Regular readers must think that Dovecot Towers looks like a scene from Mad Max, with smoking ruins dotted amongst the feint traces of some lost civilisation, all swarming with ragged feral children and their ragged feral parents. You’d be wrong. As long as you visit just after the cleaners have done their work, initially, it doesn’t seem too bad. Instead of ruins, visitors are greeted by a magnolia dystopia.
I have a theory which could explain the end result of this aesthetic desert. In central Manchester, there’s a road where drivers regularly turn left despite a ‘No Entry’ sign. Traffic management practice accepts that if people consistently repeat the same mistake, the problem lies not with the wrong-turner, but with the signals themselves. On some instinctive level the signs are confusing and lead road-users astray.
This hypothesis would explain many problems arising in the soulless urban developments covering the land. Cars roar as they jam the main road and any bare, half-arsed greenery is wilting. Once inside, there are no pictures, no colour, and nothing pleasant. The vast walls are chalky, with not so much as a solitary dribble of colour to alleviate the blankness. No bins either, since they are routinely stolen, but then residents feel entitled to help themselves, as they are relieved of service charges for very little service.
Once inside these flats, we are mostly forbidden from decorating the dispiriting white walls, or adding pleasing, homely touches to what is after all, our home. We can’t even hammer a nail in the wall to put up a picture, and - as I’ve written elsewhere - some landlords are known to inflict their own taste in art on their tenants. Rental agreements ban the fittings necessary for putting up welcoming, warming curtains (there are usually white vertical blinds, like a tax office.) We can’t add our own unique flourish. There’s no scope for individuality. We exist in an empty shell, a vacuum.
The positive effect of pleasant surroundings is well documented. Re-humanising the surroundings worked for the DWP, who stopped blocking off what are now ‘clients’ with screens, and added adornments like calming art, music, colour and plants. Attacks on staff decreased.
I appreciate that cost and safety are an issue, and don’t anticipate extravagant flourishes like tropical fish tanks, or cascading water-features alongside expensive sculptures. But is some colour on the walls other than sensory-deprivation-white too much to ask for? A few plants would be nice, even a mural. It seems so very bleak in here, and if you want to keep tenants happy and secure (so we will stay and pay your mortgage) then let us make the flat, and the building itself, feel like home.
Persistent desolation and an appalling lack of control over our environment sends a strong, if subliminal signal, just like those inadvertently misleading traffic signs. The message is clear: abandon hope all ye who enter Dovecot Towers. You are landless peasant scum. You count for nothing. This is not your home. You are vermin, infesting your landlord’s pension fund. When zoos are planned with more consideration than newbuilds, is it any wonder that tenants, so disrespected, are reluctant to stay?
(NB: The girl whose boyfriend died is absolutely devastated and utterly heart-broken, which goes without saying. I have heard from her, and she is determined to get past this appalling nightmare which - considering that her very world has come to a grinding halt - is both courageous and amazing. People stress that they were very much in love. He was twenty-three.)