Livewire- August 17, 2011

Steven Pope - it could happen here...
Steven Pope - it could happen here...
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By Steve Pope, Blackpool psychotherapist

I have stood within Queens Park tower blocks and it’s a miserable experience. The wind whips along unending concrete walls uniformly grey and permanently damp, stairwells reek of urine and cheap disinfectant, and the smell of rubbish wafts from disposal chutes.

Cleaning up and repainting was never likely to make a difference, save to provide a canvas for graffiti artists. The estate is a grim monument to Britain’s failed post-war experiment in social housing.

The blocks, thankfully, are not long for this world. The council is to replace them with new housing. Most of the residents I’ve met are happy to move to better accommodation elsewhere.

Queens Park is part of a bigger problem. There are many high rises in Lancashire towns, shoddy building standards and inadequate maintenance by impoverished local authorities meaning many are now falling apart.

High-rises bring attendant fears, such as falls, collapse of building, the fact so many strangers share the dwelling, at least the semi-public areas, can lead to fear of crime, perceived lack of social support, abuse with litter, graffiti, rubbish, absence of community, particularly when outsiders may enter a building, and not be questioned because of the sheer numbers coming and going.

The fact high rises have entrances with keys, or access codes, proves this fear exists, and the ultimate safeguard, twitching lace curtains to deter would be thieves and muggers, doesn’t exist, as much of the space is not overlooked, and few cash-strapped councils can afford to employ guards.

There’s even the fear that sheer number in one building increases air and touch-borne flus, and sickness, spread more easily when many share hallway air, door handles and elevator buttons.

Perhaps none of these fears are realistic, but they are salient because many live so close together, and communicate fears verbally or non-verbally.

It costs at least 10 times more to refurbish a block than demolish it.

Tower blocks are only really popular when they are in fashionable areas. They are particularly unsuitable for families. On a psychological level they represent loss of privacy, when blocks are badly built, noise from neighbouring flats intrudes.

Tower blocks are a failed social experiment, a quick fix political decision that has forced people to live in poor housing conditions. The only way is down...