Be afraid, be very afraid. Neighbourhood
Watch is all that keeps the angry criminal underclass
from kicking down the front door and slitting throats.
Security-driven logic keeps us locked inside our homes.
The wealthy move into luxury enclaves designed for Bond
villains, with restricted entry, guards and private roads;
while the rest of us rely on a locksmith. The spectre
of violent crimes is kept at bay with five-bar locks,
bolts and security gates. Despite every statistic showing
that we're far more likely to be attacked by our nearest
and dearest, we insulate ourselves against the outside
In the US the search for absolete security
is a boom industry. In Beverly Hills and Bel Air wealthy
home owners are hiring architects whose design details
come from military command posts and overseas embassies.
No ninetees-built Bal Air mansion is complete without
a 'terrorist proof security room'. In the face of urban
poverty, homelessness and welfare cuts, investment is
ploughed into private security rather than alleviating
social conditions. Let's redecorate the bunker, baby!
It's not just the rich who are battening down the hatches.
British property developers are alking in terms of 'restricted
housing' for the young as well as the elderly. Developers
are beginning to offer child-free environments. Some three
bedroom semis are going to start coming with the provisio
that homeowners have to sell up and move on if they decide
to have children. Kids make noise, play on the street,
grow up to be dangerous teenagers. A 'good' area is a
dead zone with deserted streets from 6pm onwards. Crowds,
street life and spectacle are something we see on TV or
at the cinema. It's the privatisation of experience.
Public space is becoming a thing of
the past. The great municipal parks of the 19th century
are all that remain of the egalitarian idea that people
need space. Most parks are locked up after dark . We're
allowed to gather in large groups if we're willing to
pay for the privilige. Pop concerts, theme parks, shopping
centers and sporting events are more or less the only
places where crowd isn't met by cops in riot gear. MCA,
Universal, Granada and Disney capitalise on our craving
for crowds and bustle for supplying sanitised theme park
versions of streets. Why bother visiting the real Beale
St or Baker St when for a free you can stroll down a safe
tourist version complete with costumed actors? It's a
junk food version of urban life.The lack of public meeting
places is a mesure of repression. In parts of Central
and South Africa and the so-called 'third world' people
aren't even allowed to meet up in church. It's not Jesus
Christ who's perceived as a threat, but the act of gathering
together as a group. Whenever there is a domestic crisis
the first thing the authorities do is break up a crowd.
The British Criminal Justice Bill gives police the right
to disperse groups of more than three people. Three's
a crowd who might just be planning a revolution.
Bus shelters are now designed without
benches so that kid are discouraged from gathering in
them, and the homeless can't use them as a shelter. In
Britain, the Goverment-appointed 'Homelessness Tsar',
Louise Casey, announced moves to sweep the homeless from
the streets. Calling for an end to the 'culture of kindness',
she claimed soup runs and handouts housing but to punish
poverty. The US has long waged brutal, low intensity warfare
on the homless. According to Mike Davis in 'City of Quartz':
"The City (LA) is engaged in mercilness
struggle to make public facilities and spaces as 'unliveable'
as possible for the poor... adopting the idiom of a urban
cold war, it promotes the 'containment'of the homeless
in Skid Row along Fith Street east of the Broadway, systematically
transforming in the neighbourhood into an outdoor poorhouse."
Even places that have been used as
common land for centuries are under threat: Glasgow Green's
long history of being the spot where generation after
generation gathered to debate and air their political
grievances didn't stop Glasgow's Labour Council from trying
to sell it off to private developers. The Green's political
significance can't have eascped the council.
In the absence of human contact
we're supposed to turn to business culture as a
panacea for our isolation and loneliness. The delivery
of interactive media and virtual reality means that
we can work and shop from our own homes. Actual
space has been replaced by virtual space, but only
for those who can afford it. MCI promises a world
without race, gender or age: "Is this a great
time or what?" IBM offers "solutions for
a small planet" while Microsoft asks us, "Where
do you want to go today?"
What sounds like an offer of
limitless freedom is a short cut to ending up with
a load of old Bill Gates software. The language
of choice gives the illusion of diversity; but the
communications giants aren't offering us liberty,
or the promiscuous feeling of being among strangers,
or excitment, adventure, and the thrill of human
contact. Oh no. We're being offered isolation from
society... the chance to stay at home, stay paranoid
and keep buying things.
from Chumbowamba's "Pass It Along"