The NEOgate Just Community is a coalition made of local people, ex-residents, council tenants, leaseholders, shopkeepers, traders and businesses. The community has been in existence since 2012 when it became clear that the regeneration plan for the NEOgate led by the developer (Space Ltd,) and supported by the Council was not intended to benefit the local population. Our mobilization, instead, is meant to form a united voice from the point of view of the locals, of those who have been evicted and dispersed across the city and of those who have remained and whose lives and trade are being affected by a redevelopment not directed toward them. We are critical on a number of points, which have been undermined during the regeneration process. We ask for a democratic participation and active involvement of the locals in deciding the future of their area, a future that has been denied because no referendum was held, and no vote taken. We want housing to be affordable for everyone, social housing being integrated into the plan and we want to see benefits granted to the whole community. We oppose spatial developments that undermine the historical presence and existing social relations and practices of a specific territory and the privatization and commodification of our space.
Community participation is central to a successful regeneration enhancing the quality of decision making, building social capital, reducing social exclusion, improving public service delivery and facilitating local enterprise and economic activity. Regardless of discourses that place public participation as a means to legitimize neoliberal mechanisms employed to affect political, economic and social restructuring of urban areas our coalition is positive in regards to its beneficial effects in matters of empowering the community and decreasing forms of alienation and disengagement of the public from political processes. People are motivated to act on issues of daily concerns and resident’s knowledge can enhance the decision making process. Moreover community participation in the process of neighbourhood renewal enhances social capital in the forms of networks, shared norms and trust and enables groups to pursue shared objectives more effectively. In opposition to the developer renewal agenda which promotes social and economic benefits for the area through privatized and exclusive forms of regeneration, solutions for deprived neighbourhoods are to be found in a form of social regeneration emphasising upon building the capacity of neighbourhoods through assisted self-help activities. Community participation is therefore a means to resolve social exclusion and to improve public service delivery, enabling the knowledge and experience of local residents as service users to better inform decision-making and methods of delivery.
Such profit-oriented development plans are transforming and restructuring the spatial and human landscape of the city, not taking into consideration the ethnic, cultural and social diversity already present in the areas undergoing regeneration. The existent heterogeneity of the neighbourhood is dismissed and reconstructed by planner’s ideas and marketing strategies intended to attract other social groups and walks of lives under the guise of fuelling local economic development. The rise of new businesses and activities directed to higher classes will cause social and economic malaise endangering local trade on the part of the former residents and shop owners. The cultural, economic, social and ethnic diversity are not valorised, appreciated or protected by contemporary regeneration plans and will be lost with the coming social and spatial formations.
Utopian plans, models and projections are worrisome and unrealistic social constructions. The usage of utopia in the production of space is a tool in the hands of developers and experts as a means to follow dreams of order and containment of life. An injection of desires and promises, which is emptying out the production of true, authentic lives through the fabrication of ready-made, artificial lifestyles and experiences directed to specific social groups.
We oppose and desire to act upon an urban experience that is everyday more punitive and segregating towards the lower classes. We oppose the revanchist city where diversity is no longer maintained by protecting and struggling to expand the rights of the most disadvantaged, but rather through pushing the disadvantaged out and making it clear that as broken windows rather than people, they simply have no rights to the city. We instead believe that the right to the city is a human right. Through our action we want to challenge the present hegemonic rule of liberal and neo-liberal market politics and logics, the dominant forms of legality and state action, embodied here by the developer, Space Ltd., and the Council. We want to revalorize the concept of right to the city, which is evermore dismissed and forgotten.
We oppose the commodification and privatization of our public space, the construction of gated communities and enclaves and the separation of the urban space for different social classes. We believe that the neo-liberal practices of gentrification, regeneration and global consumerism re-configuring the spatial arrangements of the city are powerful mechanisms for urban exclusion and alienation. The construction of exclusionary spaces and gated enclaves in the city and in our area will reinforce political and social tensions rather than enforcing and enriching communal living. We want urban space to be accessible and open to all.
The coalition’s struggle is set in place, our place. Such processes of capitalist development are wiping out the meaning of place for people, undermining and destroying its history and rather constructing new futures based on the developer’s dream and desire for profit and marked by the withdrawal of the welfare state and the social responsibility for the part of the public sector. The return to the community and our local mobilization is against this obliteration of meaning, it is confronting profit- motivated developmentalism and, in doing so, is attempting to salvage the idea that place is not a given but something that can be constantly re-imagined and re-invented – a space where the diversity and distinctiveness of people’s lives are acknowledged. Our coalition believes that the journey made of people’s empowerment and awareness of their role in the production of the urban is as important as the results. Mobilizing around the regeneration and development process has given us a way to explore the meaning of place, the experiential and expressive way our place is known, imagined, yearned for, held, remembered, voiced, contested and struggled over. The process of re-experiencing our place, the re-definition of politics based on the everyday and on local level, through our contestation are producing a space and awareness of human existence and social action.