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Castleford Regeneration Project and Social Equality

The 18th century was the final historical stage of a lengthy transition from feudalism to a capitalist epoch. The contents of the historical process had included rule affirmation of developed middle-class society and culture’s classical forms. This process elapsed differently in different countries of the European continent.

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Britain had an industrial revolution and transition towards machine industry. France was preparing for the classical bourgeois revolution, liberated from religious cover in terms of expressing its own political and social ideals. But despite the national specificity of the political and cultural revolution in different countries, its main peculiarities consisted in the crisis of feudalism and its ideology, as well as the formation of enlighteners’ progressive ideology. The 18th century was an era of mind, enlightenment, philosophers, sociologists, and economists.

At the time, in Britain, the philosophy of Berkley had provided a theoretical basis for religious worldview, and the scepticism of David Hume played an important role in theoretically substantiating the utilitarian and rational ideology of the middle class (Daunton 1995).

However, it was not always this way. The organization of British society, which has been well established in the Middle Ages had continued into the 18th century (Leneman 1986). Before the era of enlightenment, heredity, along with quality, excluded economic standing and wealth in determining social status and made divisions into orders or estates. Christian teachings had supported this division into traditional orders, as they stressed the requirement of fulfilling responsibilities of own estate. An integral part of the observed phenomenon was inequality, which was hard to deal with and could not be discarded.

There are currently mentions being made on behalf of architecture and its influence on social inequality. In fact, Kenneth Olwig, who is a professor of geography at the University in Trondheim, Norway, and professor of landscape theory at the Swedish Agricultural University’s Department of Landscape Planning in Alnarp, is one of the experts whose work is focused on comparing two different conceptions of landscape.

That is to say, strained relationships between the modern conception of the landscape, in particular, it’s the scenic part that derives from dramatic and eloquent representation, and the older conception of the landscape, when it is viewed as shaped by common law as a representation of political bodies. He is also an author of Nature’s Ideological Landscape. His current interests involve tracing this topic back to Ancient Greece, where there was a unique conception of place and polity, as well as compare it to the Nordic interpretation of these terms. He also plans to pursue the topic of the present day’s environmental and regional conflicts.

In one of his recent articles, he states that: Architects who think only in terms of the power of scenic space, ignoring the exigencies of community and place, run the risk of producing landscapes of social inequality like those of the great 18th century British estates… it is also possible however for architects to shape an environment that fosters the desire to maintain the continuities that main a collective sense of commonwealth rooted in custom but open to change (Olwig, 2002).

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In his book entitled Landscape, Nature, and the Body Politic: From Britain’s Renaissance to America’s New World, Kenneth Olwig attempts to explore the influences and origins of two interlaced and competing discourses that are currently present when such words as landscape, scenery, country, or nature are used? The first interpretation presents land as a physical body of terrain where the actual construction of the nation-state occurs.

The second version implies the fact that the country is mostly made up of the people, and time along with antecedency provide its establishment (Cosgrove 2003). This, in a way, links back to the second part of Olwig’s quote where he underlines the importance of commonwealth as a collective sense which should be shaped by architects and must constantly be open to change, even though rooted deeply in custom.

I believe that Olwig’s work s essential, as it helps open new doors and finds new ways of reasoning in the fields of architecture, geography, theatre, literature, politology, law, history, and most of all, the environment. In his book, he traces the aforesaid concepts through the thicket of British, as well as American history, beginning from the 17th century and describing the vision of unification between Scotland, England, and Wales, on one island of Britain into one nation. He explores how the essence of landscape expands from the ingenious stage scenery to being a geopolitical ideal, pursuing the mentioned concepts from old Europe to America, giving insight on various topics, starting from environmental planning and national parks, and ending with climacteric nationalistic organizations and polity theories.

In any case, let me get back to the fore-mentioned issue of 18th-century British estates and why exactly did Kenneth Olwig use them as an example of social inequity to warn architects about the dangers of focusing on scenic space, ignoring the notion of community and place. Estate was the form of social stratification that preceded classes. In British society of the 18th century, people were divided into estates or orders, which were social groups that possessed fixed traditions or legal law, as well as hereditary rights and responsibilities.

Hierarchy expressed in inequality of position and privileges was characteristic to the estate system, which included several orders. In the 18th century, British society was fractionalized into the upper class, which included nobilities and clergies, as well as unprivileged third-order (craftsmen, merchants, and peasants) (Smellie 1962).

The rights and liabilities of each estate were determined by a juridical law and regulated by a religious doctrine. Social barriers which existed between estates were quite evident. Therefore social mobility existed not as much in between the estates but more within estates. Each estate included multiple layers, titles, levels, professions, and ranks. This way, only nobilities were able to deal with government service, whereas aristocracy was considered a military chivalry estate.

The higher was an estate in the social hierarchy; the higher was its status. An indicative feature of estates was the presence of social symbols and signs: titles, uniforms, orders, and ranks. In feudal society, the government was issuing distinctive symbols to the main second estate – the nobilities.

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Back in the 18th century, such a way of thinking about estates has also been demonstrated in secular terms. One of the contemporary observers at the time had stated that the happiness of a man is mostly determined by whether he possesses everything determined by his position in society and is able to make the fulfilment of his estate. In other words, if one is protected by the laws and is able to live the same life that his father lived, the nation and society are being governed in an invariable and even manner.

These social distinctions have become well embedded into society, and although questioned by various contemporary intellectuals, they were not easy to leave behind. For example, in the Prussian law code, it was not legal for a middle-class female to marry a nobleman without approval from the government. It was also strictly regulated what exactly dresses the different social groups must wear in order to keep them separated, and even without being regulated, different social classes’ traditional dresses could be easily distinguished.

Regional and local differences and their general preoccupation were reinforcing such a degree of social conservatism in the British society of the 18th century. The competitions between estates were almost outweighing any competitions within the royal family. The differences were noticed even between local dialects that also played a role in separation according to orders.

Inequality and poverty are words that best describe British society of the 18th century and are closely linked to social stratification that was present at the time. Inequality characterized unequal dissemination of society’s deficit resources, such as money, power, education, as well as prestige, between different orders, estates, or population layers. Concluding the aforesaid, it becomes clear why Professor Olwig used this current example of 18th-century British estates in his book as an instance of social inequality, as such social division present in 18th century Britain is the most vivid model of social inequality that could be imagined.

Certainly, many architects are now ignoring the vitality of taking into account such aspects as the needs of community, commonwealth, place, people, as well as their antecedent traditions. Ignoring all these concepts and drawing attention to simply scenic space forfeits social equity and may create breaches of social justice, such as the one where all people were privileged according to their estate in Britain before the era of Enlightenment.

The process through which cities, communities, towns, and neighbourhoods improve themselves is called regeneration. Most frequently, the process of regeneration focuses on the improvement of neighbourhoods for the purpose of increasing their social, economic, and environmental self-sufficiency (Stiftel & Watson 2005). Most of the time, regeneration projects require their participants to combine economic, physical, and social reforms, which are driven by private, public, and voluntary sectors (Neal, 2003).

Currently, many regeneration projects are taking place all over Western Europe. These projects are intended to create better-living conditions for the population as well as improve local ecological status. Castleford is a town located in the UK, West Yorkshire, with a population of 38 000. The closest large city is probably Leeds, and Castleford has railroad connections with Leeds, Wakefield, and Sheffield. In ancient times it was an essential locality, as, during the Roman Empire, on-site of the town was a settlement which received its name from a Latin word Castrum, meaning a fort or a camp. The author of the famous “Castleford Chronicle”, which narrates the traditional British history in Northern English, is considered to be a resident of this exact location.

The modern Castleford used to be an important manufacturing centre, mainly of glass and pottery, and besides that was a well-known mining town since the 16th century. There were still eight collieries functioning till 1970, which gave jobs to more than 6000 people. By 1997 the number of employees in Castleford’s mining industry fell to 600, as there was total restructuring. The Selby Coalfield is the only one currently remaining, and there are plans that it will get closed within a short period. Therefore the remaining few job position will be lost (Baylies1993).

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Currently, the most employment in the town of Castleford is obtained from the manufacturing of chemicals, power, electrical goods, and clothing. There is also some employment provided by distribution, retailing, and leisure. Although the service industry employment did somewhat improve Castleford’s economy, the town still greatly suffers the closure of coal mines and other exorbitances. If we were to closely examine Castleford’s community, we would be able to observe the unusually high level of unemployment, especially among youth, accompanied by poor health and low achievement in education among the general population of the community. There are Roman archaeological remains in abundance just beneath Castleford’s streets. Furthermore, the town is laved by River Aire and River Calder, as well as Oxbow lakes.

The people of Castleford have brought up the initiative of doing a regeneration project for their community, as housing, leisure, and retailing have provided the economy with the needed substantial investments. Their initiative is determined by a strong desire for things to change, as they strive for a more vibrant and cheerful downtown, as well as making better use of unattended waif land.

The population of Castleford is driven by a desire for other people to get acquainted with the heritage of their town, as well as be able to enjoy the view when sitting on the shore of Calder and Aire. It is also favourable to raise the safety in the community, as well as improve healthcare and education. The people of Castleford take unusual pride in their community and in their town. Therefore the Project made a decision to work with them, among all other UK communities who share the same concerns.

According to the information presented on the Castleford Regeneration Project website, the Project actually consists of a series of various projects which are scheduled to take place across town. The main objectives include the design of a new town square, design and construction of a new footbridge, as well as creating new facilities for children. It appears that Channel 4 is funding the current projects, and since the investment of £100 000, ten different projects have been completed over a time period of three years. The project currently has a value of more than £12 000000. The local population is very enthusiastic about the idea; in fact, thousands of locals have taken part in creating the agenda, designing and executing separate plans. Additional new investments of over £200 000000 have been leveraged into the town for the discussed initiative.

The Castleford Projects has been acknowledged as the best urban regeneration practice due to its innovative design, large scale involvement of the local population, its share it town’s economic development, and attraction of international interest.

One of the other purposes of the Castleford Regeneration Project is to improve the physical environment so that the community could become a better place for living and working, as well as being an employer or investor. Local residents have identified the Project schemes as being priorities for fulfilling the main objectives of the Project. Having determined the agenda, the locals are participating in the Project at all possible levels and intend to ensure that the work is long-lasting and leads to a better future for the community.

With the progress of the Project, for the purpose of attracting attention and interest of the regions, as well as of the whole nation, a public events programme had occurred. Several residential and community groups have formed resulting from the Project’s activities in Castleford. Small working groups have also been formed in connection with every project, with each having a local representative in charge, as well as regeneration and design consultants who have closely collaborated with the local population in order to assist them in planning a better future for their town.

At the moment, the Castleford Regeneration Project is designing an integrated regeneration programme that features abundant participation of the locals, links and connections to the worlds of business, culture, social development, and last but not least, excellent design in terms of landscape and architecture. This given regeneration project is totally different from similar programmes that have taken place in the UK, such as Single Regeneration Budget or City Challenge, due to its wide range of various activities, the support provided by a television broadcaster, as well as its extremely popular accountability.

The population of Castleford, along with the local council, accompanied by other organizations, is in a state of constantly discussing the many ways how to make their town a better place. Back in July 2003, the Castleford Regeneration Project hosted a few public events and meetings, the purpose of which was to determine the issues and projects that concerned the local community above all. Over 1000 people took participated in the meetings, and they managed to identify the priorities among the proposed projects.

It has been known that the town of Castleford used to be on an important Roman road, which forded across the Aire River. Unfortunately, today people are able to cross the River at only one point in town. The general population had expressed their desire to have another river crossing, which would be located either where the Roman ford used to be or by the existing road bridge. This would permit foot and cycle access from one part of the town to another and provide better access to communities, shopping, schools, historic sites, and areas of natural beauty.

The only flattering view of Castleford is of a dam on the Aire River and an adjacent to it Victorian flour mill. Regrettably, this area has piles of garbage on the edge of the river, which totally spoils the whole view. The locals decided that it is very important to get this area cleaned up and included this project in the general regeneration programme.

Another part identified in the Castleford regeneration project is the downtown High Street which is currently filled with pound shops and charity. According to the wishes of the local population, it is planned to turn this part of town into a town square which will be brighter and more inspirational.

Castleford Project had run an event in the past, which resulted in the formation of a new group called the Friends of the Green. This group intends to invest in the project by making the most deprived parts of the neighbourhood, such as the Wakefield District, which has become a derelict landscape due to the absence of investments, as well as antisocial behaviour a safer and better designed public space by creating a strip of parkland called the Green.

Another area of Castleford involved in the Regeneration Project is Cutsyke. The population of this community had a desire to see more amenities for youth. Therefore, the Cutsyke community group has been formed in order to improve the living conditions in the neighbourhood. It identified a piece of territory where the people intend to build an Adventure Play Park, as well as construct a community centre.

The Castleford Regeneration Project has designs to improve Wilson Street, located in the western part of town by the main shopping district. The project intends to get rid of crime as well as get better control of speeding cars. There are also quite a few excessive demolition sites remaining after terraced housing, which require attention. A special group created for the purpose of controlling this part of the project is called the Wilson Street Community Triangle and completely consists of the community’s residents.

The final section of the Regeneration Project concerns New Fryston, which used to be a site of a local colliery. The area now does not have sufficient funds needed to sustain such basic amenities as a community centre, a pub, or newsagents. The only thing which currently remains is a village of mining terraces along with wild parkland. The scheme that will improve the village so it can support the hopes and future requirements of the locals has been identified by the national regeneration agency English Partnerships.

Having finished talking about the Regeneration Project, which was designed by the Castleford community in order to improve living conditions in the area, let me focus more on the social impact that this Project might have. Unfortunately, not all populations are living in equal circumstances. In fact, there is a great number of people whose living conditions do not adhere to any norms. It could be said that modern British society is stratified, but unlike the estate stratification of the 18th century, this one disregards the title and makes money the focus of attention.

Probably the level of social inequality forced upon British society by such social stratification is not less than the one of the 18th century British estates. Sociological sciences have assimilated the social structure to the structure of Earth and lodged social layers in the same manner – vertically. Its basis is the ladder of income, where the poor occupy the lowest stage. Prosperous groups of the population take up the middle, and the rich category reserves the highest stage.

Large societal striations are also named classes, where we can observe smaller divisions, which are called layers. The rich class is divided into very rich and moderately rich; the middle class consists of three layers, and the poor class – of two layers. The lowest layer is named underclass or social bottom (Dentler 2002). Today, income, power, prestige, and education are the main determinants of social-economical status, which implies one’s position in society. In this case, status is a generalized indicator of stratification.

The Castleford Regeneration project discussed above in detail includes the involvement of the community; in fact, all small projects which make up the whole conception are controlled by independent groups which have been formed from the residents of the current community. This brings a better understanding of the current needs that must be fulfilled, as the local people know what is best for them. Concluding the material set forth in this essay, the Castleford Regeneration Project does not create such great landscapes of inequality, like those of 18th-century British estates, as the Project is mostly managed by local residents and the needs of community and place are being taken into consideration in the first place.

However, poverty and social inequality have now become a global problem. In the modern world, poverty means something more than insufficient income or even a low level of potential human development. It also implies the inability of being heard, absence of representation, and vulnerability in the face of corruption and abuse. It also means violation concerning women and fearfulness of crime. Finally, poverty denotes a poorly developed self-esteem.

Social inequality could be viewed as a scale, where one side would consist of those who possess the most, and the other – the least amounts of amenities (Smelser 1967). The discussed project involves the improvement of communities, but mainly to satisfy the needs of those who are at neither of the two sides – the middle class. The project is basically funded by the riches category of population and meets the requirement of the middle class, totally ignoring the exigencies of the poor fraction of Castleford’s population. Therefore it away the benefit brought to the community by the Regeneration project are relative, as there is still some level of social inequality remaining.

Works Cited

Bailey, N., 1995. Partnership Agencies in British Urban Policy. London: UCL Press.

Baylies, C., 1993. The History of the Yorkshire Miners, 1881-1918. New York: Routledge.

Daunton, M. J., 1995. Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700-1850. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Cosgrove, D., 2003. Landscape, Nature, and the Body Politic: From Britain’s Renaissance to America’s New World. The Geographical Review 93(1).

Dentler, R.A., 2002. Practicing Sociology: Selected Fields. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Castleford Regeneration Project 2008, Channel 4. Web.

Leneman, L., 1986. Living in Atholl: A Social History of the Estates, 1685-1785. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Neal, P. ed., 2003 Urban Villages and the Making of Communities. New York: Spon Press.

Olwig, K. (2002) Landscape, Nature and the Body Politic: From Britain’s Renaissance to America’s New World, Madison, WI.

Smellie, K. B., 1962. Great Britain since 1688: A Modern History. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Smelser, N.J. ed., 1967. Sociology: An Introduction.New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Stiftel, B.& Watson, V. eds., 2005. Dialogues in Urban and Regional Planning, vol. 1. London: Routledge.

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