WICK SESSIONS are a series of talks, walks and workshops dedicated to Hackney Wick and its surrounding area, bringing together a wide range of voices and expertise.
For Wick Session#9 the ‘Roaming Work Space’ stationed itself at unit one Vittoria Wharf, the site of a compulsory purchase line between a creative artists’ community and future pedestrian & cycle bridge over the Hackney Cut canal to the Olympic Site. The discussion in this session was centred on the need for affordability in regards to affordable workspace.
Tom Fletcher presented his food recycling project, ‘re-juice’ made from discarded fruit and veg found at local wholesale markets. Maria from Studio Assemble presented their design for new build affordable workspace adjacent to their studio in Sugar House yard. Liza Fior of MUF architecture/art provoked a need for more responce to local planning applications while Anna Harding the chief executive of Space Studios spoke about the campaign against the relaxation of planning permission from office to residential, go here to sign the petition: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/eric-pickles-secretary-of-state-dclg-stop-the-conversion-of-offices-into-housing-without-planning-permission-2.
Richard Brown of AffordableWick presented his propositions regarding sustaining creative communities by means of interim uses, particularly on the Olympic Park’s temporary use sites, some of which may be free for as long as 15 years.
THE CREATIVE CLASSES AS CITY DEVELOPERS
Parts of which presented at Wick Session#9
The creative classes are our urban developers, defining new ways of inhabiting forgotten parts of our cities, recycling old buildings from the inside out to make way for new innovative uses. They invest their time, their money and their efforts to unleash the potential in decrepit areas. Their actions exude cultural value, which ultimately prices them out of their own neighbourhoods.
I wonder if the creative classes could become ‘real’ developers from the grass roots, and whether these transient classes could find ways to reap what they sow? Furthermore, what would be the effect of stabilising this phenomenon?
In Hackney Wick and Fish Island, the new ‘community right to bid’ act is enabling this discussion to start taking place. Here there is creative community beginning to take this position, hopefully giving landlords a run for their money.
Although they are a transient and delicate ecology, the creative classes do a lot more for city development than most realise. This drift of the creative classes in London is one if its oldest stories in terms of regeneration; from Soho to Clerkenwell through to Shoreditch, each of these places have once been considered edge lands to the acceptable inner areas of London. Their rise from cheap and dirty neighbourhoods, to gentrified high valued hot spots is a phenomenon well known to any long term Londoner.
This drift is fuelled by the need for affordable un-regulated space, and out of mutual interest it is one of collective swarming where, these classes occupy once vacant or derelict neighbourhoods bringing with them new economies of social, monetary and cultural value, in doing so, flagging areas as opportune.
Under the radar of local authorities and without their input or attention, these creative practitioners act as entrepreneurs, negotiating longer and cheaper leases from landlords lumbered with near derelict hulks. The ‘creatives’ invest heavily, with their earnings and their efforts (sweat equity) going into the fit out and occupation of buildings which they do not own. Landlords of industrial/commercial space see quick returns, with their buildings occupied by live/work artists paying almost a residential rate on space which may have previously been considered un-profitable.
From the ground level, new informal and transient neighbourhoods emerge, with old warehouse factories spilling with activity into yards and streets. Here the social and cultural economy is much more meaningful for young graduates looking to find their career path. At this moment, these areas are rich with gift economies and support networks, new creative businesses grow here and open up as independent galleries, studios, cafés and shops. This moment is inevitably short lived, as landlords very quickly see the dollar signs, leases become shorter and more expensive year on year. These buildings quickly become financial assets, destined for housing consumption; the first pioneering creatives struggle to keep up with the rents and eventually have to leave, abandoning their original investments, and taking with them nothing but their strongest of relationships.
There are signs of artists bucking the trend, In Fish Island a group of artists have successfully listed their factory complex as an asset of community value, giving them the time to try to gather funds to buy it, to then lease it back to the same tenants at a fixed affordable rate, who may self-manage it on communal terms. Suddenly, conversations about the sustainability of these kinds of places come into question. At a workshop I held in this particular factory plot, the most pertinent question was ‘who wants to stay here forever?’ The answer is simply ‘nobody’, communities such as these are born out of transience, and what is important in this context, is that after this community naturally moves on, then next one should have similar opportunities and ways of life as the current one.