Ian Jack, 23 May 2019
The notion of idleness is important to the argument: land cannot be allowed merely to sit there minding its own business – it needs somehow to be put to work, to be efficient. As for surplus, that can be created by various ruses, not least by setting targets, such as those that drive up occupation densities in civil servants’ offices from 14.5 square metres to ten square metres (and in some recent cases to six square metres) per full-time employee; or by establishing a minimum area for playing fields determined by the number of pupils at a school, and declaring anything above that figure surplus to requirements. Public land becomes surplus, in other words, as the result of the state’s determination to shrink itself. At the heart of this project lay a brazen deceit.