Learning from Laycock house.

Land today
Power, money and land. A triad. In a representative democracy, who has what? The Llaycock block represents the newest leaf in an old tragedy. The story goes like this; Power is given to political representatives to serve the people. They now have the social licence to direct public land. Land is quickly arranged, without proper consultation in a direction and supports old money and influence. They then use the land, without remorse to entrap the people. This self interest is branded as efficient. But is really an elite who control of the means of production. The means of producing housing comes from the control of land achieved by having money because of inherited power.

Despite thousands of years of struggle, the means of producing housing and owning land is still not democratic today. In the book she co-authored, a right to build, Sheffield CLT network founder Crystina Cerruli revealed that 98% of all housing is built by just five house-building providers. Although most of this is unaffordable housing, studies by Sheffield Hallam reveal that end of year profits for the five biggest house builders rose from £372 million in 2010 to over £2 billion by 2015, a staggering increase of over 480 per cent. Because these giants are the only ones supported in this economy, they convince the power to trust the few instead of the many. Thus the familiar structure of a plutocracy emerges. An elite or ruling class whose power derives from their wealth controlling land and demanding resources from the people. The state apparatus supports oppression here. But this is totally hypocritical. The debate around power, labor and land contributed to the introduction of the vote in the first place and discussion around the public sphere always gravitates around this root idea.

Imagine this; If more land and resources were common, and we could decide more ourselves, maybe we could live a better life? Ffree from oppression, serfdom and wage slavery. Our ancestors have been victims of land based oppression for thousands of years, in a modern era, isn’t it time for change? This idea is laughed off by the rich, those in power or by those who have lots of land. But the joke isn’t funny anymore. For communities who have the underhand in this struggle it defines life and it means absolutely everything. It is about equality.

The laycock house, just a row of small townhouses in the centre of Sheffield?

Laycock house is just a very small part of this story. But it is important today. The block, being absorbed as part of the Retail Quarter proposal, was originally designed to create community as part of a drive to create a ‘better class of dwellings’ during the the 1900’s slum clearance. Healing the poor conditions of the time and setting a precedent for how inner city housing should be for the many. The block reminds us of the cities cultural values. The healthy Live-work balance has neighborly courtyards, family life grows with an inner city community, high quality space standards, mixed demographics, locally owned commerce and wealth is retained within the local community through shared work. The tenants themselves can make a livelihood. Laycock house is well crafted physically as-well as being considered socially, it’s formal design is a representation of the human achievement in the arts.

Architecture is the clearest barometer of our social values. When designing buildings we need to ask; what is really important? What would an archaeologist, discovering this scheme one thousand years from now see? Would they see the values of society? A labour voting city with a socialist lean? The answer is sadly no. What we discover instead is the true disparity between the values of the representatives, who hold power, and the values of the voters.

Against the Laycock block
The Laycock block retail quarter plan is a catastrophe for social life, the overarching concept is simple; Reduce community wherever possible. Lowest common denominator student orientated flats are strung together to create an inflexible condition for residents. A monocultural development which posies an intangible heritage problem for the local area. It restricts rather than maintains cultural diversity. Space standards which are nearly illegal lack any sign of community facilities, tiny, windowless corridors creep between the cramped walls. A depressing life. On top of this existing residents are being evicted for no good reason, just for the sake of it. One resident has lived there for 38 years. While the materiality disrupts of the spirit of the place the floors rise two stories above the other buildings in the heritage area. All of this increases the possibility of mental illness for inhabitants of the future. The slums are back in a different skin, but why does history repeat itself in housing when everything else is seemingly advancing? Residents don’t have the structure to exercise power over land in the communities where they live, in the same way they didn’t 500 years ago. Any community consultation is painfully opaque, a brick wall with the image of a door painted on it. We need a real change, representatives must now exercise the power bestowed on them to enable communities, giving them the power and the means of producing housing, enabling land and money to be retained within the communities who live there.

Community Land Trusts are significant social innovations which enable those who work and live in the city to have greater control over land, the means of producing of housing, and therefore give citizens the means of producing value too. Housing is connected to mortgage production, a key point where money is generated in our current neoliberal economy, so democratising the means of producing housing is actually equal to democratising the means of producing money itself. This is a very important point as it represents a wholly different geometry of land, money and power. When value is created in the community it is retained in a community it allows real wealth to grow while inhibiting speculative bubbles. This is where ‘speculators, speculate on speculators’ in order to artificially increase resale gains and is linked to the recent property price increases in london. Inhibiting the possibility of exploitation a CLT is a vehicle to live a higher quality of life and gives a community a greater voice in influencing their city. It grounds us in reality. Expanding the local economy, reinvesting into a local asset pool and undertaking community governance and management of surpluses to continually re-develop their local area. Meaning genuine wealth builds within the community.

CLT’s make housing more just, fair and equitable. Just like Law’s around crime prevention enables freedom by inhibiting criminal behaviour. A Community Land Trust is a system which aims to limit the aspects of self-interest that are harmful or exploitative of others in land ownership. Unregulated self interest with housing escalates to terribly exploitative conditions . A CLT helps individuals thrive as they maintain a better social contract at the top line. Housing cannot be sold for an unfair profit, so ‘flipping’ does not occur. Housing is genuinely affordable to local people, stopping unfair displacement by being pegged to the medium local area income. The values of CLT as a development pathway are more aligned with the values of the city and of voters. We propose that councils adopt a ‘CLT first’ approach, whereby any new speculative development should consider and fully explore a community land trust as an option before any other. Thereby empowering a multitude of community land trusts to mobilise. This aligns with labour policy towards alternative forms of ownership, and aligns better with internal policy to ‘insource as much as possible’ by working directly and closely with the local community. The Community Land Trust is much closer to a public sector body than a private sector one, operating as with clearly defined moral obligations. By implementing a CLT first policy, representatives can remind themselves to use their power properly. This opens the floodgates to empower individuals and communities who, given the opportunity, can galvanise around local development opportunities and have a real, active input in their city. Joining a land trust yourself means that you can express a right to the city. Together we can use public land and resources to solve the housing crisis.But this will only happen by decreasing dependency on any single behemoth provider. Populising CLT’s will create a better housing scenario, which is more responsive to the needs of the local community. This is a real chance to make real change, don’t miss the opportunity.

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Louis Koseda

Louis Koseda

Architectural, social theory and enterprise. A.B —www.louiskoseda.com