THE DENSITY MYTH

(from letter to local press June 2018)

As an architect working in the residential sector over the last 30 years I have seen the argument for “high density” used to justify some very destructive redevelopments. At first the justifications seem compelling – we need homes, more people could support more shops and (in theory) other facilities, we use less green land, and “we can provide more affordable housing” (as Urbis are arguing in Bristol).

But in practice these arguments have been used falsely, to justify greed. High rise developments where common areas are mean, amenity space is minimal, and connection to the ground or neighbours limited, have become the new norm. Either expensive, aimed at childless people working long hours or out a lot, or if “affordable”, very unsuited to people with children and ordinary jobs and family networks. Not a “forever home”, for sure. And the biggest con is using the need for affordable housing as an excuse to cram.

The cost of land is linked to what you think you will be able to squeeze on to it.

If we had properly enforced standards about the quality of new homes and the impact on the neighbourhood then densities would generally be limited, and if the amount of affordable housing was also enforced then landowners would have to sell at a price that works for such developments. Better still would be democratic or community ownership of land.

But right now it’s the wild west – if I own a plot I wait till someone gets planning permission for the tallest, meanest scheme they can market, and sell the land to them.

We should not be conned into allowing unaffordable anti-social housing to use up valuable land in our community, which could provide better.

THE DENSITY MYTH

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