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Showing 1-2 of 2 reviews(3 star). See all 31 reviews
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 December 2011
This is a piece of polemic, the author has read and travelled widely in gathering her research. The book is on a timely theme, and apart from the rather faint and small text it is easy to read.

However this is no modern Jane Jacobs Death and Life of Great American Cities (Modern Library), or Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Instead it is the book equivalent of an evening tv programme, telling you something about the topic but without much rigour.

I have spent the last ten years working on public policy in Scotland, supplemented by serving on a fairly typical community council for the same length of time. I found this book increasingly irritating as I read on with it.

# It is riddled with misunderstandings and misrepresentations, in the typical way of journalists it is often not entirely wrong, but it just misses how things actually work.

# Everything is reduced to a pantomime of good guys, a handful of interviewees, like the plucky granny facing a compulsory purchase order, or the youth workers arguing that they need more money to help the kids, and the un-interviewed bad guys, like all private landlords who are automatically evil, big business, also evil naturally. Anything continental is good, while anything American is bad.

# although people like Robert Puttnam and Cedric Price get a name check, they are lumped in with the sinister policy wonks behind New Labour, they provided more inspiring ideas in a few pages than this entire book does.

# the term UK is used throughout when clearly it is just England that is being talked about.

# there is an repeated confusion about what local authority planners and buildings control officers actually do. Similarly the author is shaky on legislation and local authority practice.

# she clearly does not understand how local government, central government, or academia work, or what motivates them.

# the obvious journalistic techniques (like plucky granny interviewees), and while she criticises the Daily Mail for lazy journalism this book is no more rigorous or balanced.

# reliance on extreme and well reported cases to make an argument, rather than any proper research or experience, as if the entire UK is turning into Canary Wharf, every council is run by T Dan Smith and every tower block is Ronan Point.

# the initial material on public space is interesting, the material on ASBOs is so overstated as to be ridiculous, while the later sections regurgitating the greatest hits of social research just seems lazy and pointless.

# the way that it is just so badly written, repeating earlier points as if for the first time, contradicting earlier wording or just plain clunky journalism.

I suppose my main annoyance with the book is the underlying thesis that British society is run by corrupt big business to oppress the poor and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. This is public policy as conspiracy theory. While Jane Jacobs and Robert Puttnam were probably equally polemical, at least they had vision, believed in something and inspired you to do something about it, this is just the left wing version of that sour Daily Mail paranoia that the world has gone to hell in a handcart and it is all the immigrants fault.

There ought to be more books on these themes, and there is much in here that is well observed and thoughtful, but it is over-egged to a ridiculous extent, superficial, riddled with misunderstandings and errors. It is like getting a finger jabbing lecture from someone who has read a few books and the headlines, and now considers themselves an expert in everything.

A less ambitious, more rigorous book would have made a far stronger case.
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on 8 November 2014
I feel the authors views are very one sided, if eyeopening regarding the ability for private landowners to inhibit freedom in public space. Many sections came across as one big whinge, without emphasis on any positive possibilities or alternatives.
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