Customer Review

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone Should Read this Book, 26 Jan 2008
This review is from: Estates: An Intimate History (Paperback)
I was expecting not to like this book! The title unfortunately lends itself to pre-conception and prejudice. Ironically, it is this very type of preconception which the book cleverly highlights as the major problem associated with council housing.

The first - person, tabloid style initially annoyed suggesting that I was in for a standard diatribe on a greedy, corrupt capitalistic dynamic responsible for destroying a worthy working class dynamic. I was wrong. The book is balanced and an excellent analysis of the problems of social housing. The first and last chapters particularly discuss the stigma and perceived low status associated with council housing; right from its inception following the Great War through to today where renting in the private sector is quite acceptable whilst renting from the council is not.

The book gives an interesting account of the history of housing and highlights the despairs and post-war imperatives to build. I particularly liked Chapter 4 Der Mauer im Kopf where it cleverly conjoins the idea of isolation and despair of former GDR with the isolation of today's council tenants, responsible for the lack of impetus of their inmates. The book is well documented with housing statistics, historical trends in numbers, which are very revealing. The problems of council housing are complex. They have changed over the years, but are still very much present. Problems, as elsewhere, have been exacerbated since the common use of drugs. The book does not offer a single solution, rather suggesting a need for the actual awareness of the problem, more communications between tenants and housing association and essentially proper expenditure and maintenance on the care of the buildings -and even, in some areas, rebuilding again.

In summary, this was an excellent read which I think this will become a socially important and referenced book. In deals with greed, the class system and unfortunately highlights the growing financial and opportunistic inequalities in our society today. More importantly it raises the view that some sections of society might always be destined to be `council house tenants'. Everyone should read this book!

PS: On a personal note, I was moved with my elder sister from a inner city slum to a large, new east- Birmingham council estate in 1952. The model was different then, being in many ways a `transit base' due to the appalling shortage of post-war housing. Many like my parents never moved out, essentially because they were a product of the rigid and awful social class system - `people like us', my mother said, `don't go to university'. She was of course wrong. Der Mauer im Kopf was endemic then, but the advantage we had as children was the means of outside access and thus awareness of our social position and status. My own `conversion' was listening to the BBC with its RP - a stark contrast to our flat Birmingham accents. Equally, the advantage of the grammar schools was that they were outside the estate. They provided that vital contact with people of different socio-economic backgrounds and gave those essential contacts and aspirations that the book suggests are vital for escape.
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RJ Lane
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Location: United Kingdom

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