This point raises ethical and aesthetic concerns about how we choose to work with people, and why it is supported. Who decides what ‘culture’ is? How do we measure it? Who decides what culture is more valuable? How is ‘participation’ in ‘cultural activities’ problematised? What are the neoliberal values embedded in recommendations? Is it morally problematic to speak of ‘enrichment’? Is this report just another one written by overly educated people about poor people? Is the ‘place agenda’ inherently offensive when they refer to places of ‘significantly low’ cultural engagement in lower socio-economic areas? The Warwick Commission is clear that this ‘Low engagement is more of an effect of a mismatch between the public’s taste and the publicly funded cultural offer’,and so there are some hints at the understanding that it is a complicated mire of a landscape.(39) Fundamentally, however, the issues of ‘place’ seem to be about making a place ‘better’, and – to be fair on such remits – they seem to emerge from a critique about the democratic re-distribution of public funds, not to mention the desire to raise standards of living and quality of life. However, while the intention can be said to be worthy, it seems that within the mechanics of its implementation some very ugly issues occur.
To give form to that sentiment, an article in The Observer Magazine explored the gentrification of a Sheffield housing estate, and how a man’s desperate graffiti act(40) –the scrawl of his words ‘I love you, will u marry me’ on the side of pedestrian bridge – had been appropriated by design and ‘regeneration specialists’ Urban Splash to become the tag-line of the area’s gentrification in an manner that has been called ‘class cleansing’.(41) The graffiti was replicated in neon, used to market re-designed 1960s failed social housing schemes, screen-printed on matching pillows for sale in bespoke furniture shops, splashed on posters, used on replica buildings at the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale, and even appeared on beer labels from a specially set-up micro-brewery. The man himself, however, Jason, is homeless, penniless and the woman he wanted to marry is dead from a drug overdose, while Urban Splash is a highly successful organisation.
39 – Warwick Commission, op. cit.
40 – Byrnes, F. (2016). ‘The I Love You Bridge’, The Observer Magazine, 21 August. See https://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/aug/21/tragic-story-of-sheffield-park-hill-bridge (Available online – Accessed 29 December 2016).
41 – Hatherly, O. (2011). ‘Regeneration? What’s happening in Sheffield’s Park Hill is class cleansing’, The Guardian Magazine. 28 September. See https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/sep/28/sheffield-park-hill-class-cleansing) (Available online – Accessed 21 August 2016.)