Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Is that the way to do it?

Emptying council estates being reclaimed as short-term rented properties for professional artists?

Poplar HARCA and the Bow Arts Trust seem to think so.

Many of east London's council estates due for redevelopment are facing regeneration limbo at the moment, thanks to bankrupt local authorities and the laborious planning process they were already enduring. The absence of rebuild news has left council estates scarred with boarded-up flats and their communities broken and confused.

In the case of the Bow Arts Trust, Poplar HARCA has agreed to hand them the most derelict flats on their estates, which are in turn rented by professional artists who convert them into short-term livable home/studio spaces. This arrangement ensures that estates are populated (and kept out of the hands of squatters) up until demolition time comes.

I had the opportunity today to meet the chief executive of the Bow Arts Trust and one of the artists, a graduate from Slade, to discuss the project. Our energetic conversation took place on the 24th floor of Balfron Tower (see photo below), whose sister building you might recognise as the Trellick in Notting Hill, and is one of the estates up for redevelopment in 3-4 years' time (in this case, refurbishment rather than demolition).

During our two hours together, we discussed all manner of project value, not only to the existing residents and the local community but also to the future economy and the prospect of creating London's first arts quarter. My interview for the Londonist will be posted here shortly, but you can probably tell I am rather taken with this project.

Think about it: the possibility of paying an affordable rent and live/work as a creative person without the compromises that ludicrous amounts of rent creates; and without having to squat in order to survive this city. I'm in favour of that. Could this project be a bridge between rent paying and squatting? If so, is this the way to do it?