As raging flames consumed the Grenfell Tower housing complex, London’s genteel facade of civility melted away, exposing a hidden human tragedy at its urban core. The immediate cause of the blaze earlier this month was a lack of basic building safeguards, but the underlying tinder was decades of social disinvestment and callous neglect of the poverty and unrest simmering deep inside one of the world’s richest cities.
There will be, in the coming months, much recrimination surrounding the systemic regulatory failures that led to the tragedy. Street marches have unleashed rage at the erosion of working-class neighborhoods’ social services through budget slashing, and the political failures of government ministers to provide essential emergency response and restore community confidence, including identifying the victims. The Guardian has reportedthat the Tory-controlled council of tony Chelsea and North Kensington had over the years “stockpiled” hundreds of millions in funding reserves in order to subsidize wealthier constituents with tax breaks, even as the authorities simultaneously starved their public-housing budgets.
But however broken the budget, however dilapidated the buildings, the ideological underpinnings of the Grenfell tragedy were solid and rooted in London’s architectural and social history. The city has long practiced a form of modern “urban planning,” now replicated in hyper-developed cities around the world, that embraces structured inequality as social engineering.
– The Nation