12 February 2013

Ground Control

Written by Published in Architecture

Fear and happiness in the 21st century city. Anna Minton reveals the untested - and unwanted - urban planning that is changing not only our cities, but the nature of public space, of citizenship and of trust

Ground Control by Anna MintonThis welcome reissue of Ground Control includes a new chapter on the imminent London Olympics. It is the perfect addition to a book that seeks to raise the profile of the often tedious planning and building decisions that are changing the public spaces of Britain. Anne Minton is convinced that those changes are for the worse.

The extra section focuses on the stadia and houses rising in east London as part of the Olympic development, and how they are already sliding into private ownership – not quite the civic legacy the project was sold on. The rest of the book is divided into three parts: ‘The City’, ‘The Home’ and ‘Civil Society’. Each part helps to explain in crisp, short chapters the changes to British housing policy that have led to, among other things, a virtual standstill in council-house building, a rise in privately owned slums and the restructuring of historic city centres.

At the end of the book, Minton explores that most modern of phenomena: crime and the fear of crime. Covering similar territory to Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s much-revered look at statistics and social policy, she explains the misnomers and media manipulation of crime statistics. The news that Merseyside – long ridiculed as being populated by hubcap-stealing criminals – has a lower crime rate than Leeds and Manchester, sticks particularly in the mind.

Ground Control makes a strong case for blaming the privatisation of housing and public areas for the UK’s high levels of unhappiness (though she should heed her own warning on the usefulness of such hard-to-quantify figures). The author’s previous life as a journalist is clear – her investigation into little-reported local opposition to demolitions is a great example of the important work journalists can do. You won’t be wowed by the book’s lyricism or imagery, but you will emerge knowledgeable from this read, and you’ll never look at ‘our’ streets in the same way again.

Ground Control by Anne Minton (Penguin) £9.99

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