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on 4 September 2009
The author deals with a wealth of issues in one slender volume - it's a fascinating up to date description + explanation of the rise of certain popularist (planning) policies in the UK, copied mostly from the US, which have or are having a negative effect on the towns and cities we live in. And the fact that these decisions are so unpublicised, we are sleep walking into a "clean + safe" yet extremely paranoid and unhappy world. This book made me angry and frustrated - a must read for anyone wondering where the "public" spaces are and who and what "public" bodies control these spaces. Clearly written and concise, and not at all boring or text booky (a book about planning policies??) it explains the links between and consequences of market lead planning decisions, and makes all the issues extremely relevant to every one of us. I now actually want to read alot more about the subject...
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on 20 July 2009
The importance of this book cannot be overlooked. It is about how growing security, from CCTV to gated developments, is a manifestation of a paranoia that has arisen in society over the past generation. This fear, the author points out, does not correspond to a steady rise in crime, which has in fact gone down. Instead, it can be traced to factors such as the deregulation of the finance markets in the eighties, soaring property prices and boom and bust, as well as policies on crime and anti-social behaviour. Written in an accessible but compelling style it draws together changes in policy with the emotional effects these can have on our lives. By making use of the opinions of experts as well as testimonies of the communities most affected by the changes, the book, which is based on a journey around Britain, clarifies just how these changes happened. For those of us who wonder why all our high streets look the same, or pass a shop or housing that has been empty for some time, when there is a housing crisis, the answers point to the unregulated property economy adopted by the Labour government. The book is important because it also focusses on alternative European models of civic space that could be adopted in the UK. In short it addresses issues of personal well-being that affect society as a whole.
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on 7 February 2010
An important book full of insight and understanding into the way that society and its design have been forcefully changed since the early 1980s. I knew about many of the individual subjects and have lived in parts of the country watching the errors that have been made. I'm a doctor and have spoken with the people looked on as dregs of society, and simply are not. I've lived in places where the design of the town has wrecked the interactions of people themselves. I've watched as commercial giants have told us what we want and how we want it in our town.
A brilliant breath of air, simply writing it all down. I have ordered a pile more of these books and will be giving them out to our planning department. Ground Control goes through the important factors in our lives and we should all get going to do something about it. Excellent.
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on 3 September 2010
The reviews I've read submitted by readers were very mixed - some felt that Anna Minton hadn't offered solutions to the problems raised in the book, others thought she had. For me whether or not Anna Minton offered solutions isn't important - in my opinion, what is important is that she's highlighted the dangerous way things are going in the UK in regard to gated cities, surveillance etc. The developers say it's all in the name of progress, but as she points out, it's the bottom line that counts. The sad thing is that so many people accept what's taking place - we can only hope they'll begin to think otherwise before it's too late.
Mark Dene
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VINE VOICEon 17 January 2011
Every few years I come across a book on cities that I really enjoy. The first was Jane Jacob's Life & Death of Great American Cities and then it was Leadville by Edward Platt. This is just as invigorating and thought-provoking.

I reported on the Paddington Basin development that Minton describes in my capacity of editor of the local community website. It was so hard to challenge the developers because they pushed up surrounding property prices (which is seen as a universal good). I also worked for a City law firm in Broadgate, which was the most depressing time of my professional life. I've revisited Canary Wharf in recent years, and it makes me nauseous.

The developers want to dominate the landscape and seal it off from dirt and undesirables. As Minton explains you can't create meaningful places when you seek to maximise their commercial efficiency, and prevent people indulging in other human pastimes like campaigning and protest. Hugh Pearman wrote about the changes in the Paddington Basin: `Big developers are urban Domestos.They kill 99 per cent of all known existing character.'

While property prices kept on rising, it was impossible to dissent. The urban regeneration professionals and the developers sat round congratulating themselves. I particularly applaud her analysis of the BIDS. Local communities are told that BIDS are fantastic schemes that will bring only good things. Minton points out that they were very controversial in the US, and they've been swallowed by the British without proper scrutiny of what they're all about. Security guards in the US went beating up the homeless. That's what happens when you say a place has only one purpose.

Thank goodness the credit crunch has put an end to their triumphalism, and now it's going to be about dealing with the wreckage. Minton dissects the attitudes of the left and the right and debunks both of them. It could be a depressing story but she highlights people like Monderman and Eric Reynolds who have more profound insights into how public space works. This is a very important book for anyone involved in politics.
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VINE VOICEon 6 September 2009
This is an interesting and well argued book about how changes in property ownership and control, badged as regeneration, coupled with Government policy on anti social behaviour, have fundamentally affected British society, and not for the better. Well argued - but nevertheless some of the arguments used are unfortunately flawed.

Minton starts off by taking up through the development of faceless privately owned shopping malls in our city centres, and the increase in gated communities and demise of social housing for our homes. She describes how the increase in emphasis on us all having some defensible space around our properties has left us all feeling paranoid and fearful of crime, even when official statistics show this is not matched by reality.

She takes us through the official answer to the blight of low demand in some, mainly northern, cities was answered by the creation of Housing Market Renewal Pathfinders. These HMRPs, she feels, were imposed on local communities, many of whom have battled to stop their terraced homes being demolished on a wholesale basis. Sounds convincing - but the problem with her argument as a general theory here is that many of the areas affected were truly deserted with no one wanting to live there, with only those who had no choice still remaining. Communities had already voted with their feet, rather than being cynically manipulated out of their neighbourhoods by manipulative housing associations and local councils. So rather than being sinister attempts at `social cleaning' as Minton argues, this was the market failing. And it is also too easy just to concentrate on housing policy as this book seems to do - there were other deep seated social and economic factors at play here such as unemployment, crime and changes in the social fabric of our world from when these areas where thriving, healthy communities. Whilst it is a very welcome addition to the debate on our changing world, it is far too simplistic to say that poverty has largely been caused by housing policy as Minton does here.

She goes on to examine the New Labour focus on Respect and anti social behaviour. Whilst I have a lot of sympathy with the argument that the current Government has chopped and changed its direction here, paid lip service to the real issues, and used crime figures for its own ends, again the arguments used are not thorough enough. It is not true to say that anti social behaviour is mainly targeted at the activities of young people. It does not help to achieve clarity by trivialising the serious and necessary work that has been ongoing in Manchester and other places to stop behaviour that amounts to harassment and terrorising from blighting some people's lives. Yes the Government use all this for their own ends, but that is nothing new. It is also not helpful to ignore the positive work that has been used to incentivise, encourage and reward more positive behaviour that is going on in so many parts of the communities she talks about, by so many different agencies.

Minton feels that we would all be happier if we adopted continental European attitudes to space, planning and control of behaviour. Maybe we would. But it needs to be about more than just housing, planning and the privatisation of our cities. Property developers are evil figures lurking at every corner for Minton, but she is wrong, for example, to blame them for the redevelopment of the Hacienda, the famous iconic Manchester nightclub, on them. Its demise had more to do with gang related drug crime. So yes let's by all means have a healthy debate, but let's look at all the angles. Cities like Manchester are fabulous places to live in. The real problems we need to tackle are about all forms of inequality and not just about who controls the city centres we work and shop in, and the homes we live in.
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on 18 November 2009
This is an insightful book that illustrates many of the failings of public policy in the UK with regards to housing and urban regeneration. It exposes the myth that new building works will lead to improved lives for the poor, and sheds more light on the disturbing links between public policy and private profit.

This should be required reading for anyone working in housing, or anyone for that matter concerned with the fact that taxpayer's money lines the pockets of private sector interests rather than improving the lot of the poorest in our society.
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VINE VOICEon 19 April 2010
Anna Minton's Ground Control is a chilling read that reminds me of the work of Naomi Klein. Here, Minton gets to grips, not with the exploitation of sweat shop workers in the Third World or the rise of Disaster Capitalism reaching us from across the Atlantic, dealt with so admirably by Klein, but the very ground we stand on, the very bricks and mortar and fabric of our society.

While Minton explains how public space is being stolen and colonized by private companies with the collusion of successive British governments, she points out in a convincing way that the changing landscape is one explanation for the increased levels of anxiety and unhappiness in Britain today. When people are obliged to live, work and shop in "secure" environments, when gates and guards mark the urban highway, we feel less safe, not more safe, more anxious and haunted.

The "public good" has been re-branded the "public interest" by governments that believe only the 'monoculture of shopping and spending' is beneficial to the community - putting shopping centres above the need for playing fields, town squares and open spaces.

Minton explains that in the privatized zones with their private police forces and round the clock uniformed cleaners, the "Englishman is allowed to enter as a privilege, not as a right". That crisp, clean, identikit shopping centres are places for nice middle-class spenders, not the old, poor, the hoodies, the teenagers.

Land grabbers are acquiring, often with government grants, land that has since the middle of the 19th century been public land and the grabbers are not only wealthy Englishman, they are foreign comapnies and hedge funds that, like Cyclops, have but one eye that only sees profit.

This is a worrying trend, perfectly documented and I recommend this book as essential reading to anyone who cares about the nation's space - and, more, the nation's health.
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on 28 August 2010
An absolutely superb read which I would recommend to anyone with any interest in the way we live today, the way in which policy effects our everyday lives and the insiduous techniques at work in current market and economic forces, the control and privatisation of public space and de-humanizing effect of seemingly irrelevant policy choices.
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on 26 July 2010
An excelent attempt to pull together a cohesive picture of the mess that town planning has increasingly become. Public interest confused with corporate profit. Civic responsibility and pride deliberatly confused with Ownership and Investment for political and proffitable expiediency.
Its an exceptionaly complex area and she does well to explain problems with what has happened, ( and is increasingly happening), the forces which have allowed these patterns of corporate colinisation to develope and outlines some possible alternatives.

Its an educating read and as she points out shines a light into a complex area that goes to the heart of our civil liberties (what streets can be walked on, when, and by whom) which has been very largly ignored in the UK compared with near riots over the same issues and prompt government intervention to prevent the worst excesses in other countries.

If you are not familier with the issues she raises - In the worst case scenario its about being forced from your home becasue its redevelopment makes some one else a lot of cash. Its about who owns the streets you walk on and the fact that in some cases you no longer have automatic permission to walk there. I am over stating her complaints perhaps and certainly missing much that is positive in her analysis - but in essence thats what this book is about. If you dont believe it can be so- you should certainly read the book.
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