Sunday, 02 December 2012

The right to shelter: some positive words about squatting I don’t need much reminding that I live in a brutal, primitive society, one which has imprisoned a young man for sheltering in an empty house. I'm also now keenly aware that the influential Centre for Social Justice does not see unequal access to housing as one of ‘the root causes of poverty and social breakdown in the UK’. Yesterday The Guardian published a broad ranging article by Steve Rose, on squatters. Here are three quick points: (i) Rose notes that ‘What the squatting dispute boils down to is a split between those who consider private property to be sacred, and those who would prioritise the right to shelter.’ Indeed, and it’s a no-brainer if ever I saw one. (ii) I suspect there might have been more about the constructive role of squatters in patching up buildings and thereby saving resources: ‘In Dutch there is a word krakers – literally "crackers" – to describe the type of constructive squatter who fixes up damaged buildings. "Squatters quietly restore house" is a story that rarely makes the papers, although in the 70s in Amsterdam, hundreds of squatters moved into and repaired dilapidated buildings in the historic Nieuwmarkt area, and fought to save the neighbourhood from large-scale demolition and redevelopment. It was the beginning of a successful conservation movement in the city.’ (iii) It’s not a great reflection on our society that people have to squat, but perhaps we should celebrate what they do as an example of collective resilience (this of course is partly why squatters are anathema to the Haves): ‘In the broader sense, what ties together these disparate instances of squatting is human beings' capacity to organise and provide for themselves.’ Rose quotes Robert Neuwirth, author of Shadow cities: a billion squatters: "Wherever you go in the developing world, and, I would argue with most of the squatters in the UK and the US, you're talking about a notable act of self reliance by people facing a system that does not provide housing they can afford," says Neuwirth. "This is something we should be saluting, rather than looking at it as some kind of horrific, criminal approach." Previously: 'Your logic is a dog.' Systematically increasing exclusion

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