Can a rebuild help social regeneration?
Dr. Mike D’Souza M.D. F.R.C.G.P. F.F.P.H.M. FRSA Diplomas in Immunol. Dermatol. and Management of Drug Misuse
One Norbiton was set up to improve quality of life by developing more integrated and supportive neighborhoods. Here are some ideas on how regeneration might help achieve this mission.
Factors that may be reducing neighbourliness on the present CRE
Some issues like low income, mental and physical Health and high population turnover (1) contribute to our present poor social cohesiveness. Such problems can only be marginally addressed by housing rebuild. However there are others that might well be improved. These include:
(a) lack of security e.g. during the bad weather of 2018, Madingley tower witnessed threatening invasions by the local homeless upsetting families with young children.
(b) Frequent and prolonged lift failure stressful for wheelchair bound disabled and young mothers with buggies.
(c) Substance abuse is a long standing problem and Illicit drug-dealing continues to thrive on CRE and recruit our youth – this problem is aided and abetted by the Estate’s present structure with its long balcony rat-runs facilitating escape from police and providing vantage points for look outs.
These and many other factors, have increased our levels of social stress and have reduced our measurable happiness and health levels well below the rest of Kingston.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of residents are law abiding and things have been steadily improving over the last decade. This is witnessed by the many residents who, on survey, would opt against regeneration or to return if regeneration goes ahead.
A few conceptual Proposals
In my 40 years doing home visits as a GP, I often noticed that some of the most successful and supportive neighbourhoods lived in cul de sacs, an observation that has been shared by others see references (2) and (3)
Therefore I would propose that an early phase of any new structure could be based on making a construction that encouraged characterful neighbourhood formation rather than anonymous “housing units”. Perhaps this could be achieved by making a series of simple cul de sac crescents coming off a central communicating rising curved road. These could incorporate a series of shared public spaces with a central greens and gardens. These could also be play areas where children could play safely while being overlooked by their families and neighbours, (as indeed they are on our existing Madingley Green). The size of each proposed neighbourhood could vary around a target of about 60 dwellings. The proposed curving access roads might also permit individual gardens or balconies to be created on the top of roofs of the houses below rising to quite a high level. The fabric of the buildings would use modern technology that would help both sound-proof and insulate each unit and reduce running costs as well as noise and items like TESLA solar roof tiles and power walls Heat pumps etc. will perhaps be considered to help achieve this.
In the wake of Grenfell, our regeneration could showcase how much we prioritized social regeneration. See Fig 1 for a photo-diagrammatic representation of this idea made from £1 coins each of which represents one helical neighborhood of about 60 dwellings. The engineering costs are reduced, if instead of curves there straight -edged twelve-sided spirals like the modern £1-pound coin). To get 60 units per neighborhood the spiral would only need to rise to five stories, although this would depend on the land area and the stacking of these helical neighbourhoods. Apart from these social advantages such a unique structure could be strikingly attractive with flowering gardens both on both the inner and outer aspects of the buildings
Helical Home Streets
Spiral interconnected stacked neighbourhoods surrounding central communal areas with amenities (18×60 = 1080 units. To create over 2000 units, this overall size of this diagram we would need to be doubled.
The renaming of the Estate and making the design of each phase be recognizably individualized to give character and facilitate visitors finding their way will also need to be addressed. The issue of pepper-potting i.e. integrating social and private housing units as opposed to constructing separate blocks for each type of resident, needs careful consideration.
The Public Domain and other Considerations
Broadening the regeneration footprint?
If it were possible to extend the footprint of the development to include the Cemetery then the living could get more of the benefits currently only enjoyed by the dead.
With proper permissions graves tended by living relatives could be tastefully re-sited perhaps in a modern catacomb. Then considerably more green space could be available as well as better access to our famous Hog’s mill river. One Norbiton did propose this three years ago and some local citizens were asked what they thought of the idea. None objected, however clearly all faith groups should be involved before this could be implemented and provision made for continuing funeral services.
Flexibility of unit size
Planning social housing requires flexibility with regards to the numbers of units and their physical. Certainly gentrification and massive overcrowding must be avoided. By constructing adjoining units in a way that will facilitate their merging, much like Hotel bedrooms, this problem can be addressed. However, soundproofing is a very important issue that must not be compromised. If social housing is to be constructed alongside owner-occupied it is essential that it is not externally identifiable as such.
Transport & Parking
If 2000+ households are to live in the new development, providing car parking space let alone garages for all will be impossible. One suggestion could be to provide no spaces for any one on site but instead instituting a system of electrical vehicles for communal use around the estate that could also be used be by residents access off-site parking.
Shared public spaces and Halls
Each spiral cul-de-sac neighborhood would surround its own green area and share some amenities with other local neighbourhoods. Situated by a central shared garden would be a larger meeting place accommodating sports, halls, performance spaces, crèches etc.
Garden areas and front porches.
Expert input will obviously be sought in designing the public domain but it would be nice if each unit could in addition had their own small garden area or balcony as well as the defensible space of a porch. However care must be taken to avoid carrying the concept of exclusive neighbourhoods too far. The worst scenario being that rival gangs might arise; see the interesting work of Prof. Tajfel.
Other shared facilities
Internet, TV and Monitoring facility for disabled and elderly linked to an experimental on-line voting facilities to assist community decision-making.
1. “Analyzing the two electoral rolls of 2014 and 2017 just for Madingley tower where we work, I found that there was a 23% change in the registered electorate including 3 deaths” M D’Souza 2018.
2.“ Cul-de-sacs may not be quite as popular as they once were but people lucky enough to live on one are the happiest people in Britain, a survey has revealed.
Neighbors on the dead-end streets are more likely to know each-other’s names, enjoy cups of coffee together and lend tools when compared to any other community.
The good life found on a cul-de-sac, long considered the epitome of middle class suburban Britain, is so sought after by homebuyers that people will pay up to 20 per cent more just to secure a property, experts say.”
Daily Mail 2013