• During the recent G20 talks in London, police riot control evolved from water canon to kettling. They kept large crowds in a single place for hours, closing off their means of entrance and exit
• In order to keep London’s pavements pristine, cleaners use pressure washers to remove discarded chewing gum, and buckets and brushes to remove chalk pavement drawings
• In order to engender a sense of community responsibility, London’s courts order graffiti artists to wash their work from underpass walls
• To help London’s workers feel safe, Council workers have adopted the practice of flooding doorways (sometimes whilst they are occupied) in order to stop homeless people from sleeping in them
They don’t build cities for the young. I don’t mean children. I mean that awkward age between helplessness and productivity.
The young ooze like rats into the cracks and cavities of cities built by strangers, and make their hidden nests. We only see their strangeness and their strategies (parkour, boarding, blading; gigging and gaming; graffiti and heroin and homelessness) in the liminal spaces, the entrances and thresholds where the surface of their lives interrupts our own. A local news reporter follows a skateboarder through the car parks; graffiti tags and gang colours flash by in places we only see through moving windows.
The punchbag lad in the cardboard box; the smackhead’s hollow skin dropped down through the pavement floor; the free-runner jumping the skag-iron rooftops a hundred feet above the mossy park. The young don’t leave our world; they build their own, smashing the concrete into submission for what? For a seeming simulacrum of control.
The planners and politicians, the passive-aggressive social engineers, see only the problematic of the city thresholds, the cracks and fault lines; the aneurysms of its shiny red arteries that bulge and threaten to burst. In the liminal spaces, in the doorways and the alleys, in the tunnels and the hollow houses, on the kerbstones and the railway walls, they see the young through their effects, through the myriad lenses of fear. The old man holed up against the comings and goings and comings next door; the woman with her pushchair wheels glued up with gum; the city trader treading between needles on the way to earn an honest crust.
They plan. They sit in war rooms devising strategies to cleanse their streets. They seek out the margins and barricade them up. They board the houses and wastelands and cellars and tunnels; they create vast, open, overlooked spaces in place of rat-runs; they build in curves and right angles in the name of anaesthetic aesthetics before they amputate the cracks and corners. They flood the urban wetlands, the safety valves and overflows, the sunken ruins of the semi-city.
When I was young, I thought they said we were all young once, but now I’m old and sit with my glass turned to the wall I hear them more clearly, and they say they all look young to me.
They don’t build cities for the young. They board their cities with balsa wood, and sink them to the bottom of the human sea.
• “No one seemed to realise that when you put water in a kettle, it boils.”
(c)Daniel Holloway 2010