Brockley's reckoning

BC regularly argues that increasing Lewisham's population density is not just a necessary evil but a good thing. It's not just about doing our fair share to accommodate London's growing population, but about harnessing the energy and wealth that new people bring.

Analysis by The Economist suggests that increasing urban density is an important way of cutting violent crime in the UK. 

Firstly, it reports that London's population growth has been replicated in major cities across the country:

Big cities that were shedding people a decade ago are growing at a terrific rate. London has been swelling since the late 1980s, but its rate of growth has increased sharply. All eight of England’s “core” cities outside the capital have expanded, whereas only one—Leeds, in West Yorkshire—grew even slightly between 1991 and 2001... Not so long ago [Manchester] city centre housed a few hundred people. Now it holds perhaps 15,000-20,000, as students and professionals have moved in droves into converted warehouses and factories... 

But as Sir Howard Bernstein, Manchester’s long-serving chief executive, points out, to thrive a city needs to attract “aspirational” families. Decent family homes are still in short supply—as are decent schools. Britain’s cities flourished during its long economic boom. But many were boosted by public-sector job growth, now over, and may be losing steam. 

Secondly, in a separate article, it shows that gun crime and violent crime have been falling steadily over the same decade, and suggests that increasing urban density may be one of the direct causes of this fall.

The number of firearms offences recorded by police is at its lowest level this millennium. Last year 39 people died from gunshots, down from 96 a decade earlier. This is not just because of better medicine; the number of people entering hospital accident and emergency departments with gunshot wounds has also dropped, from 1,370 in 2003 to 972 last year. Violence in general is dropping. But the fall in gun crime is especially steep...

Finally, there are more law-abiding people around. Moss Side, once one of Manchester’s most notorious districts for gun crime, has become strikingly more peaceful recently. It also has many more inhabitants, lots of them immigrants. George Kelling, an American criminologist who helped devise the “broken windows” theory, reckons that hollowed-out inner cities are particularly vulnerable to violent criminals, partly because there are few people to push the police to take action. Repopulation has helped cut crime rates in New York, he says. The same may be true of Britain’s mean streets. 

Lewisham protestors often object that increasing density reduces quality of life for existing residents. We argue the opposite.

Well-designed high-density development (sometimes high-rise, always filling in brownfield sites), accompanied by new education, health, transport and leisure facilities (paid for by the influx of Council Tax payers and S106 windfalls) improves all of our lives. As Brockley's population has risen, the place has got nicer, livelier and safer.

Instead of building Gotham,we are building Metropolis.

54 comments:

kolp said...

you forgot to add "snobbier"

Anonymous said...

I thought we were meant to be building Jerusalem, or is everyone over that following the absolute shower I witnessed on Sunday night?

Robert said...

I agree, to an extent.

Jane Jacobs wrote that city planning "has been emotionally based on a glum reluctance to accept city concentrations of people as desirable, and this negative emotion about city concentrations of people has helped deaden planning intellectually." She was a strong advocate of higher densities in cities, as high concentrations of people can bring diversity and a strong local economy.

However, she was writing about American cities. London has evolved in in a very different way. We need to be careful to blend a reasonable level of higher density and the benefit that this brings, without throwing out the low-rise scattered/garden city approach that has also made London such a great place to live - and gives it a particular character. We are used to living this way - and that's quite important I think.

* Jane Jacobs wrote an influential book on city planning in the fifties called "The Life and Death of American Cities".

Kettle to Pot said...

FFS Kolp - you seem to be very snobby about the type of people you want in Brockley!

kolp said...

I didn't exclude myself?

Its somewhat of a fault i'm admitting to.

michael said...

I think there may be confusion here between cause and effect.
More people are willing to live in cities as crime falls. More people does not necessarily lead to a fall in crime.

Well-designed high-density development is great. Tell me when you see some that is affordable.

It takes two said...

@ Michael

Dont you think its possible that the two are interdependant?

Brockley Nick said...

Yes, I'm sure it's a virtuous circle.

Cllr Mike Harris said...

I totally agree. Although I tried to argue this at a public meeting on the Loampit Vale development and got 90 minutes of grief for it..!

Robert said...

Cllr Mike.
I'm sure you did!

The thing is, Londoner's are used to low-rise: gardens, parks, quiet residential back streets, modest retail high-streets. Also, the first attempts to build high in the fifties and sixties were largely disastrous, leaving a bad taste in the mouth. We interpret high-rise as profit maximisation for developers, not community enhancement. And not surprisingly so. Pyschologically, higher densities are a difficult thing to take, as it goes against what we have come to understand as "the city".

I think architects and developers are going to have to work harder on the blueprint if they are going to convince Londoners of the benefits of closely packed residential hi-rises.

Loampit Vale falls a long way short of the mark.

Anonymous said...

Nice family houses in Brockley are unaffordable, build more houses.

Bungle said...

As long as it means an increased density of people who work and pay taxes/obey laws, I'm all for it.

If it means yet more feckless, lawless fools, I cannot agree with you.

Anonymous said...

I've just had things thrown at me whilst walking through Cornmill Gardens this afternoon, minding my own business, by children from the surrounding high density estate, whilst their parents looked on. When I turned round to go home, as I was hurt, no one came over to see if I was ok, but I was encircled by more children on rollerskates. Am I supposed to feel grateful that this wasn't gun crime?

Anonymous said...

If it's high density living you want, Nick, why don't you hand the end of your garden over to the developers.

Anonymous said...

"Lewisham protestors often object that increasing density reduces quality of life for existing residents. We argue the opposite.”

‘Protestors’ - ? - argue that increased density that encroaches on them ‘reduces quality of life’. Density sited sensibly doesn’t.

How can you argue with that, or even twist it?

“Well-designed high-density development (sometimes high-rise, always filling in brownfield sites), accompanied by new education, health, transport and leisure facilities (paid for by the influx of Council Tax payers and S106 windfalls) improves all of our lives. As Brockley's population has risen, the place has got nicer, livelier and safer.”

As a different class has moved in it has called for and actively lobbied for change; evident in recent closures. But it is the type of person that has brought about the change, and not its number.

You Nick are that type of person, and it is (sometimes) to your great credit.

“Instead of building Gotham,we are building Metropolis. “

Perish the thought that that Bat Sign should be raised above Hilly Fields.

But if it’s the Metropolis you want… why not move to Zone 1 rather than "Zone One" Brockley?

Brockley Nick said...

"Protestors’ - ? - argue that increased density that encroaches on them ‘reduces quality of life’. Density sited sensibly doesn’t. How can you argue with that, or even twist it?"

Sorry, but I rarely see that degree of subtlety in local argument. Mostly it's "Lewisham's full-up", "We don't want to be Croydon!", etc

If there are people happy to acknowledge that density can be beneficial and there is plenty of scope for high-density development in the borough, that's great. I was not referring to those people.

"But it is the type of person that has brought about the change, and not its number."

Sure, a good mix of people is really important / beneficial. But the point is that the evidence / experts suggest that sheer numbers also plays a role.

"But if it’s the Metropolis you want… why not move to Zone 1 rather than "Zone One" Brockley?"

Because I like Brockley and my family is in SE London. But I moved to Brockley in part because it was pretty central and urban. Besides, I am not particualarly arguing for any great change to the area, just suggesting that there are plenty of reasons to welcome the gradual increase in density. I live nearby The Tea Factory, the developments on Mantle Road, the Martins Yard development, the new stuff on Malpas Road and the new homes being built on Geoffrey Road. I believe the cumulative effect of all of these projects has been and will be beneficial.

Jeremy said...

I didn't move to Brockley from Hertfordshire to live near riff raff. I am aghast at the idea of high density flats near my three storey Victorian house, bought for a song 10 years ago before whitie ventured south of the river, and now worth 800k.


max said...

I think that saying that Croydon sucks is a fair comment.
Supporters of higher density as a welcome trend should welcome the challenge and explain how Lewisham 2.0 will not be like Croydon.
And the developments around Brockley don't go anywhere near the scale of those around Lewisham Station where that risk lies.

I think that size matters, there must be a golden ratio somewhere.

terrencetrentderby said...

lewisham is a big golden shower

Brockley Nick said...

"Supporters of higher density as a welcome trend should welcome the challenge and explain how Lewisham 2.0 will not be like Croydon."

Funnily enough, I did: http://bit.ly/Oh3XKA

Croydon's story is as relevant to Lewisham's as New York's is - which is to say, not very.

Croydon's problem is that it was a place designed and built for cars first and for people second. I suspect its centre is lower-density than Brockley's. It has tall buildings, but they are nearly all office blocks and retail units.

terrencetrentderby said...

but does brockley have an argos? croydon does.

brockley does have more wetherspoons per capita though.

max said...

Fair point on the Croydon parallel - it's a bunch of office blocks.

Anonymous said...

Nick, do you speak from the lofty but cramped heights of a high-density high-rise, and feel you put up with it so everyone else should, or do you live in a nice Victorian semi but don't think that's a luxury everyine should aspire to?

I've never found an architect or town planner, who are the most enthusaitic people bar you for this type of eyesore, who actually lives in one.

Anonymous said...

"Well-designed high-density development (sometimes high-rise, always filling in brownfield sites), accompanied by new education, health, transport and leisure facilities (paid for by the influx of Council Tax payers..."

How is this possible when empty spaces are extremely limited.

How can new facilities be built when so much is already built on. Where is the space to do this? And new facilities are rarely built so more people have to share existing facilities.

Finally...the phrase 'well-designed'...is rather laughable as it is so often not the case.

Face palm said...

"I've never found an architect or town planner, who are the most enthusaitic people bar you for this type of eyesore, who actually lives in one."

What an utterly ludicrous statement. How many architects have you met? Must be hundreads to be able to extrapolate this demographic rule. The alternative, it's just a bunch of made up stuff.

Anonymous said...

Nick

Your arguments and thoughts sound very similar to the lewisham planner who ruined deptford back in the 60's as shown on the BBC recently. In that show it transpiered that once the houses were destroyed, on a falsehood of them being slums they built high rises and blocks of flats. Funnily lewisham were surprised when none of the locals wanted to move into them and they became some of the worst housing estates in London.

I predict the monstrosity that is the development in Loampit vale will not attract the city types they are banking on and will eventually become another Heygate and Aylesbury estates in say 5 to 10 years.

Mind you all the high rise developments is a nice little cash earner for lewisham in terms of council tax

david said...

Erno Goldfinger the architect behind the Balfron Tower in Poplar and the Trelick Tower in North Kensington famously moved into the Balfron after it opened in the early sixties. Can't remember how long he lived there, but I'm sure other architects and planners pit their living quarters where their mouth is.

There's nothing wrong with tower blocls per se, but the post-war ones were blighted by cheap building materials and poor maintenance. Plus a shift in fashion - whilst Victorian and Georgian architecture appears to remain timeless for the vast majority. New developments should learn from the mistakes of the past.

High density living creates challenges, of course, but I think the interesting thing about this article is also creates benefits - which we might not notice as we complain about the difficulties or, heaven forbid, change.

Facts of life said...

I think everyone needs to take a deep breath.

1) Research based evidence trumps your anecdotes. It is not infallable but it is more rigourous.

2) Victorian terraces converted into flats are the original high density housing.

3) Increasing the population density does not mean razing all of the Victorian and Georgian Villas of Brockley - its taking brownfield sites (i.e. crappy buildings or wasteland) and putting residential buildings on them.

4) The planners need to consider new developments within their surroundings, so as a rule you get the bigger stuff closer to the transport links ie. like the ones that Nick mentioned...

5) Planners dont always get it right (understatement) but condemning any future residential development because of poor historic decisions won't get us anywhere. The alternative is that the bad parts of town / buildings just slowly rot and get worse.

6) To the anon who had stuff thrown at them in Comill Gdns - that sounds terrible but that didn't happen as a result of high density housing.

Anonymous said...

Nobody knows how Loampit Vale + Lewisham Gateway (if it's ever built) will turn out in 10 years time.

However, the aim of using the land around the station, which was/is pretty grotty anyway, to kickstart the revival of Lewisham town centre is a worthy and I think the risk was probably worth taking.

It would have been easy to build a few modern terraces but this is unlikely to have have any kind of transformative impact on the area.

I'm pretty sure this was the thinking of the council + the mayor.

max said...

Apologies for going all Prince Charles but I agree quite a lot with David about the fact that Victorian and Georgian architecture has a somehow timeless feel and that modern architecture has lost much of that appeal.

I like modern architecture but I do feel that it has created a lot of alienating places, the lack of layers of detail and variation in the surfaces of those buildings is the biggest thing that makes them so alien in my opinion.
Old buildings are carriers of craftmen's art, whether it is in the bricklaying or in decorative elements, a lot of modern architecture deplys large flat surfaces and they don't relate well to the human scale.

TheManorMilitia said...

The problem with your assertions, Nick, is high density leads to encroachment.

As is the case in Ashby Mews, where you and Brockley Society are championing live/work units - residential via the back door, and for the wealthy.

All when and good to live in an nice air-fairy neighbourhood, but it does not take into account the intrusion onto the lives of those who live in Manor Avenue and Upper Brockley Road.

An easy decision perhaps if it doesn't effect you.

david said...

I'm going to clarify my comments regarding Victorian and Georgian architecture. I think the examples around Brockley are superb examples of the type hence they remain desirable. As would, for sake of argument, a brilliant 20s art deco or Bauhaus example. The crappy, poorly built examples have, in the main, been demolished. Poor quality housing and dodgy developer decisions were not just a post-war problem. Anything new which wishes to last - or we as the residents wish to last - needs to get over a higher quality threshold than is often used.

Regarding encroachment on living space, ManorMilitia, I know what your saying but it's not just about residential land use. The argument for higher density living is it makes services and businesses more viable thus, potentially, improving the overall area. New transport links, more bars, cafes, pubs, places to eat and so on all become more feasible the greater and more diverse population.

(Yes, it also creates challenges, but I think the benefits outweigh the problems - and for the record, I rent a one bed flat)

Brockley Nick said...

First, for the sake of clarity, this is not an article about types of building, it's about numbers of people. I specifically said that high density was not necessarily about high rise. There are lots of ways of achieving high density, starting with filling in the gaps (of which there are many in the borough). Mansion Blocks (like Maida Vale) and large Victorian houses that are subdivided (like Brockley conservation area) are high density and seem pretty popular. The replacement for the Ferrier Estate is much lower rise, but higher density.

@Anon "Nick Your arguments and thoughts sound very similar to the lewisham planner who ruined deptford back in the 60's as shown on the BBC recently."

No, they don't. I am not arguing in favour of knocking anything down. I'm not arguing in favour of any particular type of development.

@TMM - "The problem with your assertions, Nick, is high density leads to encroachment. As is the case in Ashby Mews, where you and Brockley Society are championing live/work units - residential via the back door, and for the wealthy."

Encroachment's an issue, sure. So you have to judge each development on its merits. If you're not prepared to have any kind of encroachment, then you need to live in the middle of an empty field. I personally don't mind being "overlooked". Let them look if they want. I like to know that lives are being lived in parallel to my own. To feel part of a buzzy city.

As for my alleged support for the Ashby Mews development - really? Where? When have I even covered it, let alone argued for it?

I will cover it one day. Until then, you are just making stuff up.

Blah di blah... said...

Ah...Manormalitia suggesting a Class War purge, very 6th form revolutionary. Bit of a inherent 'problem'. For SE4 to remain cheap it has to be an unattractive place to live, should we restict development to only the already 'airy fairy' places? the poor don't want nice shops and want to remain living in a poor ghetto... apparently.

Also, until the proletariat awake from their slumber, councils provide sevices especially to those who need extra help. Central government are cutting their subsidy, they don't see a role for themselves in moving a little wealth around. So Lewisham NEEDS to have a mixed income with high and middle earners to pay local taxes and draw on them less so that they can contuinue to support meals on wheels, schools and the remaining libraries where ManorMalita poors over obscure anarchist texts.

London is mixed, ratially and economically - at least more so than some other countries. It's healthy, it's inclusive, it breaks down suspicion, it's healthy.

In addition, the victorian terraces here (i live in one, i know) are bog standard mass housing from the late 19th and 20th Centuary. Nothing special, the poor housing that was built then has fallen or been pulled down so obviously the stuff thats left is better. Doesnt mean that the victorians had some special apptitude for town planning.

max said...

Nick, I understand your point about densification and safety, and I think it's impossible to disagree that it's normally safer when there are more people around than when there are fewer.
But you're also lumping two different types of densification together.

On the one hand there's an slow organic growth by filling in available spaces across established neighbourhoods, the other is the creation of large developments from scratch. The results, the challenges and the risks are completely different.

A block of 8 flats in the leafy Brockley Mews is a very distant relative of the Lewisham Gateway and considerations about increase in safety are much more important for the Mews than for the Lewisham Gateway/Loampit Vale/Thurston Road behemoth.

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering about the leases in the new flats in Loampit Vale. Are they for 99 years? Does anyone think they'll still be there in 99 years?

Deep breaths people said...

@Max

I think you need to re-read Nick's posts - he is not advocating a particular style of building. The comments are about how higher density (whether it be high rise, low rise, organic infill or large redevlopment sites can have positive outcomes which may come as a surprise to some (evidently it has).

As always planners need to asses each proposal on its merits...

Anonymous said...

High rise developments in central .Lewisham are fine if they lead to reduced demand from developers to convert nice family homes into horrible cramped badly designed flats.

However Lewisham's aspiration to become a densely packed commuter suburb is ill-conceived. There is little room for the additional parks and open-air recreational facilities these additional residents need. There is no room at all, given Lewisham's current policies on parking provision, for the cars they have. There is little or no capacity in the transport infrastructure for all these people to commute into London. All this leads to more pressure on existing residents, who might feel a little safer (really?) - but that hardly compensates for the disadvantages.

If London needs further population expansion, and I question whether It does, it should be into the green belt. If it doesn't need the expansion then policy should be to discourage people from moving into London and encouraging moves to other UK cities.

Brockley Nick said...

Disagree with that last post entirely. Both its assertions (eg: that Lewisham desires to become a densely packed commuter suburb and that there has been no new transport infrastructure) and its conclusions (eg: that we should bulldoze the greenbelt instead) are wrong.

max said...

Well, thousands of flats in a rather small area around a station may suggest that a densely packed commuter suburb is what's intended for that part of the borough.

Ed Waller said...

Yes increasing population density is not about high rise but mostly about good design. Kensington & Chelsea is UK highest density borough- but not especially high rise but quite well designed. Perhaps this is what makes it such a sought after borough?
Regarding crime the figures are definitely onto something about pop density. The theory that an individual's behaviour is partly informed by the behaviour of those around him/her. I would say the higher the local population the less likely that deviant behaviour will be accepted and tolerated ie. impact on the individual.
Though of course the theory does not probably not go as far as to prevent gang shootings..

max said...

Perhaps this is what makes it such a sought after borough?

Perhaps not, I think it's just gravity. Kensington and Chelsea is part of central London, Lewisham essentially exists because there are transports going there.

TheManorMilitia said...

@brockleynick: “As for my alleged support for the Ashby Mews development - really? Where? When have I even covered it, let alone argued for it? I will cover it one day. Until then, you are just making stuff up.”

Making ‘stuff up’?

“Pick your way down the cratered [Ashby] mews, past charred workshops, overflowing skips and one, immaculately-kept home, to find this excellent graffiti.
Posted by Brockley Nick 29-06-2009

“Construction work in Brockley's historic mews is controversial, because it arguably changes the area's character by removing green, leafy space and increasing population density. There are quite a few similar sites in the conservation area which could be used for property development. On the one hand, London needs more affordable homes; but on the other hand, should we destroy the area's historic mews to create it?
What do BC readers think?” 29.8.09
------

“I'm certainly in favour of preserving our mews and the following is not meant to be an endorsement of these particular plans, which I haven't looked at in detail..
However, Ashby Mews is about as far from a leafy green space as is imaginable. It's a war zone of craters, embers, rubble and rubbish. A major part of the problem with some of Brockley's mews seems to be that few people use them other than rogue businesses, with no respect for the people living nearby. If there were a few more homes, the residents would perhaps be able to police the mews more effectively. The performance of the authorities in policing our mews has been abject. Imagine if Ashby Mews was a place where people lived and cared for their immediate surroundings - it could be a place that you could walk down without having to watch where you trod.”
Brockley Nick said... 29 August 2009 12:30

“In BC's view, the mews are an amazing, underused, often abused, resource. Any ideas to develop them sensitively should be considered, including some limited residential and commercial use. Brockley Nick 23-3-12.

Like I said: 'making it up?'

Brockley Nick said...

The 2009 proposals those quotes refer to are not the ones you are talking about now, about which I have not written.

The rest of your quotes are about the general point, which is that the mews are an underused local resource.

But you've reminded me that I should write about it, so I will. Who knows, I might even think the plans are good!

TheManorMilitia said...

with respect that's not what you said.

This is what you did say:

“As for my alleged support for the Ashby Mews development - really? Where? When have I even covered it, let alone argued for it? I will cover it one day. Until then, you are just making stuff up.”

Clearly statements made in 2009 and 2012 record that you support (have supported) residential in Ashby Mews, and other mews sites too. (Though why you claim to not have seen the latest plans is odd.)

By the way, Ashby Mews is a private road, owned by freeholders, some of whom are businesses - and the public as no right of way other than access to these businessses or freeholder properties.

Brockley Nick said...

@TMM - I haven't seen the plans because no one sent them to me and I haven't got around to looking at them on the Council website. I will try to look at them tonight.

Short attention span said...

Bimey, TMM writes SO MANY WORDS! Why can't the flat earthers be more breif?

TheManorMilitia said...

SHORT ATTENTION: They are not my words. Most of them were Nicks.

@Nick. I have to say that I am not against high-density, in the right place and the right kind. Yes it will make Brockey a more viable place - hopefully viable for all though.

The high-rise developments near Lewisham Station and Deptford Bridge have brought a lot of money to the public purse via Section 106

The Deptford developer paid nearly 4 million to the council or infrastructure; which is not to be laughed at. This is then passed on to the buyer, so I have no problem with that.

In addition to the affordable housing within the package, who would?

Anonymous said...

Brockley Nick:

Anon didn't say no investment in transport infrastructure he/she said "little or not capacity in the transport infrastructure". You only have to try to get on a train at Brockley or New Cross Gate to realise this is true. And the new developments proposed at Convoy's Wharf have no transport infrastructure at all. It is hardly fair to disagree with Anon over something that Anon did not say.

As for the other comment about Lewisham wanting to be a densely packed commuter suburb: have you read the Lewisham LDP? Have you seen the large number of new residential buildings being built? Have you seen anywhere near the equivalent amount of employment space being built? The evidence speaks for itself, no matter how much you may disagree with it.

Tim said...

Themanormilitia clearly has a chip on his/her shoulder. I have to say that if you live in Zone 2, next to a derelict area, sooner or later someone is going to build on it.

TheManorMilitia said...

Tim, on both shoulders.

By the way, the area is not 'derelict'.

Anonymous said...

Nick, am I correct in understanding that your company, Edelman, is the PR company for Barratt Homes:
"Edelman will support the company's sales-related comms work, which includes aspects of corporate reputation around its portfolio and support in terms of execution and sales."
http://www.brandrepublic.com/features/1088330/
I realise you live in and enjoy Brockley, but perhaps you could be more forthcoming about your interest in the reputation of Lewisham Renaissance (Loampit Vale). Or maybe I missed where you explained that.

Brockley Nick said...

@Anon - yes, I've disclosed this on many occasions and whenever I've written about Loampit Vale (which this article is NOT about).

Also, for your information, I maintain a Pinterest board called FULL DISCLOSURE which lists all the clients that I personally work for at any given time. Barratt is not amongst those, fyi. But it's certainly something I mention whenever I have written about Loampit Vale.

See here, by way of example http://bit.ly/P8MPGV

David icke said...

A simple search on the site
http://brockleycentral.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/prime-minister-launches-new-mortgage.html

There you go, you can remove the tin foil hat safe in knowledge that the lizards in the BC bunker are not probing your brain waves.

The irony of an anon insinuating a PR conspiracy is deliciously ironic


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