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.