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The Housing Crisis - A Visual Essay: Mini Write up

Written back in 2016, this visual essay explores different contributing factors towards the housing crisis through looking at examples of estates sold onto the private market as well as looking at the impact theorists have had towards the housing crisis.

Image Caption: Stills from the BBC documentary ‘The Writing on the Wall’. Images reproduced from Remaking London: Decline and Regeneration in Urban Culture (2013) by Ben Campkin. (Images from the Housing Crisis - A visual essay)

Beginning with a short story outlining an event involving a debate around the housing crisis, heavily focused around the demolition of estates and social clearances. Kate McIntosh, a well known modernist architecture got up to speak about her "about her experience of designing South London’s landmark Dawson’s Heights in the 1960s and the success of recent community projects in bringing North London’s once troubled Broadwater Farm Estate together" (Minton, Pace and Williams, 2016) To which she begins to breakdown due to the heartbreak of this community being torn apart.

Further on in the essay we hear about the privatisation of Balfron Tower "with the entire block sold on the private market, after every single one of the 146 interiors is stripped out and reconfigured in a manner deemed more appealing to investors." (Minton, Pace and Williams, 2016) They further go on to explain that they retained the image of the modernist imagery of the landscape, implying that there is a level of fetishization around modernist architecture but only when made for the middle class or those who can afford to buy/rent on the private market.

Image Caption - Left to right: The Aylesbury Estate, The Heygate Estate, The Barbican

Very similarly this also appears to be the case with brutalist estates, an example of this would be both the Heygate Estates and more recently the Aylesbury Estates which have both experienced demolition due to them being seen as 'sink estates'. However an estate like the Barbican with very similar architecture is seen almost like a tourist spot due to the fetishization of the brutalist architecture. The key difference between the Barbican and the Heygate/Aylesbury is that the Barbican houses 2,014 houses affluent City professionals with no social rented properties, however the Heygate and the Aylesbury were both council properties with the Heygate made up of 1214 flats and the Aylesbury - 2,704 flats. A key point to draw on from this is that many of the Heygate and Aylesbury Estate residents were working class, BAME locals whose lives were in Elephant and Castle, however have now been displaced across and outside of Southwark. It is important to keep questioning why these estates were 'sink estates', yet the Barbican isn't despite the similarities in architecture.

To follow on from this we begin to question what is and is not "public space", and why is it that space that was public is being allowed to turn into private space that still feels public. One of the key reasons that Southwark Council are struggling to build more properties is due to land often being 'private space' which means the council cannot use it to build on. Modernism had led to public places creating "a feeling of wonder at the usefulness and grace of a space designed for collective use and public benefit" (Minton, Pace and Williams, 2016) Yet now, these collective spaces which often provided a real sense of community, are being privatised - creating soulless, empty, shiny new buildings in their place. "The desire to tear down one of the pillars of the post-war welfare state which was the notion of decent housing for all" (Minton, Pace and Williams, 2016) reflects the discontent for social rented housing alongside the destruction of community. Although not utopic for many these post-war estates are home.

The move from public to private in housing really stemmed from Margret Thatcher's 'right to buy' scheme which triggered the council housing system to implode, for example "since 1980 1,843,830 council homes have been sold through the right to buy in England, 16% of these have been in London" (Lees and White, 2019). From this point onwards its almost seen as distasteful to be in council housing, creating a stigma around living in social rented properties. The origin of this sentiment could've come from Oscar Newman's ideas around US public housing where he concluded "that tower blocks produced crime and should be knocked down and replaced with low rise housing where private territories and boundaries could be marked out"(Minton, Pace and Williams, 2016) Further driving this idea that there is a need for private space, which would magically fix the problems supposedly caused by the tower blocks.

Newman's neoliberal views were taken up by Alice Coleman (who became Thatcher's adviser) and were picked up in the UK in the 1980s which correlates with the time that the Right to Buy Scheme was introduced. Although both Coleman and Newman do not argue for the end of social housing, they ultimately end up promoting a shift towards private housing by "undermining the idea of decent housing for people on lower incomes by linking it indelibly with urban decay"(Minton, Pace and Williams, 2016). Consequent of Newman's theory 'Secure by Design' was introduced "which is effectively a private-public partnership between the police and the private security industry" which encourages higher levels of policing through means like CCTV as well as more security becoming a condition on planning permission. The issue that lies with the 'Secure by Design' is that it labels poorer areas as needing more security through suggesting that they're more likely to be criminals "the consequent is that deprived parts of Britain are talking on almost militarised feel which feels alienating and intimidating" (Minton, Pace and Williams, 2016)

Furthermore this has "paralleled the privatisation and marginalisation of social housing with the result that there are estates which are heavily defended places with high concentrations of poverty and unemployment" effectively labelling social housing as places that would be more likely to be places experiencing levels of crime again contributing to the 'sink estate' idea which is an unjustified expression.


Lees, L. and White, H., 2019. The social cleansing of London council estates: everyday experiences of ‘accumulative dispossession’. Housing Studies, 35(10), pp.1701-1722.

Minton, A., Pace, M. and Williams, H., 2016. The housing crisis. City, 20(2), pp.256-270.

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