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Camden New Journal - by ROSE HACKER
Published: 25 October 2007

1905 plan for Hampstead Garden Suburb
What happened to our dream?

I HAVE lived in a variety of housing and learned the importance of decent homes in people’s lives. I never experienced personally the physically and psychologically demoralising effects of overcrowded or squalid conditions. However, I realised early their potential impact on the lives of individuals and families.
Before my marriage, I worked at Oxford Circus. I saw and was moved by the hunger marchers from the North, the Midlands and Wales. Understanding their plight helped make me a socialist and a Fabian. Those memories stayed with me all my life, reinforced by learning about socialism.
As a councillor I shared my surgery with Jock Stallard, our MP, and my County Hall office with John Branaghan, both committed, incorruptible, grassroots socialists.
From them I derived my firm conviction that Labour Party policies should be based on the needs of the people who brought us their problems. We could often help individuals quickly by referring them to the appropriate officer or department. We developed policies to help others.
What has happened since? Personal problems have become ticks in boxes, passed to computers rather than people, often managed by functionaries in remote call centres. Workers themselves are reduced to ticks in boxes.
So many of the difficulties people brought us were housing-related. We believed that many had been or could be solved by socialist solutions.
Early 19th-century Utopian socialists, such as Robert Owen, were driven to their socialist beliefs by the problems of housing and poverty. The solutions they envisaged were based on communities providing housing, food, employment, trade, education, health – and social care.
Often they opposed both the growth of industrial cities with exploitative, capitalist industry and feudal agricultural relations. The balanced communities they built were a mix of rural and urban, containing everything needed for a community to function and enabling people to live well, close to their work.
Later, garden suburbs at­tempted to create updated more urban version of these communities.
In 1930 I started my married life in Hampstead Garden Suburb, which embodied many ideals that I learned when I joined the Labour Party and Fabian Society.
The Garden Suburb’s original aims stated: it should cater for all classes of people, and all income groups; housing density should be low; roads should be wide and tree-lined; houses should be separated by hedges, not walls; woods and public gardens should be free to all; it should be quiet (no church bells).
A special Act of Parliament changed local bylaws to make it possible. Originally it contained a mix of low and medium-rent and owner-occupied housing. We paid £2,000 for a four-bedroomed house with a garage and a garden backing onto communal gardens, an ideal place to live. It is now obscenely valued at more than £1million.
Genuine mixing of different income groups led to the formation of the first Garden Suburb Finchley Labour Party. I was secretary. The chairman was Neil Lawson, a barrister. I remember, after one meeting, chatting about jam-making. One colleague expressed sadness at being unable to afford the cheap ripe fruit to make jam or bottle. Poorer people had to buy it commercially instead of being able to grow their own or buy it at nearby farms.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, philanthropic industrialists built model workers’ towns such as Bourneville and Port Sunlight, incorporating many similar ideas.
Garden cities came soon after. These were self-contained new towns built on similar community principles to the garden suburbs with their own industry and employment. Instead of needing to commute, residents could walk or cycle to work.
During the war, with my two children, I went to live in Letchworth, the first garden city. It was a delightful place that worked as its founders had wanted. In the era of municipal socialism, thousands of beautiful garden estates and villages were built across the country. After the war that vision extended to the creation of a greenbelt surrounding London with garden-city-type new towns beyond.
My socialist dreams as a teenager became reality. When I stood as a GLC candidate my slogan was: “Bring the country back to London.”
Now I find it hard to bear the present reality that socialism has become a dirty word, municipal housing has been sold off, there are private, walled, gated estates.
Instead of our dreams of community we have competitive privatisations, asset sell-offs, outsourcing, private equity, gambling with property snakes and ladders.
Nightmares of negative equity and home repossessions loom. The International Monetary Fund now predicts a major property crash in Britain.
Are my nightmares now coming true?

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