Comment – Standing in the way of progress…

Conservationists are using social media to oppose demolition. Should we fight fire with fire?

Despite our inherent cynicism, the British people eventually rallied behind the London 2012 Olympics to make the Games one of the most engaging and unifying events in the nation’s history. Londoners happily point to iconic buildings such as The Shard, The Gherkin, The Walkie Talkie and The Cheese Grater that now dominate the nation’s capital with a sense of pride. Battersea, once an ugly blot on the landscape (I should know – I grew up there) has not just been rejuvenated; it has been reborn.

All of these projects – and a lot more besides – were made possible by demolition removing the old to make way for the new. And few would argue that the process was ultimately worthwhile.

And yet the merest mention of the word demolition seems to send conservationists, preservationists and heritage merchants into a tailspin. They issued a rallying cry to save the childhood home of a man that John Lennon once described as “not even the best drummer in the Beatles”. And now they have railed against plans to demolish several buildings in Central London to make way for a larger university.

Even setting aside the notion of protesting against a plan to enhance the education of the country’s youth, such objections ring as hollow and forward-thinking as a Native American declining the offer of a rifle because his bow and arrow were “just fine, thank you.”

Ironically, while they seem intent on standing in the way of progress at virtually every turn, the one thing that conservationists and preservationists are very good at is engaging with that paragon of modernity, social media. Each objection (Ringo Starr’s childhood home, Earl’s Court exhibition centre, King’s College London) is accompanied by a well-thought-out and targeted social media campaign across Facebook and Twitter.

And yet we – as an industry – are equally well-armed and well-connected. Coleman and Company, for example, has almost 1,500 fans and followers on its Twitter account. Former IDE president John Woodward has more than 2,000. And there are many more besides that have a loyal, vocal and engaged following.

Last night’s BBC TV show – The Wrecking Crew – will have gone a long way toward showing the general public the modern face of demolition. But are we fully utilising the power of social media to tell would-be protestors of the benefits of the demolition process?

Of course, the case for professionalism is all-too-often undermined by media reports of accidents and of rogue contractors.

But as an island, the UK is pretty much filled; and nothing of any note can be built in or around our cities and conurbations without some form of demolition. Maybe if we could focus the public’s minds on the potential social and economic benefits of demolition rather than the perceived destruction of the nation’s heritage, protests such as those at Earl’s Court and Kings College might carry just a little less weight and gain a little less mass media traction.