Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Overheard on the Hayes

"It's disgusting .... How can they do this .... It's such a waste .... It's the Council's fault ... No, it's that Assembly's fault .... "

"When I walk around here, suddenly I don't know where I am any longer."

While I am busy standing in awe of great mechanical monsters chewing the concrete platforms and pillars of Oxford House to dust and transportable rubble, I hear comments from passers-by un-fascinated by the logistics of demolition like me, shocked at this assault on their sense of a familiar urban landscape. It's been happening for many months, but people are so entrenched in routine ways of negotiating themselves through the city centre to buy, park their cars and catch their buses, that any change which eventually has impact upon them is disturbing, disorienting. Older, rather than the younger among citizens, I guess.

Many of grumblers were growing up when the first construction phase of the St David's centre cleared out almost all the remaining city centre residential quarter that Hitler's bombers hadn't destroyed. There was prolonged open resistance to the project, attracting public interest and debate, but in the end the developers' arguments prevailed. The new building project was finally completed. Generations since then grew used to the benefits of a new city centre shopping centre, with added parking and office facilities thrown in.

However, the same generations of people lived long enough to see an environment destroyed which they may once have resented or resisted, but have long gotten used to, such is the nature of changing times. They don't understand why it's happening now any more than last time. They feel as powerless to shape the course of events now as then, despite all the best intentions of City Government and Development Corporations to make their intentions known, and persuade people of the benefits of their decisions.

Despite costly efforts made in public relations exercises, the level of common understanding about what is needed to ensure a city lives and has a future,is still poor. Consumer culture doesn't encourage anyone to think broadly or freely, nor to exercise understanding or judgement about what's in the common interest. The world is still divided between the doers and the done to, the haves and the have-nots. We're still a long way from the 'just, participatory and sustainable society' we need to be to face a future in which we need to pull together against the threat of ecological catastrophe.

During my melancholic musings, I began to wonder what it must have been like back in the middle 1880's, when my giant of a predecessor Canon Charles Thompson 'redeveloped' St John's church, adding a north and south aisle, moving the ancient south porch out by thirty feet into the churchyard, demolishing and rebuilding the chancel, removing the recently-installed (i.e. 35 years earlier) stained glass window from the sanctuary to the east wall of a newly built vestry, expanding and transforming the 'look' of a church that hadn't changed that much over the previous four hundred years.

On top of that Thompson agreed that the City could dig a path through the churchyard. After a hundred years, the church only recently agreed to the making of a second path, now in progress. He would have been backed by the church officers and council, a few dozen at the most, among thousands of churchgoers. What did they all think when builders moved in? What did they say? I'm not sure if anyone recorded anything by way of protest or criticism of the Canon's ambitious plans, but I'd love to know.

I just wonder if 'disgusted' of Whitchurch or Roath in those days was overheard by anyone like me or whether people kept their thoughts to themselves and waited to see if they could live with the outcome. Whatever you feel, it's clear that we've been here before, albeit, not on such a grand scale.

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