By Noel Douglas
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Urban Inspiration

This article is over 15 years, 9 months old
"The rich may have to live in gated communities while the poor roam the world outside those few enclaves," said Branko Milanovic from the Development Research Group at the World Bank in 2002. Taking a visit to any major city in Britain will show you this process in action.
Issue 311

This process is particularly acute in East London as the City bonuses continue to soar, and the Olympic juggernaut comes closer. While little social housing is built, everyday it seems that a new luxury gated development goes up alongside the council estates and run down markets and shopping streets. With names like “Tequila Wharf”, “Zenith e14” or “2N1” and facilities such as private cinemas, all encased while building work goes on, in bright hoardings, where young professionals smile down on us, flushed with success.

So what is to be done? Call in the Space Hijackers! Working in the city since 1999 this group of “Anarchitects” are dedicated “to battling the constant oppressive encroachment onto public spaces of institutions, corporations and urban planners”. And opposing “the way that public space is being eroded and replaced by corporate profit making space”.

The Space Hijackers aim is to change the way that ownership and usage of space are perceived and to try to awaken all our imaginations to the possibilities of how things could be, rather that what is. They do this through a number of innovative, playful, militant actions all of which are archived on their website. So successful have some of these actions been that the advertising industry has been regularly keeping an eye on what they do in the hope of getting some “urban” inspiration.

Past projects have included wandering en masse into stores at Christmas wearing T-shirts that proclaim “everything in store half-price today”, then watching the ensuing chaos created for the store managers and “Guerilla Benching” where benches that have been taken away by councils to stop their use by the homeless are replaced by rogue builders. And they also attempted to sell cases of artificial limbs at the Arms Fair In Docklands.

Two projects shown on the group’s website – “Luxury Flats” and “100% Government Support” – use the space around us to raise questions about democracy, public space and what freedom of “choice” we really have, while putting their tongues firmly in cheek and keeping two fingers aloft to a neoliberal government and profiteering property developers.

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