The Planners and the Banners

Hitler’s Berlin:

The 20th century is littered with the febrile architectural dreams of megalomaniacs: Mussolini’s modernist recreation of imperial Rome, Saddam Hussein’s Mother of all Battles mosque and the Arc of Triumph, the monumental kitsch of Kim Jong-Il’s horrific Ryugyong hotel to name but a few. But there are none more deranged than Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer’s vision of Germania. Hitler wanted to tear down Berlin to rebuild his world capital, poring over the architectural plans for hours on end. Chillingly, Speer wanted to make sure the buildings would also make great ruins. The realisation of Germania would have made Haussmann’s reconfiguration of Paris seem cosmetic.

“And McDonald’s can go here, between Spud-U-Like and Pizza Express.”

The British were not totally immune. Post-war Britain brought with it a wave of town planning.

The justification was simple: during the war, German bombing had eaten the heart out of many British cities, and this created an opportunity not just to rebuild them, but also to redesign them. And so a new breed of ‘town planner’ came into existence.

More or less at the same time, old back-to-back houses, many without inside toilets or gardens, began to be torn down, and replaced by concrete tower blocks.

Whole new towns – like Milton Keynes – were built.

Many of these new estates, although they looked good on paper, were not great successes in practice. In the tower blocks, all too often the lifts didn’t work, and the stairwells and walkways became the haunts of drug dealers and muggers and vandals. And the old communities who had been re-housed in the new estates were very often broken up, adding to the social disintegration.

And equally the bombed-out-and-rebuilt centre of a town like Bristol is dispiritingly drab. And also the new town of Cwmbran in Wales. I knew them both well. The planners tried to get it right, but didn’t succeed.

The result was that, 20 or 30 years later, many of the new high-rise estates were demolished and replaced with new brick-built, low-rise estates which consciously attempted to re-create a sort of ‘village’ experience. Which doesn’t really quite succeed either, and ends up just being a bit kitsch.

And, in my view, it’s the problem with all planned environments: however hard they try, they end up being fraudulent.  Because the ‘villages’ aren’t real villages at all. They never quite manage to be what they’re pretending to be.

I think part of the problem is the Olympian view taken by the planners, gazing down on their plans. The same applies to Hitler gazing down on his model of the new Berlin. They never come down to earth, and actually live in any of them. They are, quite literally, above it all. It’s top down design, rather than bottom up evolutionary development.

And it’s a fixed and rigid design. Hitler’s new Berlin was to last for a thousand years. Which didn’t exactly hold out much hope for any innovation during that time.

In Britain it’s a class thing, in part. The architects and the planners are predominantly middle class, and the planned-for are usually working class. The architects and planners live in detached houses in the suburbs or the country, and the working classes live in cities. So they never actually go and live in what they build. Nobody is ever going to tear down Kensington or Chelsea. Not while the middle classes are living there, anyway.

And the same is true of smoking bans. It’s not town planning, of course, but it’s an expression of the same planning mentality – of knowing what’s best for other people – people whose lives you don’t share.

And it’s carried out with the same Olympian detachment. The old, smoky – and therefore obviously unhealthy – bars and snugs are swept away with the stroke of a pen, just like entire communities were swept away with the stroke of the town planners’ pencils. It will obviously be so much nicer for everyone if the noxious old habit of smoking is forbidden, just like it was obviously going to be so much nicer when the old, noxious, crowded, back-to-back houses with their outside toilets were bulldozed into oblivion and replaced with nice, clean, sleek, modern high-rise buildings. In both cases, the result was the death of communities. And in both cases, the designers never went to look to see what actually happened in their carefully-designed new communities. Once the last brick had been laid, they were off planning something else. Or banning something else.

It took years for the grim truth about the high rise estates to filter out. It’s taking years for the grim truth about smoking bans to filter out. Because, as ever, the planners and designers remain as above it all as they were when they were working on their plans and models.

The planners and the banners are of the same stock as each other. One thing they share is the unquestioned conviction that they have a perfect right (and perhaps even duty) to tell other people how to live their lives. But it really ought to be the first question that these people ask themselves: What right do I have to organise other people’s lives? I’ve never heard any town planner ask or answer that question. Nor any banner either.

Perhaps they don’t address the question because they have no answer to it. Other than, “Because we can.”

There is one difference between the planners and the banners, however. The planners weren’t trying to eradicate the working classes. Town planning was not accompanied with a public campaign of vilification of the working man. The working man may have been expelled from one environment, but he was relocated to another. But the banners have set out not just to improve the environment in pubs and restaurants, but to actually eradicate smokers like so much vermin. And this has been accompanied by a public campaign of denormalisation and demonisation. The smoker was simply expelled. He wasn’t relocated anywhere.

The planners, for all their faults, were not quite Nazis. But the banners very definitely are.

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27 Responses to The Planners and the Banners

  1. Junican says:

    I think that you have found the word, Frank. The word that we have all been vaguely looking for. The word is ‘VERMIN’. We are the ‘desert rats’. We smokers are vermin. Someone suggested elsewhere ‘ciggers’ (cig – nigger’). Those who enjoy tobacco are ‘cigger vermin’. Arnott says so, Chapman says so, Lansley says so, the BBC says so, CRUK says so, ASH say so, your local MP says so, and so does your local councillor. These vermin ciggers must be hunted down and exterminated. They contaminate decent folk.

    That is the word – VERMIN. I shall use it again and again and again.

    “Disgusting, filthy, stinking VERMIN”. That’s what we are.

  2. jaxthefirst says:

    Very thought-provoking post, Frank. And it’s made me wonder whether there isn’t actually a sort of jealousy that the middle class feel about the working class. For sure, it’s the middle classes who have the detached houses and the big BMW’s and the secure jobs and the higher disposable income, but they also have the uptight stuffiness, the need to Keep Up With The Joneses and to Keep Up Appearances, and the lack of real community spirit. It isn’t that they aren’t participating members of the community – as countless coffee-mornings and church fetes will testify – but there isn’t that warm feeling of truly being “one of us” on a casual, everyday basis, that the working classes seem to be able to achieve without any effort. No need for contrived coffee-mornings or church fetes for them – they’re all in the same rather unstable boat by virtue of being born into the working classes, and thus there’s a sort of mildly Blitz-like mentality which draws them together.

    For sure, they fall out and squabble with each other, sometimes over pretty silly things, but when the chips are down they’ll usually do whatever they can to give each other a helping hand – casually loaning a bit of cash, offering a few days’ work when someone’s lost their job, buying them a pint or two when they’re short of a few bob, not grassing each other up when they’ve been up to a bit of minor wrongdoing. You’d be hard pushed to find any middle class family doing any of these things for another middle class family, so there’s very much a feeling of being – when Lady Luck isn’t on your side – “on your own” if you’re a middle-class person or a middle-class family. And that – even when she is on your side – can be quite a scary feeling, because who knows what’s round the corner?

    Add to this the fact that the middle classes are a quietly competitive lot (hence the Keeping Up With The Joneses attitude) and you’ve got the perfect reason for the middle classes meddling in the lives of the working classes – simply because if the working classes have something (community spirit) that the middle classes would like, but can’t have (because they’re too far up themselves to get that close) then their immediate reaction, albeit subconsciously, is not to change their own way of dealing with each other in order to achieve it, but to destroy it for those who have.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Yes, it is an odd thing about the middle classes (in Britain at least), that they have very little in the way of community. I don’t know why that happens. But once they’ve got married and had children, the middle classes seem to withdraw from society into their family (nothing wrong with families, but…). Perhaps it’s that they’re generally wealthy enough to be independent. They don’t need anybody else.

      And the super-rich very often withdraw completely from society, and hide behind high hedges and high walls (and quite possibly moats and ditches). Society is something to escape from. The middle classes only manage to effect a partial escape in suburbia. The very rich buy their own tropical islands (like Richard Branson).

      It perhaps isn’t jealousy of the working classes. It’s blindness and indifference. The middle classes don’t need pubs, or churches, or any sort of community at all, so they’re indifferent to it, and quite happy to crush it out. It doesn’t matter to them if all the pubs close. They seldom go to them anyway. They don’t need them, and they suppose that nobody else needs them either.

      And also, if you have few worries, and living a secure and independent life, you don’t need to smoke.

  3. harleyrider1978 says:

    is building a bunker 12 feet by 20 feet starting tomorro I dig the whole with my bobcat!

  4. XX They seldom go to them anyway. They don’t need them, and they suppose that nobody else needs them either.XX

    And it is their insitant confussion of “Nice to have” with “Need”. Well, THEY don’t “need” their washing machines, BMW’s, dish wasers, air conditioned bog seats, or…or…

    But when the working classes enjoy something,”just because”, all of a sudden it becomes, according to the middle classes, an “addiction”, and addictions must be wiped out!

    • jaxthefirst says:

      ” … their insitant confussion of “Nice to have” with “Need”.”

      Exactly. I hadn’t thought of it that way but you’re absolutely right. I guess it makes it sound much more vital to “need” something (like the latest gizmo for the home, or a big garden, or three holidays a year), whereas “nice to have” smacks (correctly, in my opinion) of self-indulgence and makes the person wanting that thing sound selfish and grasping and petty; which, in turn, dissolves any sympathy which any listener (the local council, their MP, their kids’ school) might have for their request. Similarly, I think that the middle classes tend to use the words “damaging” or “harmful” to describe things that they deem are “not nice to have,” too, for the same reason.

  5. Walt says:

    “Urban planning” has always interested me especially in terms of its destructive side right here in NYC. I guess from what you say it was largely a world-wide post-war phenomenon. Here our Master Builder was a guy named Robert Moses who was given free rein by serial mayors to plow under countless working class neighborhoods (replacing them with crime-ridden high-rise Projects) in order to build highways. His humane nemesis was Jane Jacobs.

    If anybody cares (tho I’m the first to admit the subject is arcane):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Moses
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Jacobs

    On yesterday’s topic: I too am finding more smiling smokers who “don’t mind” (as they stand in front of a bar). But often if you simply ask, with a raised eyebrow, “Really? You don’t mind leaving your friends and your drink inside the bar and standing out in the heat?” you’ll often, but not always, get an “Oh yeah.” As tho it hadn’t occurred to them. I begin to think that to admit that they actually “mind” is to admit that they’re victims or at any rate patsies– kicked out, pushed around– so it’s better to try to claim that they’re there voluntarily and agree that it’s all “fine.”

    • Rose says:

      “I begin to think that to admit that they actually “mind” is to admit that they’re victims or at any rate patsies– kicked out, pushed around– so it’s better to try to claim that they’re there voluntarily and agree that it’s all “fine.”

      Stiff upper lip.

      The question is, will you swallow so much of your own rage that it eventually poisons you?

      • jaxthefirst says:

        “The question is, will you swallow so much of your own rage that it eventually poisons you?”

        I think that they probably are already. Wasn’t it only a short while ago that the BMA reported that there’d been a sudden and dramatic increase (around 30%, I think) in prescriptions for anti-depressants since a time which, purely by coincidence, you understand, just happened to equate almost exactly with the beginning of the smoking ban. Not that they made the connection, of course, because in their view there is simply no possibility that there could be any negative effects of the ban in any respect whatsoever, under any circumstances. But to any impartial listener, the coincidence in the two timings must surely have been glaringly obvious.

        • Rose says:

          I also suspect that they will be counting on some of us to twist the knives into the soon-to-be denormalised, witness the strange behaviour of some ex-smokers.
          Or do I credit them with more intelligence than they really have?
          But it seems to me that they do play a very clever, if immoral, game.

  6. prog says:

    Planners are influenced by large building companies that not only often fail in the taste department but also see no reason to build technologically innovative and interesting houses.

  7. Back to Franks origional post. Berlin is an interesting point.

    The OUTER bezirks, Steglitz, Willmerdorf, etc, and even a few not so “outer” have, in many of the peoples opinions who were here both before, during and after the war, had MUCH more damage done to them from 1945/50 onwards, by “city planners”, “developers”, and, to quote my Auntie “Those bloody queer boys with all the fancy architect ideas”, than the “allied” airforces ever did.

  8. harleyrider1978 says:

    Heres the perfect opportunity to cram the pub closures down the throats of the enemy if anyone cares to help in the fight here.
    Boise ban still irks smokers, bar owners

    Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/08/13/2229767/boise-ban-still-irks-smokers-bar.html#storylink=cpy

    The rule has hurt business, some proprietors say, even with new nonsmoking customers coming on board

    By SVEN BERG — sberg@idahostatesman.com
    During last year’s argument over banning smoking in bars, Gary Sullivan predicted that a resulting 10 percent decline in sales would bankrupt him. The owner of Quinn’s Restaurant & Lounge on Vista Avenue said Wednesday that he’s fared far worse than that. Sullivan said he’s lost a mind-boggling 70 percent of his business since the city’s ban went into effect in January. “So I’m just being stupid and hard-headed for hanging on, I guess,” Sullivan said Wednesday as he surveyed a nearly empty dining area. He said he’s laid off nearly half of the Quinn’s staff over the past seven months. As much as the loss of business hurts him, he said, the principle behind the ban irks him more. The way he sees it, the City Council claimed authority it doesn’t have. “To me, it’s not about cigarettes,” he said. “To me, it’s about freedoms and how they’re pecking away at them.”

    Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/08/13/2229767/boise-ban-still-irks-smokers-bar.html#storylink=cpyq

  9. harleyrider1978 says:

    qHeres the perfect opportunity to cram the pub closures down the throats of the enemy if anyone cares to help in the fight here.
    Boise ban still irks smokers, bar owners

    The rule has hurt business, some proprietors say, even with new nonsmoking customers coming on board

    By SVEN BERG — sberg@idahostatesman.com
    During last year’s argument over banning smoking in bars, Gary Sullivan predicted that a resulting 10 percent decline in sales would bankrupt him. The owner of Quinn’s Restaurant & Lounge on Vista Avenue said Wednesday that he’s fared far worse than that. Sullivan said he’s lost a mind-boggling 70 percent of his business since the city’s ban went into effect in January. “So I’m just being stupid and hard-headed for hanging on, I guess,” Sullivan said Wednesday as he surveyed a nearly empty dining area. He said he’s laid off nearly half of the Quinn’s staff over the past seven months. As much as the loss of business hurts him, he said, the principle behind the ban irks him more. The way he sees it, the City Council claimed authority it doesn’t have. “To me, it’s not about cigarettes,” he said. “To me, it’s about freedoms and how they’re pecking away at them.”

    Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/08/13/2229767/boise-ban-still-irks-smokers-bar.html#storylink=cpyq

    • Junican says:

      I’ve just left a comment there, HR. My, you are up against a load of bigots, arn’t you?

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        Oh theyre easily sleign!

        • garyk30 says:

          “Oh theyre easily sleign!”

          Indeed they are.
          I saw that one of them posted the ‘smokers are 25 times more likely to die of lung cancer’ because the non-smoker death rate is 1/10,000 and the current smoker death rate is 25/10,000.

          Welllll, let’s look at the comparative chances of NOT dying from lung cancer.
          That is 9975/10,000 as compared to 9999/10,000.

          9975 is about 99.8% of 9999.

          That person has proved that current smokers have 99.8% of a non-smoker’s chance of NOT DYING from lung cancer.

          That is about as good as it can get!!!!!

  10. harleyrider1978 says:

    Ya there down to name calling now! Nazis and hate go quite well together.

  11. smokingscot says:

    O/T. In 1977 Gadhafi banned boxing in Libya because he felt it was “a savage sport”.

    Know what? IT’S BACK!

    http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/culture/2012/08/boxing-rings-in-benghazi-and-the.html

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Gadhafi was head of the UN COUNCIL ON HUMAN RIGHTS WHEN HE BANNED BOXING if memeory serves me right. If him being on human rights commission wasnt a laugh enuf!

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