Monday, August 29, 2005

More Radio

The BBC profiles an endangered squatter community in South London, then talks to me. It's all on the BBC show Outlook.


Señor Alfabus said...

I first heard about your work the other day on BBC. I am a freelance writer living in Berlin and happen to be writing about the squats and former squats here. Many former squats have now turned into communally-run houses rather than actual squats.
On the BBC you mentioned that you hadn't spent time in the squats in Europe and in the United States and that one of the big differences was that people living there don't have familes, are more youthful, and on the whole have more financial mobility. I entirely agree with your position, and for me it raises questions about the idea of "choice" and priveledge ... are the youth who live in squats in the US and Europe still contributing to the growth of cities in positive ways (the way you argue in your book of squatter communities in developing nations) ... or are they forgetting their priveledge and ability to choose a different life?
In talking with my mother on this topic, she, having grown up very poor in the United States, has strongly negative opinions about squatter "kids," feeling that they are almost belittling her experience ... I do not personally agree with her but I do think it is an interesting position and wondering if you have any thoughts. Thank you for your work.

rn said...

Hola Señor: Thanks for your note. Though squatters in New York, Berlin, and other cities in the developed world are, by and large, more highly educated (and therefore have more choices) than those in the developing world, I still support them. They are taking buildings that have been abandoned and restoring them to legitimate use.

I understand your mother's feelings (they're getting something for nothing! they have other options! etc. etc. etc.), but I fear she's blaming the wrong people: it's rapacious developers and governments that refuse to invest in sufficient affordable housing that are truly belittling the struggles she and her family went through. Squatters are in a small way attempting to interrupt the insane upward spiral in the cost of housing.

In New York, in the 1980s and 90s, squatting was no picnic. Many squatters took over severely degraded buildings and had to live for years with no services of any kind while they fixed their homes. Only the tough and resilient and truly committed survived.

Still, it's a rearguard action. There are only about a dozen squats (or legalized former squats) remaining in Manhattan. There are just a handful more in the Bronx. So, as a social movement, the squatters of the developing world have far more import.

By the way, I'd be interested in reading anything you right about the squats. Berlin's a city I've always wanted to visit.

rn said...

One other story -- for those who feel like your mother:

For years, a solid six-story city-owned building in midtown Manhattan was only 1/3 occupied. The top four floors--perhaps 30 apartments--were vacant. What's better: to leave them empty, or for squatters to occupy those desperately needed units?

Señor Alfabus said...

Robert, thanks for your quick and insightful response. I am wondering if you would mind if I quoted you briefly for the purposes of my article. I have a rather interesting assignment to live in the squats here for a week and then write about my experience from a first person point of view … a sort of microcosm of what you’ve been doing for years. Since it’s more like a column than a feature, I am bringing in personal thoughts and material (such as the opinions of my mother or people from my home community). I would love to bring some of your response into my essay if you would allow me to.
If you’d like to know a bit more about me you can have a look at my blog/website:

Thanks again

rn said...

Sure Señor, quote away. And if you'd like to talk in more detail, let me know. Sounds like a great assignment. Let me know when the piece is released to the world.

And thanks for the blog link: interesting stuff. I may post a comment or two.

Señor Alfabus said...

Would love to talk in more detail. You can find my email address on my site.