This is an adapted extract from Emilia Weber and Claire Healy‘s ‘There They Carved A Space’ – a performance essay investigating the history of space, land ownership and housing. The full piece was performed at The Yard Theatre, Hackney Wick in May 2015.
Take C to Kenwood Ladies’ Pond. Past the sign on the gate that reads: ‘men not allowed beyond this point’, under an arch of green and into the dark silky pool with its familiar taste of mud. We share gliding smiles with other swimmers, the warm community of women.
In the meadow surrounded by the hum of other bathers C talks about swimming in Cork, upstream by the Lee fields. I tell her how my dad hates cities with no outdoor swimming amenities, how the lack of such places makes him want to smoke cigarettes, drink whiskey and maybe have a cake with artificial cream in it.
Fleet Road, down to Swiss Cottage, past Basil Spence’s library. C and I pass the Hilgrove flats with their beautiful chunky framed balconies and bend onto Alexandra Road and into the estate – the stadium-like curve you pass on the Virgin Pendolino Glasgow to Euston – the last large social housing complex to be built in London. Designed by Neave Brown and completed in 1978 these are ambitious and expensive flats that were funded by raising taxes from the surrounding, rich neighbourhood. We stop to film – the swim has thrown us off track and we’re tired. But the architecture lifts us, the concrete, the plants hazy and European.
Further into the margins we hit Ballard’s Westway, his ‘stone dream that will never awake’, the two and half mile elevated section of the A40 running from White City to Paddington where it travels into the Marylebone Road.
A group of Irish travellers live encircled by three A-roads and a train track among the concrete pillars that shoulder the hulk of the Westway. Neat rows of caravans, kids heading off to school.
The residents have long argued that the location of this site is not an appropriate one, under the drumming motorway they are exposed to lead poisoning – but the council claim that there is no alternative space.
We’re told about a regeneration scheme on derelict land right next to the Westway site. The plan for this includes 11 buildings of up to 32 storeys, shops, restaurants and bars and 1000 homes, going ahead while the travellers’ repeated pleas for better accommodation are ignored.
Stables Yard – the surreal sight of ponies trotting beneath the traffic. North Pole Road, Mitre Way. C talks about coming over from Ireland to visit her aunts, the hottest summer on record. Behind us the sweep of the motorways converging, Trellick Tower framed in the distance and past the BBC to White City the site of the 1908 Olympics – an emergency measure after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
London to Glasgow – it takes a long time to return. We start to film Glasgow’s truncated walkways, the city’s concrete centre haunted by the ghosts of the Bruce Plan. We stop at the Kingston Bridge arching magnificently as it carries the M8 traffic north and south. Named after Glasgow’s first enclosed dock – 823 yards of quayside between Anderston and Tradeston – and a reminder of the city’s unacknowledged part in the transatlantic slave trade. The dock finally closed in 1966 when work on the bridge began. I tell E how an optimistic Clyde Port Authority had insisted that it had a clearance height to allow dredgers upstream.
We set off on our bikes, cameras round necks. Saltmarket heading east through Glasgow Green. We approach the Clyde Gateway Area, with its tracts of derelict land. The £5.6 billion Clyde waterfront project plans to transform 13 miles of the Clyde river corridor. The roads are empty – regeneration appears natural, irresistible. We speak to two no-voters who are curious at our filming. They begin to name the wild flowers: poppy, corn flower, campion.
Past the site where the Accord Centre once stood – the day care centre knocked down to provide parking space for the recent Commonwealth Games. Still to be replaced, the protests about the centre continue – the new Emirates Arena watches, prominent on the skyline. We arrive at the Athletes’ Village site, all fresh tarmac, and dusty saplings. Here 3,000 people have been displaced through phased demolition of existing social housing. The ‘new community’ on the Clyde will displace the old one.
We see the huge new police headquarters being built – spaces for wandering now enclosed. The big banners across the fences read ‘Clyde Gateway Legacy – an international competitive belt for business, employment, living and tourism.’ Bridgeton, Dalmarnock, Rutherglen, Calton, and Parkhead.
We stop to film Gallowgate Towers. Due to be demolished in 2017 as part of a ‘transformational regeneration area’ that brings with it the reduction of 10,000 social rented homes. As we circle home along London Road we talk about how the entire public housing stock of Glasgow was transferred to a private organisation in 2003, about the influx of glistening new developments, how housing is now an asset rather than a place to live.
All images courtesy of the authors and all rights reserved