Following the collapse of their empires in the late 1940s through early 1960s, both France and Britain found that a legacy of colonisation in the Third World was lots of migrants from those countries, most often than not poorly skilled and educated and wanting a better life. And since, in those days, there were post-war labour shortages, the former colonial masters were happy to let them in so they could do the menial jobs that their own people weren’t keen on.
Things changed in the economic turmoil of the 1970s, however, and significant levels of unemployment among the immigrants arose. In France, accommodations provided for the immigrants usually consisted of awful apartment blocks in major city outskirts, the so-called banlieues. Needless to say, they have been areas full of crime and social unrest.
In Britain, social housing has mostly been provided by local council estate blocks, likewise cheap and nasty.
A week ago a 24-story apartment block in London, Grenfell Tower, made the international news when it spectacularly caught fire in the early hours of the morning and quickly became the biggest towering inferno since 9/11.
There are several webpages on the cause and progress of the fire; what is even more interesting are details that have emerged about the obvious desire on the part of the building’s owners, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for gentrification of what is a relatively affluent urban area — certainly Chelsea is, Kensington a bit less so. The highly flammable cladding that its aptly named Tenant Management Organisation (there to manage the tenants rather than the building) recently affixed to this building was apparently intended to the make the tower, completed in 1974, more attractive for other residents of the district from the outside. The rents also in this block weren’t cheap either. The TMO didn’t concern itself with complaints that tenants had about matters like power surges, let alone the lack of fire alarms, sprinklers and evacuation drills (in fact, they had been told not to evacuate in the event of fire).
We’ve seen the Horowhenua District Council’s disdain for social housing; their solution — sell it and maybe the resulting higher rents will force the riff-raff to go elsewhere. And in London, not only the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, well, listen to this: