Aim low to solve the housing crisis

Last month, we launched the Create Streets housing campaign, which argues that we should pull down tower blocks and allow communities to create terraced streets instead when they wish.

Tower blocks: renaissance 'not necessary'
Tower blocks: renaissance 'not necessary'

The reaction was telling. While some industry insiders accused us in broad-brush terms of misusing the evidence, no-one was actually able to dispute a single specific point of data.

The reaction from the people who actually live in estates and tower blocks, meanwhile, was very different. Our inboxes were hit with residents in passionate agreement - some of whom we are now working with on possible neighbourhood plans.

"Could not agree more after living in one for over 15 years," said one correspondent. "One day, authorities will actually listen to what residents want and not what the authorities want for their coffers. Such buildings should be condemned as unfit for purpose."

Another pleaded: "Since I have been put in this tower block against my will I have had nothing but problems. Is the demolishing of the high-raised flats a definite thing that's going to happen? I would totally support that."

The Guardian ran a poll asking readers: "Should we build terraced houses or tower blocks?" The answer was clear: 77 per cent of respondents supported building terraces while 23 per cent supported tower blocks.

This is corroborated by other data. According to Mori, 89 per cent of Britons want to live in a house on a street, only two per cent want to live in an apartment - and none want to live in a tower block. Children in social housing are 16 times more likely to live on or above the fifth floor than those not in social housing. Those who can afford to choose, choose streets.

Is this just a naive British desire for country roses? No. People are being deeply rational.

Many peer-reviewed, controlled studies show that even when you take account of social and economic status, high-rise living is correlated with misery, higher crime and lower levels of sociability and community. Those living on higher floors or in larger buildings tend to suffer more from crime, neurosis, stress, depression and marital discord. It is even worse for kids.

The good news is that the renaissance in high-rise living is not necessary. As London mayor Boris Johnson, who welcomed our report, recognised, official reports and academic studies show that terraced streets can match the densities of most existing high-rise housing developments.

We do not need to build tower blocks to solve our housing crisis. The new National Planning Policy Framework gives communities the power to choose streets, not slab-blocks. When communities realise this, they will seize it with both hands. Planning professionals should be ready.

Alex Morton is head of housing, planning and urban policy at the Policy Exchange think-tank. This piece was co-authored by Nicholas Boys Smith, director of housing campaign body Create Streets.


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