Archaeologists saved Shakespeare's Rose theatre – but planning reform could threaten future discoveries

An archaeologist stands in the remains of a 16th century London theatre in 2009. Image: Getty.

Before The Globe, there was The Rose: one of the first purpose-built theatres on London’s Southbank. William Shakespeare’s plays first gained sell-out success on the stage of The Rose.

But as other, rival theatre spaces emerged, it fell out of favour. It was abandoned by 1606, and eventually vanished underneath newer layers of London.

All seemed lost, until in 1988, when the owners of Southern House – an uninspiring 1957 office block on Rose Alley – gained planning permission to redevelop the site after agreeing to a routine two-month archaeological dig. In January 1989, near the end of the dig, The Rose was rediscovered, to the astonishment and delight of archaeologists, historians, thespians and theatre lovers.

It became the first Shakespearean theatre to be archaeologically excavated, revealing a classic 14-sided polygon structure, with galleries and an uncovered yard, where poorer viewers could stand in front of the stage. It remains one of the best-preserved and most informative theatre excavations. The Times described it as the “most exciting archaeological find since Tutankhamun”.

But the archaeologists soon faced a thorny problem: technically, because planning permission had already been granted, the construction of the new building could proceed without any further archaeological work.

Save the Rose

Understandably, the acting and theatre community wished to see The Rose preserved. Sir Laurence Olivier gathered support, and household names such as Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judy Dench, Sir Patrick Stewart, Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Alan Rickman joined the “Save the Rose” campaign. American actor Dustin Hoffman even flew over from the US, to see The Rose excavations and lend his support.

The government could have halted the development and preserved The Rose, by declaring it a scheduled ancient monument – this would have put it on the same footing as Stonehenge. But given the cost of compensating the developer, it declined to do so.

Initially, small extensions were given to the archaeologists to continue excavations. Over time, more and more campaigners gathered outside the building site, culminating with an all-night vigil on 12 May 1989 to turn away building contractors. The campaign worked: a further six month excavation took place, and the new building was altered to allow The Rose to be preserved underneath, where it can still be visited to this day.

The Rose Theatre today. Image: The Rose Theatre Trust.

In the end, the developer and government spent an additional £11m on further archaeological research and redesigned the new building to accommodate the theatre. As many archaeologists pointed out, if an assessment had taken place before planning permission was granted, the developer could have made plans for the archaeological work and possible building alterations. The Rose was one of a number of sites to encounter this problem.

A year later the government introduced new planning guidance, which fundamentally changed the role of archaeologists. Under the new guidance (and its subsequent replacements), archaeology became part of the planning process. Site assessments by archaeological professionals prior to planning permission became the norm.

Still in danger

But today, the proposed Neighbourhood Planning & Infrastructure Bill could raise the same problems all over again. As part of a drive to build 250,000 much-needed new homes a year, the bill aims to “reform and speed up the planning process by minimising delays caused by pre-commencement planning conditions”. In particular, the Telegraph suggests that “archaeological and wildlife surveys” will be “swept away” once this law is passed. This could very well put archaeological sites in danger of destruction, or risk great costs to developers.

Archaeological organisations have mobilised, seeking confirmation of the government’s intentions. Already, a petition to parliament highlighting the danger to archaeology has gathered more than 13,000 signatures. Archaeological newsletters suggest that archaeologists feel they are being used as scapegoats for the housing crisis.

In fact, there are many other factors which have contributed to the UK’s housing shortage. In reality, less than 1 per cent of planning applications need archaeological work to take place – so getting rid of the guidance is unlikely to fast-track a vast swathe of projects. And doing this work before granting planning permission ensures that there are no expensive delays or surprises for the developer.

Many exciting archaeological discoveries have rewritten England’s story since the discovery of The Rose – the majority due to planning conditions. Indeed, another Elizabethan theatre – The Curtain in London – is currently being excavated. In this case, archaeologists got involved early in the planning process; evaluating the site, undertaking trial excavations and enabling the archaeology to take centre stage in the development.

Removing or watering down archaeology’s place in the planning process will undoubtedly lead future generations to ask once more – how was this situation allowed to occur?The Conversation

James Morris is a lecturer in archaeology at the University of Central Lancashire.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.

Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.