Mixed communities, car-free cities and pedestrian apartheid | Brussels Blog

Mixed communities, car-free cities and pedestrian apartheid

posted by on 2nd Jan 2018

Mixed communities, car-free cities and pedestrian apartheid

The “mixed communities” paradigm for housing development aimed to mix poorer people with more affluent neighbours to avoid the problems of large sink estates. It has been central to housing policy for more than a decade. A Parliamentary Select Committee in 2003 reported:

90. Several witnesses drew attention to the mistakes of the 1950s and 1960s when large council estates were built which tended to include high concentrations of poorer households. In its new programme, the Government must avoid creating ghettos by ensuring that different tenures are integrated into new developments. New approaches are required by private developers and housing associations to create mixed tenure schemes.

The decline of council housing

During the 1980s many council estates declined. The rot really set in with Thatcher’s housing policy as Andy Beckett outlined in a Guardian article, The right to buy: the housing crisis that Thatcher built:

“Now revived by David Cameron, the right to buy social housing was a key Conservative policy in the 80s: populist, profitable, and with its disastrous effects yet to come .”

In 2003 Guardian Columnist Amielia Hill described the decline:

‘There’s a new social class now that’s growing up from underneath all the others,’ said Karen Law, from Sheffield’s Manor estate. ‘It’s the underclass. They’re today’s teenagers and they have no future.’ …
‘Twenty years ago, the Manor was considered the crème de la crème of housing estates,’ said Law. ‘Now you can walk round and take your pick of the empty houses, if you can crowbar off the boards from the windows. The council has let this area die.’


The mixed communities policy

I didn’t really want to use this picture to illustrate the contrast between rich poor neighbours because it looks distractingly sleazy but couldn’t find anything appropriate, which I could use without paying copyright fees and/or understanding the copyright status of the image. I would rather have used that brilliant Toffs and Toughs photo.

Against a background of the decline of council housing, the “mixed communities” policies emerged. For example, in the 2009 Fabian pamphlet In the Mix, James Gregory thought we must avoid ‘apartheid cities’ through a policy of mixed communities:

We need to pursue housing mix with real conviction. This means integrating public housing with private housing, not just in special project ‘mixed communities’, but across the full range of our housing stock. Though this kind of mix is currently considered best practice in planning guidelines, it is too often only honoured in the breech.

For some, the policy still has force. In 2016 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Estate Regeneration: Briefing for expert panel was still promoting “mixed communities” :

Mixed tenure has become a key housing policy objective for governments over the last 25 years. In 1993 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a groundbreaking report by David Page warning that housing associations risked repeating the mistakes of the past by building large estates with high child densities and concentrations of vulnerable tenants. Since then the idea that mixed communities deliver better social outcomes than mono-tenure estates has become central to policy on new development and the regeneration of social housing.

The less wealthy residents

Less wealthy residents didn’t necessarily relish mixing with wealthy neighbours, as Catherine Mallinson pointed out in a comment on How the Joseph Rowntree Foundation could do more for the poor

I lived in an “affordable” house with my husband and two children. Both of us parents were on minimum wage. The housing was at The Croft, Heworth Green, not a JRHHT development but it was meant to be affordable according to the conditions of the planning permission. We simply couldn’t afford the rents and the council tax (band E).

Of about 100 houses or flats only about 10 were social housing or part owned. Many of the other neighbours were wealthy. The people in social housing were friendly and we got on together. We did not get to know the wealthy ones and they seemed to look down on us.

We swapped with someone in Tang Hall. Where I live now it is affordable, social and a typical community. It is a neighbourhood where people are on lower incomes or they are students.

Hadrian Avenue – TangHall


Hadrian Avenue – TangHall

Mixed communities treat a symptom of inequality not its cause

Doubts about mixed communities as an effective way to reduce deprivation were in another JRF report by Paul Cheshire in 2007. In Are mixed communities the answer to segregation and poverty? He wrote

This study challenges the belief that mixed communities are an effective way to reduce deprivation and social exclusion…

The author concludes that mixed neighbourhoods treat a symptom of inequality, not its cause, and the problem is poverty and not where people live. He argues that there is evidence that living with similar people – for both rich and poor – can generate some advantages.

Doubts on the mixed communities policy

In 2017 Jane Lewis wrote some Notes for Haringey Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel. She took the following points from Mixed Communities: Gentrification by Stealth?:

Most mixed community policy is one-sided, seldom advocated in wealthier neighbourhoods and as for greater social interaction

(a) there is little evidence that people from diverse backgrounds ‘actually mix’
(b) that physical proximity leads to closer social ties is challenged

Other sources support the lack of social mixing (affirming(a)) but for those who have read Leon Festinger’s Social Pressures in Informal Groups: Study of Human Factors in Housing it is clear that physical proximity can lead to closer social ties (contradicting(b)). Festinger’s informal groups were young men with families, veterans of the Korean War. His detailed work unequivocally showed that friendships were influenced by proximity but his groups were reasonably uniform in nature, a uniformity reminiscent of Catherine Mallinson and neighbours in Tang Hall.

Mixing motorists and non-motorists.

Thankfully, the waning of the mixed communities policy makes it easier to discuss the separate development of motorists and non-motorists.

The damage that car provision makes to communities was noted in Learning from the Past? Growth areas and new communities by Marina Stott, Neil Stott and Colin Wiles:

Don Burrows, of the Neighbourhood Initiatives Foundation – a Telford-based charity that aims to help improve local communities said the original design of some estates had led to many of the problems. “High density large estates with poor amenities, mainly designed for the car not the pedestrian are turning into breeding grounds for petty crime and drug abuse” he said in a BBC report (BBC News 2002).
(My emphasis.)

The benefits to non-motorists from a policy of pedestrian apartheid are enormous. In A parable of four villages, I imagined a very rich Russian Prince, who experimented with two villages one with cars, Motormore, one without, Motorless:

His rules meant that, in all but exceptional cases, if residents in Motorless wanted to own a car they had to move to Motormore or out of the area altogether. The residents of Motormore were allowed to visit the neighbouring village (as was anybody else) but the Prince made sure that, if they came in cars, they drove very slowly and paid a very high fee. The fees were used to lower the rents in Motorless.

The villages developed rather differently. To date Motorless has shops, pubs, a school and buses to the town. Motormore has none of these.. PhD students from the economics department of a nearby university are comparing the difference in the newly-discovered Happiness Index between the residents of the two villages.

Sadiq Kahn plans for Pedestrian Apartheid

(See the previous post Pedestrian Apartheid, a policy of separate developments for non-motorists, where they are separated from motorists.)

In Mayor plans bold new housing & infrastructure around cycling in London, London.gov says

  • Draft London Plan to require a doubling of cycling parking provision in many new developments
  • New housing and offices near public transport links to be required to be car-free
  • Parking provided will be required to support electric or ultra-low emission vehicles
  • Mayor of London says it’s ‘essential’ London continues to reduce its reliance on cars

The Greater London Plan (Draft For Public Consultation, December 2017) specifies tough restrictions on car provisioni in housing. Policy T6(B) says

B Car-free development should be the starting point for all development proposals in places that are (or are planned to be) well-connected by public transport, with developments elsewhere designed to provide the minimum necessary parking (‘car-lite’).

In a press release London.gov explained “New housing and offices near public transport links to be required to be car-free” so unlike other local authorities like e.g. Tameside’s development control :

The developer will normally have to provide fully for the parking demand generated on or near the site of the development, particularly when new buildings are proposed.

Tameside demands that conventional housing has a minimum of 1 car per dwelling for residents plus an additional car space on the drives to houses.

Carlo Ripa di Meana – Car-free cities are cheap to live in.

In 1992, Carlo Ripa di Meana was the European Commission envioronment commissioner who called for cities to be free of cars he said he was ready to become car-less, and so should other city dwellers, to prevent Europe’s cities being choked by the internal combustion engine.
He publicised a study showing that it would cost between 2 and 5 times less to live and work in car-free cities because of the savings people could make in not having cars to buy, park, insure and maintain. That may have Teed up his exit from the European Commission. The Independent reported:

Last month, Carlo Ripa di Meana, the EC environment commissioner, unveiled plans to shift cars out of urban areas. It was a question of making the transition from ‘the car dream to the dream city – the car- less city’ he said. He was even ready to live without his own Alfa Romeo, he added. Sadly, the EC decided it could live without Mr Ripa di Meana, and he is now back home in Rome. The EC environment portfolio is temporarily under the wing of another commissioner – Mr Van Miert.

Victor Gruen invented out of town malls – regretted it – then had a good idea.

In 1954 Victor Gruen designed the first enclosed shopping mall in the United States, which opened in 1956. Wikipedia reports

Because he invented the modern mall, Malcolm Gladwell, writing inThe New Yorker, suggested that “Victor Gruen may well have been the most influential architect of the twentieth century.”[5]

In The father of the American shopping mall hated what he created, Anne Quito says about Gruen:

A socialist who hated cars (“Their threat to human life and health is just as great as the exposed sewer,” he once said), Gruen designed the development with long promenades and parking lots purposely built far away to encourage walking. In drawing Southdale’s original plan, Gruen imagined a medical center, schools and residences, not just a parade of glitzy stores.

It’s 40 years since I read his The heart of our cities, the urban crises: diagnosis and cure but I doubt I will need to correct the following, when I receive the copy I’ve just ordered.:

Victor Gruen, wanted shopping malls to become
places where people could live without cars

What a good idea: combining with Sadiq Kahn’s policy of non-motorist housing near transport hubs with Gruen’s non-motorist additions to out of town shopping malls. Here’s a good location


  • The mixed communities policy didn’t work
  • It treated a symptom of inequality not its cause
  • London plans car-free housing near transport hubs
  • It would be much cheaper to live in car-free cities
  • Car-free housing can be added to shopping malls

Note: “Car Free Cities” and “Pedestrian Apartheid”

There are organisations supporting the idea of car-free cities such as the World Car Free Network. They held a conference, Towards Carfree Cities IX, in York in 2010. The presentations given at the conference are still available. In general, these confirm my impression of the sessions I attended: The main theme was clearing the nuisance of cars from cities with a modest interest reducing carbon emissions and a smaller interest in economic theory.

Of course, I applaud the network and efforts like Carfree.com. They present visions of our cities, usually historic ones, that could become really delightful places to visit and live in. However, I hope the hashtag #PedestrianApartheid can take a wider meaning and point to the development of a disipline that uses economics, climate science and social theory to find pleasant ways of living that don’t destroy the planet.

Postscript: Lynsey Hanley’s Estates: An Intimate History

I should have mentioned this earlier- I have a copy somewhere. It was compelling reading. Here is an excerpt from a review by Blake Morrison in the Guardian

She too feels her heart sink whenever concrete towers or suburban boxes loom into view; she too sees them as “hutches” and “cages”. But having grown up on one estate (near Birmingham) and made her home in another (in east London), she resents the vilification of those who live there – all that sneering at scum, chavs, pikeys and the great unwashed. More importantly, she believes the greatest division between people today isn’t the work they do or what they earn or whether they have children, but the kind of homes they live in. And she wants to understand why being housed by the state has come to be seen as a confession of failure…

It wasn’t just Labour that supported postwar reconstruction. Under Harold Macmillan, 300,000 homes were built every year throughout the 1950s. But quantity was never matched by quality. And soon the fashion shifted towards the building of high-rise flats rather than houses, since it was quicker, easier and less wasteful of space to stack barracks vertically rather than on the ground. Modernist architecture played its part in this, too: Le Corbusier and his peers venerated concrete, and concrete came cheaper than brick. When asked (which was rarely) what kind of property they’d like to live in, most people said a house with a garden.

And this is where Corbusier lived:

Corbusier lived in a house designed by Eileen Gray.






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