The Housing Estate - Nexus of Commons

What I put out there…

I have many things which are open for people to share.  I have a rich a varied experience of doing community work and this has given me particular insights into the hidden worlds behind the houses we see walking along a street.  People often approached me with personal problems or their difficulties in accessing certain places or services.  I have a good knowledge of various community groups and service providers who operate in this part of north east London and so I was often able to signpost people towards other places which could help them or support them better than I could.  I was working in a community where people often didn’t have a personal computer.  Many of the volunteers I worked with also had cashflow problems and so were unable to use the internet or make phonecalls.  I often opened up my office for volunteers to come in and use the facilities.  Many brought their children with them and I was able to do a bit of ad-hoc childminding while their Mums were on the phone, sorting things out.

What other people could be putting out there…

One of the biggest things which struck me was the sheer wealth of experience, skills and knowledge which people living on a housing estate had.  Often, these people would never admit to being able to do something particularly well, not considering that they had anything special or different.  Viewed as a totality, there is so much hidden talent in large housing estates, it would make the experience of living in these places so much more rich and fulfilling if people were able to use their talents and show-off their skills.  Many residents of the Broadwater Farm estate where I was working came from all over the world.  It would also make the cultural life of the estate much richer, if people had a space or an opportunity to bring their histories and stories into the public realm.  A primary problem on many housing estates in London is that people don’t have enough money.  This entails that most people spend a good deal of their time trying to chase up extra money or save money.  This prevents people thinking wider than their own situation and ultimately limits the community’s ability to get along together.  People are struggling.  There is also a decreasing amount of communal space which is free and easy to access.  The community centre where I worked is currently being privatised and it is hard to bring people together when there aren’t the spaces which are neutral, public and support residents i.e. with childcare provision.


This is the greatest tragedy - that when viewed as a totality, large housing estates often have the people, the capabilities and space to make their community a real success.  They are prevented from doing this, primarily as a result of their material conditions - residents are often poor and chasing jobs and money.  The people who manage their estate - the Council or an arms-length management organisation - are more concerned with successfully managing rather than developing or improving.  Therefore, the social life or cultural life of the housing estate which is a crucial element of infrastructure is limited and neglected to the detriment of residents and the surrounding area.

Housing estate?

Felix, hi! Glad you joined Edgeryders and decided to share insights!

I’m sorry for asking potentially an elementary question, but what exactly is a housing estate? is it like a community centre?

And also, looking at your profile and reading about you, it seems like these insights come from your community work in north east London, for a charity, right? How come these residents got together and did they eventually improve their lives, financially? how long can they stay in the communal space? You definitely have to read this report, about a community garden in a city in Belgium I think… We also invited John, the author, at the conference in Strasbourg, however it seems difficult to get in touch with him, maybe you too can drop him a line?

Finally, I liked this on your profile a lot! although I’m still trying to grasp the urban regeneration concept…

Much of the urban regeneration of the last 10 - 15 years has failed to fundamentally change what it is like to grow up in a poor area. In the future, regeneration has to come about at ground level. The best way to change an area is to allow the people living and working there, to come together and affect change themselves.  

A great intuition (and a not-so-great one?)

Hello Felix, congratulations for the work you are doing. You seem like a really interesting man.

What strikes me in this report is the intuition that there is a lot of skill, a lot of talent on housing estates. Somehow, it does not seem to find an outlet: but if it did it would completely change for the better life on the estates. This resonates with me, because I do online communities: and every time I do one I am awestruck by the sheer amount of talent, wisdom, sheer energy and crazy stories out there. Just looking at Edgeryders is… well, quite amazing. Young people are supposed to be a problem category, but they actually display more initiative than the people who are supposed to help them!

So I have no trouble believing that people leaving in the Tottenham estates have it in them to save themselves from an unsatisfactory life. This is a great intuition, that could turn regeneration policy on its head. You dont’ regenerate by persuading Tesco to build another hypermarket in the area, you regenerate by enabling the local people to do what yhey are good at doing.

However, I am not convinced by your analysis when you say the problem is, people don’t have enough money and are trying to scrap more of it all the time. As far as I can see “people don’t have enough money” is not an explanation, it’s a description. The question is why don’t they have enough money? Where are the bottlenecks that prevent them from using their skills for making a living, and how can they be removed?