Siraj Izhar's blog

Hackney Marsh 1 2 & 3

Foraging on the Commons of the past, present and future.

To walk across the Cow bridge, over the river Lea with its jostle of narrowboats, past the trees and bushes is to enter an explosion of space that is Hackney marsh. Some 300 acres of protected Commons. The flat marsh grassland has the feeling of being unpeopled, of belonging to nature. But within its history is a chain of role reversals that unravel in this global age and produce new directions for the Commons land.


Lifeisland, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Standing on the new Knights Bridge in the Olympic Park looking north. The bulldozers are still at work and the earth is exposed. A few years ago I would have been right there. On old community gardens, the Manor Garden allotments, which would have been stretching south along the river. We have gone from sleepy vegetable plots and allotment sheds made from throwaway doors and disjointed windows to a virgin landscape in which everything looks to have dropped freefall.

Westfield Gardens

Westfield Gardens, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Parts of London's new Olympic park are at last open to the public. Families are enjoying the sunshine on banks of beautifully tended lawns. It's hard to think this could be where I would once have twenty waste skips (dumpsters) based at the Bow Midland recycling plant. Memory here can no longer relate the present to the past. The new names in the park, Hopkins Field, Danes Walk, Alfred's Meadow, Millrace Meadow don't help at all. When a familar backyard is dug up and altered to this scale, it unsettles a host of other imaginings. Therefore this post about the new park revolves around names; names that help make sense of an altered reality.

World Social Forum Tunis

In Tunis with thousands of others for the World Social Forum 2013. As with Egypt, the Tunisian Spring is a revolution unfinished, a country without a constitution. Then the assassination of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid barely a month ago. Suddenly there was an air of something providential about the arrival of the World Social Forum, along with a sense of urgency.

Rambler in the Berlin Unité

After a two year association with the Unité D'Habitation in Rezé, Nantes, I confess I went to the Berlin Unité with some preconceptions, in search of another scenario to explore the concrete shell and its relationship with urban ecology. I came away with the realisation that when it comes to architectural styles, it's not so much the clothes in the wardrobe but who wears them that matter.

Altieri on agroecology

Miguel Altieri at the APPG
(the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology) 12 January 2012

If anyone articulates the political potential of sustainable food as a means of social transformation, it is Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology at Berkeley, the University of California. Altieri has a simple explanation of what agroecology is "It’s like a stool that has three legs. One that is socially just, one that is economically viable, and one that is ecologically safe. And when one of those legs lags, then the stool falls down". In other words, it's all or nothing. Agroecology thus demands the total transformation of our food system; tweaking it here and there will not do.

Parliaments of Dartmoor

Camping in Dartmoor April 2011. Lost in vast expanses of space, it is somehow easier to speculate on the future, and potential social imaginaries. Dartmoor is a particularly appropriate place as it is full of anomalies. Although much of it is privately owned, we can roam across the empty desolation with few restrictions thanks to the Dartmoor Commons Act of 1985. The rugged landscape is itself the result of ecological collapse. Once upon a time Dartmoor was a dense forest. Then came farming and overfarming which upset the balance. Turning forestry into fields progressively eroded the natural cover of oak trees.  Disaster awaited. Without the trees to hold together the soil, the nutrients were washed away. Crops failed, livestock died and Dartmoor became the soggy barren moorlands we know today.

Frontline street

This post is a mediation on the street as a revolutionary front line. The capacity of taking to the street to confront the State directly. The horizon of the political possibilities available to us has certainly changed with the Arab spring and the realisation that austerity Europe can not carry on as it is. Something has to give. The street beckons. However when it comes to the street as a 'revolutionary front line’, our imagination wanders back to May 68 as a sort of auto political default. A critical question thus would be to ask how relevant is 68 to our current day struggles?

Hi-density Food Chain [ 1.2 ]

Experiments with local food supply in 2 hi-density urban estates
Maison Radieuse, Rezé, Nantes and Broadwater Farm, Tottenham, London

In this continued post I look at two initiatives at the downstream end of the food chain, the consumer end, through the different approaches in two projects I have engaged with in the past few years (2006-2009). Both are in high density public sector housing, one at Maison Radieuse in Nantes, one of Le Corbusier’s celebrated Unité D’Habitation buildings and the other at Broadwater Farm, the sprawling prefabricated 60s Modernist housing estate in Tottenham, London N17

Hi-density Food Chain [ 1 ]

Experiments with local food supply in 2 hi-density urban estates
Maison Radieuse, Rezé, Nantes and Broadwater Farm, Tottenham, London

The past 20 years have seen massive increases in the corporate share at both ends of our food chain – downstream of the supply end with a few supermarkets and upstream the domination of food production by agribusiness cartels. Thus today just five companies control over three quarters of the world market in cereals with one, Cargill, controlling more than than 60%; three companies control 85% of the world’s tea market; three in cocoa have 84%; and with agrochemicals, the top 10 companies own 90% of the market. So why this wholesale takeover at a time of relentless environmental campaigning and anti-capitalist activism; is it down to the power imbalances of neoliberalism, or the lack of protective legislation, or subsidies  skewed heavily in favour of the large, or do the progressive messages have no effect on consumer culture?

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