual erosion of truly public spaces can only be detrimental to ‘sustainable communities’ which are (we are told) the core of this Government’s policies. Ms Minton explores, through case studies – in particular the development of Docklands in London – the move from aristocratic ownership of land and property, through the Victorian revolt to bring local authorities into being – for the ‘pubic good’ – and the erosion of this to emphasise the economic dimensions of this loose definition. Accommodating legislation and subtle takeovers of vast areas of our towns and cities has taken responsibility and power away from communities and transferred it to huge corporations. Many of these have ‘philanthropic’ objectives and engage fully with the local authorities and communities. Others may be more motivated by the demands of shareholders and bonus-earners. Although not focused on historic towns, Ms Minton’s treatise has important messages for members of the Forum if the character and special identity of these places are to be maintained for future generations. Explore your nearest shopping mall for the discrete little sign which tells you that it is Private Property and informs you what you may or may not do. What is apparent, through this research, is the ‘you can’t do that’ attitude of those managing the spaces, creating a highly regulated and therefore elitist space where smoking, congregating and taking photos is outlawed. Ms Minton suggests that it is only a matter of time before Trafalgar Square and other great public meeting places are privatised. The HTF has long argued that the essence of historic towns and cities is not just the buildings but the public spaces around them. These spaces in themselves have a rich history. The erosion of ‘public’ space in new developments, including urban regeneration projects, is of deep concern, and although this book may not have the solutions, it highlights the issues which must be addressed.  Published by Penguin Books (paperback original) 25 June 2009 Price £9.99 ISBN 978-0-141-03391-4 256 Pages  Published 25 Jun 2009