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Camden New Journal - by ROSE HACKER
Published: 12 April 2007
We can create utopia. So why do we lack the will?

Developers are muscling in, seizing every bit of attractive waterside for the rich

OH to be in England now that April’s there.” What a miracle life is, whether human, animal or plant. At this time of the year, the suburban trees, cherry, prunus, magnolia, all in full bloom, are a sheer delight.
Most people feel good to be alive when the sun shines and the flowers blossom. Why do we spoil it?
To my mind, most people seem to suffer from schizophrenia. I’ve mentioned before that no psychiatrist has been able to explain to me how a human mind can possibly worship one god who commands us to love, forgive and not kill, not to mention nine other equally sensible commandments, at the same time as invoking precisely that god of love to justify killing others who differ from them.
Is it too absurd to imagine a utopia where people might worship any god they please, provided that worship has nothing to do with nationalism, power or exploiting or abusing others?
We can create utopia. So why do we lack the will?A first step would be to abolish faith schools so that every child can enjoy spring and nature without fear or hatred, not believing that their particular god or goddess created everything for their benefit alone, but that the world is one and beautiful in springtime for all of us to enjoy.
However, my own schizophrenia recognises that without religious paintings and music we would be very much the poorer!
Similar schizophrenia is evident in other areas, such as our attitude towards the environment. When I was elected GLC member for St Pancras one of my slogans was “Bring the country back to London”. There were so many derelict bombed sites. In the 1970s Hilary Peters was the first to develop a city farm in the docklands. I was able to help her with a prefab building and a teacher. This has now developed into a wonderful farm in the Surrey Docks.
In Camden, Ed Berman created Action Space in Kentish Town. Then came Mudchute in the East End and city farms sprang up all over the country. One excellent recent venture in Islington is now threatened with closure.
This phenomenon is part of a movement of small organic farms. We must have many, many more as part of the imperative to reclaim the world from the doom which global warming threatens. We need space for children and adults to develop their creative skills, learn about organic food and create green urban lungs as part of that fight. It is monstrous to create gambling palaces and casinos instead of creative spaces.
The tide is turning rapidly. People want allotments and homegrown, organic food but a recent BBC programme revealed the waiting list for an allotment in Camden is 10 years and growing rapidly. Why are we making it so difficult? We are squeezing more and more buildings onto any open space, paving over gardens and playgrounds.
When Labour recaptured the Greater London Council in 1972, we tore up Tory plans for filling in the canals to make roads. One of the most delightful jobs I ever had was chair of Thames and Other Waterways Board, parks and waterside pleasures for the people about which my friend and colleague Illtyd Harrington recently wrote in this paper.
We created many spaces for walking, sitting, playing and encouraging canoeing and boating, such as Lord St David’s Pirate Boat Club, Crystal Hale’s (AP Herbert’s daughter’s) children’s club in Islington City basin and many others. We opened up the towpaths as linear parks. I once did an 11-mile walk along the canalside.
We made many attempts to encourage going to work by boat. It is always a joy to take a trip on the water. Millie Miller, when leader of Camden Council, bought the boat Tarporley for the use of Camden children.
But now developers are muscling in, seizing every bit of attractive waterside frontage for the rich, robbing ordinary people of their pleasures, just like their allotments and their playing fields.
The mania for selling and buying council houses has made it impossible for ordinary people to live in Camden and no new housing is being built for the poor.
We have such wonderful modern technology, there is no reason not to build many new houses inspired by the prefabs of the post-war era. Why should not young criminals be set to work creating new housing estates, taught creative jobs and perhaps make their own homes and learn the skills to run them effectively, instead of hanging themselves in prison?
When I lived in Letchworth after the war, groups of people banded together to build their own homes. Why shouldn’t there be many more such groups instead of everybody being at the mercy of developers?
Patrick Keiller’s film The Dilapidated Dwelling documents clearly how and why we do not use modern technology to build badly needed housing cheaply and speedily. Even traditional builders, given the right incentives, could build regular houses in four days. Developers prefer to slow things down and wait for land prices to rise.
We have the means and the techniques to create utopia. Why do we lack the will?

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