Hansard is the official publication of speeches in the House of Commons. On 5 May 2011 it featured a debate dedicated to the of future social housing in London, the city that pioneered its modern principles.
Social housing incrementally built dignity, stability and equality into our urban fabric through a combination of extraordinary architectural progress and political aspiration. But in London today, we are doing the opposite.
Members of Parliament are recorded in this Hansard discussing legislative changes which independent analyses estimated would make 60 per cent of the city unaffordable by 2030, with up to a quarter of a million people facing eviction or forced relocation.
As the public housing stock is increasingly privatised, so are the democratic processes and access to information about it – hidden behind labyrinthine planning portals, tangled within government literature or buried under the grounds of commercial confidentiality. Public scrutiny of these documents is vital to collapse the distance between those defining policy and those affected by it.
At Samuel House, a block in the soon-to-be demolished Haggerston Estate in east London, I gave residents a black marker pen and asked each of them to read several pages of this Hansard, to leave in words they believed represented their opinions and experiences and to black out everything else.
I returned after a week to collect the pages. Each resident had adopted a different style to interpret and reclaim the words used to define their futures, from delicate diagonal strokes to dense and disorderly effacing. It is the opposite of MPs expenses, where all the telling details were redacted from those bills, receipts and invoices here, only the important words remain.
I gave copies of the full, redacted transcript back to each resident and posted them anonymously to the twenty MPs who spoke in the debate. They will have seen their own words transformed by every shroud, strike-through and slash of text. If only residents had such control over their own lives. With every stroke of the pen, the power over them would collapse before their eyes.
This work was presented at Common Grounds conference, exhibited at CitiesMethodologies, UCL, 2012, Real EstatesPEER Gallery, 2015, Radical Cities, Tate Modern, 2015, and published in Campkin B. and Duijzings G. (eds.) Engaged Urbanism, 2016.