Replace Tower Blocks With Terraced Streets, Says Report

Following on from yesterday’s suggestion that empty office blocks be turned into housing, Policy Exchange has come out in favour of no high-rise housing at all.

The conservative think tank believes that streets of terraces and low-rise building could achieve the same population density as tower blocks, citing Kensington and Chelsea as a good example (but let’s remember it’s not bereft of high-rise: the Trellick Tower and the Grenfell Tower on Lancaster West Estate are also in the borough). The report, Create Streets, assumes that many of the problems associated with the worst towers would be alleviated if people lived closer to the ground, with more private green space.

However, many problems of residents (the report mentions stress, mental health difficulties, neurosis and marriage breakdowns) have deeper roots; namely poverty. We suspect Policy Exchange doesn’t have its eye on Strata or the other aspirational new developments springing up all over the place, but council estates. The report acknowledges that many of these buildings were badly built and have been poorly maintained, which doesn’t help mental wellbeing.

The Royal Institute of British Architects responded to the report, saying:

It would be simplistic to suggest that all of the social issues mentioned in the Create Streets report have arisen from the design of homes themselves, although there are clearly lessons which can be learnt… Quality design is the most important aspect when it comes to homes of the future, our research has shown that people want space, light and privacy. We believe there are more than just a few types of buildings that can achieve this.

It is true that London has fewer proper family homes than it needs and that even modern developments don’t cater for them, preferring to squeeze in lots of one and two bedroom flats. Surely a better mixture of property types would work just as well as recreating Coronation Street?

One building that’s about to re-used, not pulled down, is the former police station in Berwick Street. It’s been empty for 13 years and will now be developed into 80 homes for key workers. That’s probably the fate that lies in store for the police stations currently in line for closure, though let’s hope we don’t have to wait more than a decade for them to be resurrected.

Photo by roboxley from the Londonist Flickr pool

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  • http://randomphotosfromengland.wordpress.com/ nemethv

    This is silly. Look at so many of the CEE region’s countries and see that a very high proportion of residents live in tower blocks, usually 10-15 st tall, some even going into the 20s and most of them don’t create/have major social problems. If you put a lot of poor/problematic people into one place, that will create ghettos and problems, that’s all.

    I also fail to understand that by taking down the tower blocks and building smaller houses, how would it be possible to create more new homes?

    Even if London ever used to be a family-friendly place, it has ceased to be so ages ago, it’s big and crowded, and there’s limited need for family areas in the city.

    • rob22t

      Oh dear a typical negative response.
      Better housing is only one way of dealing with these problems.

      Its been proven that the Georgian terraced squares have a higher population density.

      • http://www.facebook.com/james.guppy James Guppy

        Proven has it? A higher density than what exactly? Links to credible evidence please.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.guppy James Guppy

    Reminds me of the cupboard-room for sale for £200K in Kensington. Sure, you can cram people in if their desire to live in a postcode subverts common-sense. The rest of us like to have room to swing a kitten.

  • RogerFretwell

    Its a ridiculous report, judging from the summary. For instance saying that tiny box-sized flats is an evil associated with high-rise flats. The truth is that all recent mass-market building in London has been associated with tiny box-sized accomodation whether it is low-rise or high-rise, because of a combination of planning laws and developer greed.

    I live on a large estate, and its much nicer than the Georgian terrace where I used to live – so please don’t knock it down!

  • http://twitter.com/andybrice Andy Brice

    The problem here is not high rise in itself, it’s the poor design, construction and maintenance of these tower blocks. High rise can be made desirable, especially with green spaces.

  • http://twitter.com/andybrice Andy Brice

    I think we should be looking at the homes we’re building in the suburbs. At the moment planning departments seem preoccupied with keeping developments below three storeys. If we are to create enough new housing, this is an enormous waste of space.

    Also the rationale for objecting to higher-density developments in the suburbs usually seems to be “there’s not enough space for parking”. So city dwellers may have to get used to the idea of parking in dedicated spaces not immediately next to their homes.

  • Jakub

    I agree with all the comments,
    good design is most important.