Urban regeneration: is it cultural vandalism?

I have good reasons for asking this, because several years ago I moved to a very large city. Back then it was a mish-mash of concrete and urban sprawl, and it felt dark and vaguely threatening. Then the developers moved in with their skyscraper cranes, steel girders and eyes glittering with holy zeal. ‘Let us regenerate’, and they did and they saw that it was good.

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Unfortunately for many of us, it was less than good: it was destructive and pig-headed. At first I was pleased to see the new restaurants and the space age department stores. I even liked some of the shoppers; though I can’t understand people who wear sunglasses over their hair like UV protective Alice bands.

Then the Dark Side became apparent. I like to hang around rock venues, and often these are small city centre pubs with basement stages. They charge £4 on the door, and you can turn up to hear a handful of unsigned bands at the weekend. They are full of leather clad music fiends, and – believe it or not – some of them are actually friendly. Occasionally I look like one of them, despite being ‘middle-aged’. Who wants to be a stereotype? Lots of people!

But the Noveau Urban Re-generators hate these places because they take up valuable ‘real estate’. Why have a rock pub when you can bulldozer it into the dirt and build a faceless department store on the ruins instead? After all, what people want is a nice clean happy environment, uncluttered by hairy bohos like me. This isn’t just vapouring, I’ve watched it happen.

One by one I’ve seen valuable venues close down, either through the will of the regen. vandals or because a gang of local yuppies signed a petition. ‘We don’t like the noise of culture’ would be shorthand for their views. These are people who install themselves in town centres while the dust is still settling on their new build apartments. Suddenly – because they paid upwards of £150,000 for a brick and plaster box which will fall to bits in 20 years anyway – they become horribly vocal.

I’ve watched two valued venues close down in just a handful of years, and there are more on the way. A friend recently showed me a converted church on Cardiff Bay called The Point: it went bust because people complained about the noise. The venue was forced to foot the bill for sound-proofing, but this proved too much of a financial strain. In my own city, Ronnie Scotts shut down: it’s now a strip club. Another city centre club had to close because of complaints from the pin stripe brigade.

A few years ago this would have been unthinkable. People actually wanted to go to live music venues to socialise, but now music (much like masturbation) has become a solo experience. Of course people still travel to festivals in the Summer, but that’s just in between iPod and MySpace sessions. Music is always at its best when experienced with other people, so I continually wonder, ‘What the Hell went wrong’?

Another reason for hating urban regeneration is that – as predicted by Naomi Klein in ‘No Logo’ – it has led to private space masquerading as public space. When I walk through my city I have security guards peering at me, guarding those valuable pizza restaurants against hairy folk rockers like me. After all, I might get stroppy and say, ‘Good morning’ or something.

Urban yuppies are incompatible with grassroots culture. They stunt the development of our major towns and cities because they are anti-creative, anti-intellectual and self obsessed. They are heeded by local authorities on a disproportionate scale to their personal worth and intelligence, and they should be quitely ignored for the fools they really are.