19sep04: From Mrs Slumby Dweller

There's no place like home

Honest John, be honest
Your lads are dim and crap
They'll knock down solid houses
To put up soulless flats.

Honest John, be honest
You've let history pass you by
You've seen it all in Hull before
You of all should know the score
Don't give us more and more and more
Of dreadful dwellings in the sky.

Slumby Dweller

Auntie Jayne writes:

Dear Mrs Dweller,

Before I get too involved in your subject matter, let me give you some poetic advice. You have managed good rhymes (not so perfect as to be embarrassing) and a good rhythmn that varies just enough and I do like the crescendo in the last stanza. The reader can imagine you standing next to Mr Prescott and shouting in his ear.

It may be asking too much, but I should have preferred some sense of the homeliness of your own home in your own street and the soulessness of most modern "social housing units". And yes, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister does use that term. See, for example, the government's Spending Review 2004: Press Notice 20 "Housing and Sustainable Communities". Unbelievable.

On reflection, I don't think I will discuss your subject matter here - the task is just too great. But I will give a few web references to follow up. The first is for those with a sense of humour. It is from the ODPM's "Creating Sustainable Communities" and concerns "Housing Quality Indicators". It can be found here. It says:

The housing quality indicators are likely to cover the following areas: site issues, vehicle access/ parking, design/ aesthetics, building structure, internal environment, internal accessibility, safety, security, fixtures and fittings, energy efficiency and building maintenance.

There is no social dimension here. These indicators cannot help to measure whether people are likely to have a reasonable relationship with their neighbours or are able to walk to their local shop1. The mechanistic rules of the ODPM's Housing Quality Index echo the 1960s Parker Morris Report on housing quality. It laid down quality standards. These standards were used for the dreadful blocks of flats that were built in the late sixties and early seventies, many of which have been demolished as housing disasters.

As bad, or worse, was the overrun of the slum clearance programme after the war: perfectly good houses were condemned as unfit for human habitation and the owners given a few tens of pounds as the site value. The 1949 plan for York, for example, had many inner urban houses marked for demolition. These desirable properties now fetch between 150,000 and 350,000. From the plans, it appears the planners wanted to replace these houses by flats like those demolished twenty years ago at Quarry Hill, Leeds.

What is the most galling, however, is that it takes today's Sunday Times to bring the current crimes of the ODPM to public attention. Thanks Rupert. It is a pity my friends at www.plannersattheodpm.org.uk (Motto: "Planners frightened of their own shadows?") did not persevere. They had the right idea2.


Note: 1 The effect of architecture on social activity is often called "architectural determinism". It probably reached its height in the early 1980s when Alice Coleman was at the peak of her influence. Certainly, the conventional wisdom is that Alice Coleman took architectural determinism too far (See here). The inside story may be that she was beaten by the politics of the time, academic and otherwise.

Note: 2 Two other related websites are:

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