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One of my favourite sketches from Big Train is set in a cancer research lab. A jubilant scientist examines a microscope and then punches the air. “I’ve done it, I’ve found the cure for cancer” he shouts. Everyone embraces him and general merriment ensues. After a couple of seconds a stunned pause descends over the assembled researchers. They look at each other. They realise that they have worked themselves out of a job. Depressed, they trudge off.

One of my favourite sketches from Big Train is set in a cancer research lab. A jubilant scientist examines a microscope and then punches the air. “I’ve done it, I’ve found the cure for cancer” he shouts. Everyone embraces him and general merriment ensues. After a couple of seconds a stunned pause descends over the assembled researchers. They look at each other. They realise that they have worked themselves out of a job. Depressed, they trudge off.

I was reminded of this talk at a recent RSA talk on Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Professor Anne Power spoke persuasively about how even the most stigmatised and written off estates can be rejuvenated. She echoed Jane Jacob’s vision of socially mixed neighbourhoods with active streets and a vibrant, creative energy. How is this to be achieved? Anne says that decision making powers should be brought as close to the neighbourhood level as possible praising, for example, Tenant Management Organisations.

I should say that Anne taught me at the LSE and has had a profound influence on my life. I am normally in agreement with much of what she has to say. However, another one of the other speakers, Sir Peter Hall, asked a thought provoking question; “What if this actually worked?”

What if neighbourhoods that are currently characterised by stigma, unemployed, unattractive public spaces and so on, actually became places that people wanted to live in? Would the community activists and regeneration professionals go their separate ways congratulating themselves on a job well done?

Peter’s argument is that if this were to happen the area would soon become gentrified. Residents who had to endure living in this unlovely neighbourhood would be displaced to another area, suffering from similar problems, by better off people looking to move into neighbourhoods with a community feel.

We could apply the same argument to neighbourhood approaches to skills training. It makes complete sense to target some skills training at those areas that currently have high unemployment. However, very often, people who get work as a result of this training promptly move out of the neighbourhood, only to be replaced by new residents who are unemployed.

This strikes me as quite a major problem.

There are some measures in place that prevent gentrification and the consequent displacement of low income residents. For example, the combination of a large amount of social housing and an allocation system that gives this housing to people in housing need, means that many areas will never see the wholesale displacement of low income residents without extensive remodelling of the housing stock.

But given that the percentage of our stock that is social housing is reducing and the allocation system is being changed so that people in work will get priority (in some areas) even this bulwark seems to be fading away.

I would be interested to know whether readers think that this is a real problem and whether they have any solutions to offer.

 

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