What Do London, UK & Kugluktuk, Nunavut, Canada Have In Common?

view of Kugluktuk, under snow, from the air
Kugluktuk, Nunavut photo by Tristan Smith is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Kugluktuk, Nunavut. Honestly, it's hard to see what it has in common with London, England.

Besides a rather large number of things the two locations do not share, one they do is local councils prepared to risk human lives by tinkering with building codes in order to save money.

In London, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea approved cladding that did not meet contemporary safety standards for high rise housing buildings. The tragedy of the fire at Grenfell Tower shocked the entire world. The repercussions from this event continue to impact thousands upon thousands of lives.

Kugluktuk, Nunavut is like most communities in the Canadian Arctic, where social housing is vital to low and no income citizens. It is also in short supply and poor condition1. There, the world waits for the shoe to drop after the local council approved construction of buildings with only one exit. No doubt a handful or two of deaths will not make quite the splash of Grenfell Tower on the world stage.

In the currently divided philosophies of the world’s left/right politics, extreme attitudes to by-laws and building codes seem carved in stone. On the right they are seen as largely pointless nuisances that interfere with “progress.”

The left is biased in its own way against the ability of private businesses to make decisions except as they relate to costs and benefits. And yet public institutions — the London Borough of Kensington and the Town Council of Kugluktuk — seem just as capable of blithely examining fire safety codes on a cost/benefit basis and rejecting them as “inconveniently” too expensive.

Which brings us to a third city in an unlikely partnership with Kugluktuk and London — greater Miami, where the consequences of both homeowner parsimony and government acquiescence have led to the tragic collapse of a high rise condominium building. It may ultimately have far greater repercussions than the Grenfell Tower disaster. Read more in The Intercept, which is keen to place the blame on neoliberal “hands off free enterprise” politics: Miami Building Collapse Shows Tragic Costs of Neoliberal Deregulation

“Why didn’t they listen to us?” has been the ongoing cry of Grenfell Tower survivors in London. (The cry is ongoing because the not-listening has also been ongoing.)

By contrast, those who have been directly affected by the impact of the Miami building collapse are paying the price for not more forcefully speaking out, if they dared to identify the problems at all, given the cost of fixing them. Local government seems to have been complicit by ignoring its own regulations.

As to the voices of those occupying the new Kugluktuk buildings, it is admittedly speculation but unlikely that anyone asked any of them what they thought of new single-door fire exit strategies.

What’s to be done to ensure that, at the very least, changes to safety by-laws and building codes or serious violations of them offer some meaningful say to those who live and die by them? Read more in nunavut news: ‘It’s a hazard’; mayor, MLA warn of danger in houses with a single exit

Footnotes

  1. People living in Nunavut are 23 times more likely than the people in rest of Canada to be living in housing that is overcrowded or in need of repair.

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