‘The Tower’

4 Jul

 

Was watching the night before on BBC One ‘The Tower’

 And I was really interested in the premise of the programme, development and regeneration of squalid parts of London.

 Surely Deptford is one of the armpits of London but not so the residents of AragonTower that Lewisham Council was ousting.

The residents, even though in a Daily Mail kind of way I have expected to be abhorrent. But the only people that were shown to be truly awful were the developers, Council officials and estate agents that were in charge of the redevelopment. They seemed to be arrivistic non entities that had a very simplistic view of what constitutes redevelopment and regeneration. It seemed to them that as long as you get some so called ‘professionals’ to live in the tower block that would change the very constitution of the area. As a naive an attitude as the original policy that made possible for those horrible blocks to be built in the 70’s.

Back then the attitude was that if you make clean affordable housing that people on the Council’s housing list would love and cherish them and would feel for ever grateful that you took them out of the slums. As we know the reality was very different most council built tower blocks were filled with people that never chose to be there. Instead of a new community spirit all the residents experience was excrement in the elevators and overcrowding.

I suppose, this obvious housing disaster is acknowledged by the ease that Lewisham Council offloaded AragonTower to the developers. Thinking that if you get willing owners in the block all the problems of the area would go away. That very idea is what pushed the gentrification of huge enclaves of the capital…get the professionals and Starbucks in and push out all the unwanted trouble makers!

 The main problem of mass development is the lack of accountability and safety. What designers and developers forgot when they created those dreaded London tower blocks was that the basic principle for pedestrian (resident) safety is the road/walkways being overlooked by the residents. Jane Jacobs articulated the argument in 1961 in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities especially in the chapter entitled: The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety she explains that very basic principle: if a road is overlooked by the residents anti-social activity is more than halved as the offending party gets deterred at the prospect of any eye witnesses present.

Unfortunately that principle was not taken into account and most 1970’s blocks tend to have lots of internal or external corridors without any direct connection to the flats (or windows overlooking them). Nowadays councils are dotting CCTV cameras right left and centre trying to cover the inadequacies of the original design. Unfortunately the cameras do little to increase the sense of safety in the tower blocks.

High rise living can be very successful indeed as long as it takes into account the wishes of the residents and is encouraging interaction. Tower blocks, when designed with vision, can create diverse housing that offers a rich emotional and sensory experience. Such towers were some of the early examples in London like the TrellickTower which is a sought after address and has lots of proud residents. I do not think things will change soon enough though, as the developer is king and the need for profit is the main motivation.

 

Links

A brief description of the programme on the BBC One website:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcone/listings/programme.shtml?day=yesterday&service_id=4223&filename=20070702/20070702_2245_4223_12855_50

The review of the programme on The Guardian’s website:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,2117049,00.html

The developers page about the AragonTower development:

http://www.berkeleyhomes.co.uk/index.cfm?articleID=1050

 

  

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