Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The only good Injun is an edited Injun

A while ago, before I discovered the joys of bloggery, I wrote a Letter To The Newspaper. The subject was the ‘Regeneration’ project and the newspaper was the Limerick Leader. I wrote it out of exasperation, because I don’t understand how the project is supposed to work. I took the trouble to write as clearly as I could on the topic, and say everything that I had to say and then I sent it, and forgot about it. The editor rang me up to say that he’d read it and he’d like to print it, (hurrah!) but could I condense it down to about a third of its length?

This was quite a challenge. I began by cutting back any thing I could, unnecessary adjectives went, descriptions, phrasing, everything was cut away until finally I was left with a bare skeleton. In terms of writing, it was an interesting and informative exercise, but the result was an absolute pig. Basically, it had become so simplistic that I felt I was talking like a caveman. Then I thought of a device that would enable me to speak in a stunted vocabulary and still get the point across; I decided I’d write in the style of a stereotypical Red Injun from old cowboy fillums. I thought the result was lighter and better than the original, while still getting the point across. I also thought that there was no way that the editor of the Leader would ever print it.

He didn’t.

He did print a chopped up version of the original, and I’m still not sure if he did me a favour or a disservice. Anyway it’s his paper and he only has so much room in it so there you go. Happily, there are no limits on the interweb except for a reader’s endurance, so just in case anyone’s arsed; here are both versions:

Original Letter to the paper 1333 words.

People who speak slang do not wish to be understood by the general populace.
The words are deliberately chosen to hide the meaning.
It is not only teenagers and criminals who play these tricks with language: ‘Spin-doctors’, advertisers and estate-agents all constantly strive to find new ways to hide meaning with unfamiliar words: lay-offs become ‘downsizing’, strips of cornstarch pulp become ‘fries’, and a tiny bedsit becomes a ‘compact self-contained apartment’..
It’s a fact of modern life, and we’re all used to it by now, but sometimes it worth having a look at words and clarifying their meaning.

Regeneration is a nice vague word with positive connotations. It suggests life and re-birth. Demolition is not a nice word, nor is it vague. Demolition means knocking down houses. The ‘Regeneration’ plans are demolition and redevelopment plans. Houses, streets, shops and communities are going to be demolished to make way for developers. People are to move to make way for all this. Moving people out of their homes, (with no guarantee of re-housing them in the new community that you’re building,) is displacing them. So ‘regeneration’ means: displacement, demolition and redevelopment. This is what this word ‘Regeneration’ stands for.

I don’t think that the people of limerick and their representatives are really fooled for one minute by this word ‘Regeneration’. I think in our heart of hearts we all know that it comes down to getting rid of everyone there and knocking it all, - so why is there so little objection? Why are people going along with this? Why are people walking away from their homes to completely uncertain futures? People are accepting this because their present situation has become intolerable.

It has been suggested that the level of crime in Limerick city is exaggerated by the media; loyal defenders of the city point to statistics that clearly show that there are higher levels in other parts of the country. This is true, but it is of no consolation to the victims of violent crime here. Unfortunately, to talk about Limerick, Cork and Dublin, in terms of population size and crimes reported, while showing the city in a favourable light, also inadvertently suggests the notion of violent crime at an acceptable level. Violent crime does not exist at an acceptable level. No level of violent crime is acceptable. The geography is irrelevant, nationwide or citywide. But for those who live in a ’bad’ area, violent crime is why so many people are reluctant to go out after six. The fact that there are others in the same situation in neglected housing estates all over the country is of little consolation.

So-called ‘bad’ areas are just a tragic indictment of the nations failure to protect its citizens. Most of the people who live in them live like people who have been conquered and occupied. Most people in ‘bad’ areas stay at home at night, keep their mouths shut, keep their heads down and pray that they won’t be targeted next. They are the vulnerable majority and you won’t find them standing up for their rights because where they live, the nail that sticks up is the one hammered down.

The word ‘regeneration’ means their displacement. It means the demolition of the homes that they have held onto during the criminal ‘occupation’ that developed in their communities. It means re-development of the area, where they used to own their house, but now, if they are lucky, they might one day return and be able to rent a smaller, cheaper-built, home in a yet more densely populated area.

It is inferred that their displacement and the demolition of their homes is the solution to all problems. As if the actual structures somehow encouraged anti-social behaviour and that replacing houses and gardens with higher density apartments and duplexes will solve social and policing problems. I can’t say whether this is either extremely naïve or a deliberate lie. It does not seem logical.

Consultation is a word. It means something very specific. It empowers even inanimate objects. We all know that ‘I’ll have to consult my diary’ for example means, ‘I can’t agree now, I’ll have to check’. There is power there. The diary might say no, and the diary must be accommodated. That is what consultation is. What consultation isn’t is simply condescending to speak with people. If somebody is going to ‘tell you how it is’, and call that ‘consultation’ then, at the very least, you might think that you’re entitled to hear what you’re being told in a public arena, or if not that, then to make a record of what you’re being told, otherwise, the only honest way to describe what you are doing is not by saying ‘I will consult with you’ but by saying ‘I’ll tell you what the rumours are from time to time, so you don’t feel left out.’

People in Limerick were told that they would become involved in a process of Regeneration and that there would be ongoing consultation with the residents as part of this process. They were not told that their homes would be demolished, and that they themselves would be displaced to make room for redevelopment. Neither were they told that they’d be hearing rumours about it from time to time, so that they wouldn’t feel left out. But that’s exactly what’s happening, sadly.

There are many people whose job it is to point out what’s happening.
It can only be concluded from their silence on this issue that they believe that displacement, demolition and re-development are what these areas need.
Perhaps they feel that after all, its just houses: houses in places where nobody goes, (unless they have to,) houses surrounded by half-burnt refuse and broken glass. Some of these houses are already destroyed or abandoned and boarded up. It’s easy to feel that demolition and redevelopment is a good thing here. Move the people out and start over. It is a desperate situation, so perhaps if a place has such a ‘bad’ name then surely the solution is to change the name, change the layout and change the populace. Problem solved, and thank you for calling.

The problem with this attitude (apart from it’s assumption that by living in a ‘bad’ area, residents have foregone their right to protection) is that it never addresses where this ‘bad’ name came from, or what’s to stop the exact same problems re-emerging. It is hoped that the new area will have a greater mix of incomes and economic backgrounds, we can all hope, but realistic town planning is neither based on hopes or dreams but on expectations based on current trends, and previous project experience. If there is a new trend whereby comfortable Irish people are actively seeking children from more economically deprived backgrounds for their own kids to grow up with, I applaud it and think that it’s wonderful, but I haven’t heard anything about it yet and I’m not expecting to.

In the early days of ‘Regeneration’, there was still money to be made from demolition, displacement and redevelopment. So the large-scale removal of unprofitable people from profitable land, under the guise of a social project, made sense. Morally reprehensible, but at least it made sense. It made economic sense in that it might well have made sense to a developer’s bank manager, (so long as neither the bank manager nor the developer was expected to move in themselves and contribute to the diverse economic mix that we’re all ‘hoping’ for). Now it doesn’t even make sense in terms of profit. The destruction of perfectly sound buildings continues. Try as I might, I cannot see the socially beneficial motive in this. I cannot even see the profit motive anymore. Without a motive this destruction can only be regarded as absolutely mindless, and returning to the topic of clear language, there’s a word for mindless destruction: it’s called vandalism. Surely, the residents of the Regeneration areas have enough of that already without the state contributing.

VERSION TWO Revised letter to the paper 305 words

I think that the basic premise of the Regeneration project is one of an architectural solution to a social problem and fundamentally flawed. Sometimes, in American movies, terrible things happen in a place and the reason turns out to be that someone has defiled an ancient Indian burial ground. I think blaming the structure and layout of the buildings for the anti-social behaviour of a minority of residents is akin to ‘Ancient burial ground’ argument. It must be on my mind more than I realise because last night I saw an old Indian chief in my dream. This is what he said:

Regeneration bad. New houses not fix problem. Problem not houses. Problem people, problem neglect. Plentymany good people live in bad area. Be quiet. Hope for change. Now good people move out and lose house. Only small money for house in bad area, not enough buy new house. People move anyway. No-one protect them. People before, own house, now pay rent. Regeneration say;’ We build new houses-fix problem!’
Who live in new houses? Regeneration say: ‘New people, better mix,’ Me laugh. Regeneration make big joke. New houses smaller, have no garden, plentymany duplex. People close together like herd of buffaloe. This not solve social problem. Nobody want new houses. Only poor people come. Not better mix. Same problem again.
Maybe Regeneration lie, maybe Regeneration stupid. Me not know.

Now recession come. Developer hide from bank. Who build new houses? Nobody know. Regeneration smash up plentymany good house. Why? Houses not problem. Problem people. Problem neglect.

Probably my own fault for eating cheese late at night. Still, I’m worried he might come back; if he does, what shall I tell him? Because at the moment the chief seems to think of the Regeneration project as a blanket that’s been deliberately infected with smallpox.

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