Friday 21 July 2017

Protest Never Changed Anything

We can’t stand in the way of progress, we can’t turn back the clock, as the Powers That Be told us in the 60s and 70s, when they were trying to demolish our cities and streets and replace them with estates, malls and motorways. Or can we? There was a lot of protest about Dr Beeching’s railway line closures, and the destruction of communities (“slum clearance”) to make way for tower blocks. But we were patronisingly told that our protests wouldn’t be acted on, and that fewer railways, more tower blocks and the disappearance of whole districts was somehow good for us. 
Ian Nairn’s Outrage was published in 1956. He coined the word “subtopia”. Nobody ever told us that there’d been a protest movement against modern architecture and the destruction of old buildings and communities for 20 years.

So, does protest ever change things? 

The “new Routemaster”, with its conductor and open back platform, is losing its open back and its conductor and turning into an ordinary London bus.

800 “Roasting” Routemasters to Get Window Refit at £2m Cost to Londoners. 
Work has begun fitting new Routemaster buses with opening windows & will be completed by September June 2016. ( They’ve got windows that open, 2017. And they’re the sliding kind that actually admit air.)

A package of laws seeking to force the homeless into shelters by such methods as seizing their belongings acknowledged as a failure after less than a year. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s scheme included a “sit-lie” law – a tactic used in other US cities – that banned sitting or lying on city pavements. It also allowed the belongings of homeless people to be confiscated in a bid to force them into shelters. Critics argued that, effectively, it criminalised homelessness. (Guardian June 18 2016)

In 1855 rector T. Jackson made a determined effort to pull down old St. Mary's but the local inhabitants regarded the building.... with affection and showed such hostility to the idea that it proved impossible... (A. J. Shirren, 1950 @HistoryOfStokey)

The Ringways awoke a great level of protest. People campaigned heavily against the destruction of their neighbourhoods, and the plans were abandoned in 1973. (Douglas Murphy, G April 2015 on a misbegotten plan to surround London with motorways.)

Reprieve for oak tree after public pressure on Burger King plans. (June 2017)

Demolished Maida Vale Carlton Tavern must be rebuilt 'brick by brick', inquiry rules. (July 2016-07-09)

After mass protests, Romania withdraws decree decriminalising some corruption offences. (2017)

Gary Neville pulls plan for twin Manchester towers after backlash. (March 2017)

Badger cull: Government decides to cull badgers – protests – condemnation – “It will never work” – marksmen shoot fewer than expected – end of badger cull. For the moment.

BBC cancels Sky at Night; Sky at Night continues by popular request.

Bendy buses: Introduced, loathed, withdrawn. (And in 2017 people are looking back on them nostalgically.)

Bridge tolls: After nine years of protests, tolls on the Skye Bridge were abolished. (And Welsh and English bridge tolls have been dropped, July 2017.)

Cabvision: The infuriating in-taxi screens that you couldn’t mute or turn off had gone by 2011, as have talking signs and bins. And muzak! And Tesco has dropped its “unexpected item in bagging area” message.

Clippy: Word’s patronising assistant “Clippy” (a talking paperclip) was removed after furious complaints.

Coco Pops: the name was changed to Coco Krispies to bring our cereal in line with the Continent. It was changed back within the year.

Communal changing rooms: London Fields Lido intended to make changing rooms unisex, but plans were changed after protests. Communal changing rooms in shops were introduced as modern in the late 60s, were universally loathed and became cubicles again sharpish.

Consignia: Around 2000, the UK Post Office group adopted the label Consignia. After widespread derision, it quietly became Royal Mail Holdings.

County names: New names like Cleveland, Humberside and Avon were created in 1974, and abolished in 1996 (bringing back Rutland).

Exploiting jobseekers: The government’s “back to work” schemes, in which benefit claimants worked for nothing at Poundland, were vilified and swiftly withdrawn.

Garden Bridge: After millions were spent on this unpopular white elephant (a “garden bridge” across the Thames that would have cleared existing trees and blocked the view), the project was dropped.

Government wants to close down Lewisham A&E; people of Lewisham protest; Lewisham A&E stays open.

Mixed-sex hospital wards: introduced, loathed, phased out. (Unfortunately they're back again, 2017.)

Modern classical music: Radio 3 pushed it relentlessly, telling us that everybody would like it one day. Harmony and melody came back.

Museum charges: Brought in with great fanfare in the 70s, loathed, dropped.

New English Bible (1960/70): It was deliberately translated into “modern English”, thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word (periphrasis rather than translation). We were told we’d better learn to like it. It vanished within a few years, to reappear in 1989 looking somewhat different as the Revised English Bible, says Wikipedia. “The New English Bible astonishes in its combination of the vulgar, the trivial and the pedantic.” (TS Eliot)

No picnic: A San Francisco plan to make people reserve space on the grass in parks for picnics and parties lasted 24 HOURS.

Paddington tower: Plans for a ridiculous cylindrical tower were withdrawn 2016-01-30 ...but be prepared, says Nicholas Boyes Smith of Create Streets. They’re now coming back with the shorter version they planned all along.

Pathfinder: In 2010, this “controversial” housing regeneration scheme ended four years earlier than planned, said the BBC. (As usual, “regeneration” involved tearing down terraces that could have been renovated.)

Preston Bus Station was threatened with demolition. It was listed in 2013.

Pruitt-Igoe: The Pruitt-Igoe urban housing project in St. Louis, Missouri was built in 1955, demolished 1972-76.

Shark-fin soup: Fewer and fewer sharks are being slaughtered for their fins, and shark-fin soup restaurants are closing down in Japan.

Southbank undercroft: The Southbank Centre threatened to turn its undercroft, used by skateboarders for decades, into retail space. Everybody: “You can’t do that!” SBC: “Oh yes we can!” In 2014 the Centre agreed to leave its skatepark and undercroft as they are.

Spiegelhalters, a Victorian shop in the middle of an ostentatious Edwardian department store façade, was threatened with replacement by a rusted steel sculpture. After widespread protest, it’s staying where it is.

The Strand: 18th century houses threatened with demolition by a Kings College rebuilding scheme have been granted a stay of execution.

Tower blocks: Their destruction began in the mid-70s, about ten years after most of them went up. Unfortunately they are being replaced by a whole lot of new tower blocks, or ugly “traditional” housing with tiny windows. All 12 tower blocks in Cumbernauld have gone or are going, as have Glasgow’s Red Road flats. In Killingworth, north of Newcastle, 27 slab blocks known as Killingworth Towers were built and demolished in under 15 years. Much the same happened to the Nursery Farm Estate in Gateshead, consisting of four 17-storey blocks: approved 1966, completed 1968, demolished 1987 due to “deterioration and unpopularity”. ( Birmingham’s torrid love affair with high-rise was ending by the late sixties. (

UK companies move call centres to India, customers complain, firms move call centres back home. (Something similar happened to companies who thought they could do without IT departments, and comms companies who thought they could do without helplines. But publications still think they can do without sub editors.)

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