Reconstructing public housing

BookReconstructing public housing

Reconstructing public housing

Liverpool’s hidden history of collective alternatives


August 4th, 2020


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An Open Access edition of this book is available on the Liverpool University Press website and the OAPEN library.
Reconstructing Public Housing unearths Liverpool’s hidden history of radical alternatives to municipal housing development and builds a vision of how we might reconstruct public housing on more democratic and cooperative foundations. In this critical urban history, Matthew Thompson brings to light how and why this remarkable city became host to two pioneering social movements in collective housing and urban regeneration experimentation. In the 1970s, Liverpool produced one of Britain’s largest, most democratic and socially innovative housing co-op movements, including the country’s first new-build co-op to be designed, developed and owned by its member-residents. Four decades later, in some of the very same neighbourhoods, several campaigns for urban community land trusts are growing from the grassroots – including the first ever architectural or housing project to be nominated for and win, in 2015, the artworld’s coveted Turner Prize. Thompson traces the connections between these movements; how they were shaped by, and in turn transformed, the politics, economics, culture and urbanism of Liverpool. Drawing on theories of capitalism and cooperativism, property and the commons, institutional change and urban transformation, Thompson reconsiders Engels’ housing question, reflecting on how collective alternatives work in, against and beyond the state and capital, in often surprising and contradictory ways.

'This book makes a very significant contribution to housing and urban studies. Extremely readable, making complex theory understandable, and theorists accessible, it is articulate and well-written - a pleasure to read.' Dr Quintin Bradley, Leeds Beckett University

'The author successfully combines a visionary idealism with a realistic assessment of limits, conditions and barriers that have confined us to a few glimpses of how utopian collectivism and commons could provide a real alternative to the historic statist tradition of public housing.' Professor David Mullins, Emeritus Professor of Housing Policy, University of Birmingham

'Reconstructing Public Housing is ideologically inspiring, although politically fluid… characterized by a consistent desire to flit between pragmatism and radicalism.'
Hamish Kallin, Space and Polity

Author Information

Matthew Thompson, is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy, Practice and Place, University of Liverpool.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Figures9
Part I. Introduction21
1. Introducing Collective Housing Alternatives23
Why Collective Housing Alternatives?29
Articulating Our Housing Commons34
Bringing the State Back In41
2. Why Liverpool of All Places?47
A City of Radicals and Reformists49
A City on (the) Edge?54
A City Playing the Urban Regeneration Game56
Structure of the Book59
Part II. The Housing Question63
3. Revisiting the Housing Question65
Nouns and Verbs: On the Nature of Value68
Exploitation and Alienation: On the Contradictions of Capitalism70
Ends and Means: The Point Is to Change It!75
4. Liverpool’s Co-operative Revolution80
Rehabilitating Housing in a SNAP85
You Hold the Pen, We’ll Tell You What to Draw!96
Competition: The Counterintuitive Component of Cooperativism105
5. Liberal Compromises: Diluting the Cooperative Revolution?109
You Can Have Any House You Like So Long as It’s a New-Build Co-op112
Utalitarianism (Utilitarian plus Totalitarian): On Form Following Function117
Contradictions of Choice: Defensive Urbanism or (Extra)Ordinary Sub-urbanism?119
6. Municipalisation: A Militant Response to the Housing Question123
A Tory–Liberal Plot: The Gravedigger of Municipal Housing?127
Defensible Principles and (Policy) Design Disadvantagement130
Keeping the Cooperative Spirit Alive: The Movement Migrates to Knowsley134
Part III. The Neighbourhood Question141
7. Locating the Neighbourhood Question143
Liverpool’s Second Blitz144
How to Make Water Flow Uphill148
Can Collective Housing Save the City?155
8. The Eldonians: From Parish Politics to Global Exemplar160
Militant Tactics, Boss Politics, Tribal Loyalties, Friends in High Places164
We Do It Better Together: Towards a Self-Regenerating Community167
Eldonia: An Independent Micro-State?171
9. Cooperative by Name If Not by Nature178
Singing the Post-Development Blues: On Revolutionaries Retiring180
Third Sector Empire-Building181
The Story So Far: How Self-Regenerating, Really?187
Part IV. The Urban Question195
10. Grappling with the Urban Question197
Weapons Wielded against Enclosure of the Commons198
Grounding Capitalism in the Land Question205
Housing Market Renewal, Neo-Haussmannisation and the New Urban Enclosures209
11. Growing Granby from the Grassroots: A (Plant) Potted History221
Living through Hell: On the Violence of Managed Decline228
Putting the T into CLT; Finishing the Work that SNAP Started233
From Success to Failure: A Great British Property Scandal248
12. Technocratic Experiment or Experimental Utopia?252
Dereliction-by-Design and Transatlantic Knowledge Transfer257
Homebaked: Brick by Brick, Loaf by Loaf, We Build Ourselves262
Seeing Liverpool’s Housing History through a Bifocal Verb–Noun Lens271
Part V. Conclusion 281
13. Reconstructing Public Housing (History)283
In, Against and Beyond Public Housing288
How to Answer the Housing, Neighbourhood and Urban Questions?295
Using the Master’s Tools to Dismantle the Master’s House305
14. On (Myth) Making History309
From Heroic Event to Boring Bureaucratic Process314
The Myth of Liverpool Exceptionalism320
Recipes for Revolution: From Cultivating Local Delicacies to Sourcing Essential Ingredients323
15. Building a Bureaucracy from Below331
Dormant, Not Defunct: Self-Funding the Next Co-Op Spring333
Realising Municipal Dreams338
Recoding the DNA of Collective Alternatives343
Epilogue: Translating Between Inward, Upward and Outward Languages347
Artificial Hells, Social Practice and Artistic Spectacle: Who (or What) Is All This For?355