Students Rally to Save the Green
Last Wednesday (December 11) the SOAS Student Union received news that exploratory work would be carried out on the green space inbetween Senate House and the Brunei Gallery, to determine whether potential development would be possible. University of London owns the land and offered the space up through a bidding process. SOAS did not offer a bid in the wake of a ‘financial crisis’ which saw the appointment of Valerie Amos and the continued reduction of specialized subjects and languages.
The planned building would be intercollegiate, meaning a lot more non-SOAS students on campus. There would be disruptive building work for an unspecified amount of time and a valued green space used by numerous students, lecturers and the public would be lost. The green space has been host to picnics, barbecues, protests, lectures, film screenings, society events, revision and music sessions. It is especially popular in the summer and is instrumental in ensuring mental well-being for students and staff.
Resistance started immediately when it was announced that exploratory drilling would commence on the SOAS Green on Thursday. A few people camped overnight, with others joining them at 7am the next morning to successfully create a human blockade which prevented the survey from taking place. A fire was lit and banners were put up in protest. The ‘SOAS Save the Green’ committee will work through 2 different legal routes, the first over the protected status of the tree and the second the protected status of an area that has been used for over 12 years. Neither of these legal routes could have stopped the initial exploratory work being done at such short notice. There is a petition to stop the construction, and the SOAS Save the Green committee has encouraged UCL students to sign to show solidarity.
The SOAS Save the Green committee said: “SOAS management have not specified where they stand in regard to the prospective development, although they have stated that the building works would be disruptive. Dr Ghazwa Alwani-Starr, Director of Property and Facilities Management, did not attend an arranged meeting, although when later found by students she confirmed that there are no plans for exploratory works until February. The lack of communication with the students is concerning, especially considering the past hostility toward the Justice for Workers movement.” The committee say they will “use any actions necessary to protect the green space”.
SOAS student Annie Risner said the reason that “students from other universities are drawn to SOAS is because of the spaces that provide respite from the stresses of education and the intensity of London. The green provides a space for people to be outside from classrooms, buses and the library.”
Research has shown that urban green spaces benefit people physically and mentally, including aiding stress reduction and helping mental exhaustion. Students work better with spaces that enable community and foster creativity.
The trend in Universities developing areas to acommodate more students has increased significantly. The proposed development by University of London on SOAS campus will prioritise improving the income base of the land, extending its use to other Universities to maximize the green space’s usage. Universities are destroying communal and public spaces to make way for new, economically motivated developments, reflecting a wider issue of urban space development in the economic interests of Universities.
The increasing commercialization of education has led to the exploitation of areas at the cost of communities. This is clearly demonstrated in University of the Arts’ (UAL) recent development of Elephant and Castle, which has displaced the large and diverse community living there. Thousands of families, neighbours and friends have been forcibly evicted all over Britain by the similar development. The project has adversely affected thousands of families in order to benefit UAL financially.
Although the loss of the green space at SOAS will not have consequences as devastating as those in Elephant and Castle, it is important to resist Universities prioritising economic gain and development over student and staff well-being. Students and teachers alike in University of London institutions must strive to protect their green spaces.