"Avoiding the mistakes of the past"

Tower block failure discourse and economies of risk management in London's Olympic Park

in Focaal

A powerful dystopian imaginary dominates political and cultural representations of Britain’s postwar tower blocks, which continue to be linked to social dysfunction and alienation despite extensive empirical research that challenges such claims. Th is article asks what contested declarations of failure “do” by examining how “tower block failure” is discursively deployed by placemaking professionals—planners, architects, housing managers, regeneration practitioners—engaged in the construction of a “model” mixed-tenure neighborhood in London’s Olympic Park. Examining how the aesthetic figure of the “failed” high-rise housing estate is configured in relation to the normative models of citizenship and community that infuse social and spatial policy, I argue “failure” is entangled with a speculative, future-oriented economy of risk management, which refracts wider questions about the nonobvious forms that power takes in the neoliberal city.

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