decades, town and urban planning authorities have misunderstood the
relationship between space and society. In order to address inner city
poverty, cities were sent sprawling into the suburbs. This only served
to create a sense of emptiness and a deeper sense of insecurity. Anne
Power and Katharine Mumford were commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation to investigate urban renaissance and urban abandonment. In
this story, they report on the merits of high-density living. While
density may convey the illusion of chaos, it bestows the benefits of
social and spatial stability.
In British urban
history, we confused the poverty and chaos of early urban growth with
high density. In order to address poor conditions, we drove our cities
outwards. In the mass housing era, we built high-rise blocks in an attempt
to reduce overcrowding, create more open space, and cope with greenbelt
restrictions and objections to council housing in more conservative
suburbs. By concentrating poverty within council estates, we combined
high rise and high need. This, coupled with lack of adequate caretaking
or guarding, led to rapid decay.
high quality is often associated with high density. Old crowded neighbourhoods
in Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid and Edinburgh are sought after and
successful. Population density in Barcelona's inner neighbourhoods is
at least ten times higher than in British inner cities. Georgian terraces
in inner London, Glasgow and Amsterdam are very high density.
density is making a comeback. When control over entrances is combined
with careful allocations, tower blocks prove popular, secure and relatively
easy to regenerate. This is drawing public attention.
and city exodus mean that fewer people occupy urban space. It is therefore
possible to increase the number of households living in cities without
crowding people. Smaller households can be more compactly fitted in
to generate sufficient street life and support services for new housing
to really work.
The Joseph Rowntree
Foundation's innovative proposals for high-density, high-quality rented
accommodation in central Leeds and Birmingham point to new thinking
on densities, single person housing, super-caretaking and city living.
The Peabody Trust, historically associated with high density and intensive
secure management, is pioneering new schemes following this model.
A secret of success
in creating mixed urban communities is higher density. Social housing
can be built into new development invisibly if we copy the Dutch example
of quality design and finish. These new styles rely on choice rather
supports services, street life and interchange. Low density encourages
the opposite, a sense of emptiness, a lack of informal controls, an
inadequate resource base for essential services and a deep sense of
insecurity. Low income makes all these things much worse. Having sufficient
people to support shops, to fund custodial caretaking, to use public
transport creates informal supervision through street activity. But
a combination of neighbourhood management measures is necessary to make
density work. The continental model of urban maintenance is far stronger
and more effective than British models partly as a result of higher
density. It applies in owner-occupied as well as rented areas.
The new core
city private developments in Manchester and Newcastle are similarly
high density, well serviced, environmentally attractive and in strong
demand. Now is the time to change planning guidelines as a way of enhancing
the urban environment, expanding the number of people we can house in
cities and reintroducing front-line supervision.
Eighty-five per cent of all additional households over the next 20 years
are projected to be single people. Fifty per cent of them may need affordable
housing. Households are breaking up and reforming in many new ways.
This generates some of the projected smaller households, although the
elderly form a large proportion of them. But family break-up also creates
reconstituted households, pulling many people who become single into
new partnerships and cutting back the rate of household growth. This
is one explanation offered in Manchester and Newcastle for lower housing
demand, less new household formation and higher turnover than expected.
It is important, therefore, not to rely too heavily on projections but
to look at hard evidence of local demand and need more directly.
Many more single
elderly people will require housing within reach of main services in
the future. Cities and towns will play a big role. Inventing new housing
ideas to help single people feel less isolated and closer to support
is critical to social cohesion. Ensuring family-friendly cities is,
New factors can
influence behaviour. For example, commuting becomes less popular as
traffic congestion grows. Some working mothers are opting in favour
of cities to avoid long-distance commuting and loss of child contact.
City centres become more attractive to some childless households as
they become more numerous; resistance to building in the countryside
grows as more green fields disappear; rebuilding inner neighbourhoods
becomes more attractive to the private sector under positive urban management.
Household behaviour is already responding to some of these signals,
as John Prescott's own response to environmental pressures illustrates.
size makes many of the houses and flats we saw standing empty potentially
attractive to new households as long as overall environmental security,
back-up services and neighbourhood management are provided.
popular support for a return to cities in the face of deep insecurity
and long-run decay, more is required than marketing, regeneration and
a change in attitude. A prerequisite is a new approach to policing.
One of the reasons
for behavioural breakdown is the unequal policing of areas. Weak enforcement
highlights this. Over decades, the police increasingly withdrew into
patrol cars and central offices. On the other hand, the police are expected
to broker the ills of society without clear rules. In a democracy we
want it both ways--freedom to choose how we live and freedom from the
is becoming clear that many levels of control by many agencies make
for more peaceful communities. Strict enforcement, clear visibility
on the streets, constant links with parents, co-operation with other
authority figures, a swift response from local organisational bases
and immediate action over small transgressions can stem a rising tide
of more serious crime. These measures help to create a climate of confidence
and security that reinforces people's willingness to step in.
or proactive policing encourages positive community behaviour. Many
liberals dislike the notion of intensive policing. But, in cities of
strangers--which is the essential nature of modern city neighbourhoods--the
brokering of law and order by recognised authority figures is a prerequisite
for community safety and stability.
neighbourhoods carries many risks and requires skill, continuity and
consistency. Young people, particularly young men, react with hostility
and aggression to police intervention after they have been allowed to
develop law-breaking habits. However, they tend to respect clear rules
that allow them the right to be out and about within the bounds of civic
responsibility. This is where crowded streets, mixed uses, high density
and strong policing can work together. They give youths the right to
roam and gather as they have always done, without threatening community
are many models of security, guarding, policing and community safety
that work. Often, they apply to small areas for a limited time period.
It is a question of applying widely and continually across city neighbourhoods
what is known to work. The resources currently spent on crime-chasing
and paper-pushing must be converted into crime prevention through street
Many US cities
have cut their violent crime by adopting a visible street presence and
action against "incivilities." Our much smaller crime problems are certainly
more manageable. Making urban dwellers feel comfortable and not alone
is an absolute key to regeneration.
is an edited extract from The Slow Death of Great Cities? Urban Abandonment
and Urban Renaissance, by Anne Power and Katharine Mumford, Joseph Rowntree
Foundation by YPS, 1999.