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'The Fall and (High) Rise of our Cities?'

Part 1 Dissertation 2001
Neil Monk
Leeds Beckett University | UK
'The Fall and (High) Rise of Our Cities?'

"Over the next 20 years, Britain will need to
house 4 million more households (of which)
more than 80% will be for single people."

The problem of housing such a large increase in population is heightened when you take into consideration the dwindling land stock that is available. However it is a view stated by Lord Richard Rogers, the government appointed head of The Urban Task Force, that the solution lies in the resolution of another problem.
In recent decades the importance of inner city areas has dwindled to such an extent that only nine per cent of Britain's population lives in the centres of our towns and cities. Neglect of these areas has resulted in out-of-town suburban villages built at a very low density becoming more popular, particularly with families. Built on dwindling green-field sites and at a low density, these villages are somewhat of an ecological nightmare, combined with the fact that their 'seclusion' results in a reliance on the motorcar.
In stopping this trend of social polarisation, it seems imperative that we re-establish the importance of our inner city areas.
Le Corbusier was faced with a similar problem in post-war France. His solution to the problem was to build large 'vertical cities' such as the Unite d' Habitation in Marseilles. He sought to establish a community spirit in a high-rise apartment block by making the neighbourhood socially self-supportive and providing for the majority of the inhabitants needs on site.
Clones of Le Corbusier's Unite concept began to appear not just in France but also in Britain. However these concrete, high-rise apartments soon gained a reputation for crime, probably because they were built in the inner city areas that were beginning to house only the people who could not afford to live in suburban housing villages.
Unlike in the U.S. for example, it seems that Britain has an inability to establish communities in high-rise apartment blocks. In 1977, Darbourne and Darke designed The Marquess Estate, which was seen as cutting-edge, and a direct alternative to the high rise apartments. Lauded by many, it too gained a reputation for crime - mainly blamed on the illegibility of the design and the fact that it too only housed poorer residents. Now euphemistically re-named 'New River Green' it intends to provide more clarity and includes many new safety measures.
Perhaps a modern-day equivalent to the Marquess is the much-vaunted Millennium Village in Greenwich. This government-backed project was designed to meet four criteria: good design, housing of a mixed-use community, environmental awareness and innovative construction. The village itself provides modular housing which is adaptable for different social groups' needs. It also seeks to establish a community spirit with communal facilities such as community halls and all weather sports pitches. However, projects on a similarly large scale such as the Marquess Estate have been plagued by problems and the adverse reception given to the adjacent Dome is not a good start.
Smaller projects such as the Levitt Bernstein CASPAR scheme in Leeds are perhaps the solution. Crescent-shaped on plan it provides clarity for its inhabitants whilst blocking out the noisy ring road to the back of the apartments. Balconies overlooking a courtyard provide potential for community spirit. These apartments are designed for middle-income single people who have the disposable income to make inner city living a viable option. The architectural quality of the scheme has meant that developers are becoming keen in redeveloping the surrounding areas, which is a bonus for the less wealthy inhabitants who already live in the area.
If four million new households are needed in the next twenty years then it seems that the only solution is to regenerate our inner-city areas. High-rise apartment blocks are the obvious solution but it seems more likely that something that combines the adaptability of the Millennium Village with the concept of the CASPAR housing scheme in Leeds is perhaps a more viable alternative.

Neil Monk

This dissertation is a lucid consideration of the need for housing in British cities.

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