Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The Pros And Cons Of Dovecot Towers

I moved to Dovecot Towers during a housing panic. It’s far from perfect here and frequently a nightmare. If I was to move, it would be to a similar development with the same troubles, albeit in another part of town. I’d have to pack and find somewhere else, enduring the whole reference/deposit dance. The flat itself would more than likely be identical. And so, trying to be rational and scientific, I have written a list of pros and cons to weight up what I should do. I now have graphs, pie charts, venn diagrams and very white knuckles.

Pros: being near the city. Bars are within lurching distance, and visitors can pop round, casually. It’s like being in Austin Powers, so trendy, hip and happening is it.

Con: being near the city. No community, no neighbourhood, drunken scallies and yobbish, wealthy ‘young professionals’ who vomit on the pavement as they pass my home. Imagining you are being followed home by a ranting drunk to realise it’s actually your neighbour (who’s ranting and drunk).

Pro: being a brownfield development. Dovecot Towers uses derelict waste land instead of paving over rare orchids. Sited on demolished Georgian slums, I am reasonably certain that no dormice were relocated to satisfy my housing needs.

Con: being a brownfield development. Stretched out before me is a magnificent, cascading vista of elegant and majestic building sites, with cranes, obscured by hazy cement dust.

Pro: I never see my neighbours. I wouldn’t enjoy that village mentality, where you can’t buy haemorrhoid cream without everyone knowing, then having nodding acquaintances enquiring after your piles.

Con: I never see my neighbours. If I should die, pigeons could chew the face off my rotting corpse to feed their young, and even then, nobody would know.

Pro: Everything is so close. I don’t need car, and I can walk everywhere, no queues for taxis, or surly bus drivers, no saving change for the ticket machine, or investing in season tickets.

Con: I am always soaking wet, and my shoes are threadbare. I visit suburban friends with a tent and Kendall Mint Cake, just in case (am I over-cautious?) And if I did own a car, there’d be nowhere to park it.

Pro: I don’t have to bother with fitting out my home, as most white goods, a shower etc are already provided.

Cons: The goods provided are second rate, and break down if I have so much as one negative thought about the brand.

Pro: Shops are close by. Luxury goods are within shooting range of my debit card. I can find designer clothes, fashionable accessories, and there’s that chi-chi Farmers Market.

Cons: Balenciaga is within easy reach, but value beans elude me.

Should I put my life in a tailspin? All that turmoil, for more of the same? Life in the city is an acquired taste, but one I have acquired. I can’t imagine living in the suburbs: all that commuting, no Café Nero etc. So here I am, choosing between the rock and the hard place, the frying pan and the fire.


nick said...

How I identify with your blogs! I bought a newbuild "luxury" apartment 3.5 years ago and sold it 3 weeks ago at a 16k loss. Your accounts of life in these appartments only too well reflects the reality of these dwellings. In sheffield the market is utterly flooded with more being built till 2011!

Benjamin said...

Great blog. Just read a few posts on the guardian website.

I wonder how much rent you pay???

To Nick, yes the market is flooded, we need more houses than flats really...

Anonymous said...

A lot of the "cons" you list also apply to owner/occupiers in suburbs, in towns, in villages, everywhere - a lot of the people who live on my road in Birmingham ignore me when I say hello, or react with startled surprise if I smile at them as they scurry to their cars, never to walk along the street.

A lot of the problems you mention have solutions; a lot of them are "social ills" that apply to everyone and are far more difficult to "solve".

The credit crunch will hit the "buy to let" parasites, which as you point out, will end tenancies and result in a lot of heartache. But was it sustainable in the first place? Without adequate regulation of landlords, and more importantly, with morals and principles being so out of fashion, who is to blame them? The market needs correcting. That's what happens when we sign up to a free market. Which is, as we have learnt over the last god knows how many general elections, is what the British public want - so we get what we deserve.

The problem isn't flats, as "benjamin" suggests. We don't like sharing space anymore, which means that only 2.3 people live in each "dwelling" (that's a house, flat, bungalow, whatever). If we were to build the number of houses needed so each of those "units" could live in a house, we'd have no countryside left. I'd love to see how the general public react to that one - remember that the National Trust has well over 3 million members in the UK.

"Flats" are poorly designed and built in the UK, as Renter Girl describes we well. That's because developers want to make a lot of profit. To do that they need to build a lot of units on a small site, as land is so expensive, precisely because we don't like seeing our countryside covered in buildings.

With those profits, developers pay dividends to their shareholders.

Those shareholders include you - not directly, but the banks you bank with (your credit cards, your loans, your current account), the pensions you save with, the insurance companies you have policies with, the profits that the companies you buy things from then go and invest in.

In other words we are all part of the problem. It's far too simplistic to say "oh these developers want so much profit" and then whinge about how expensive things are.

Furthermore, no-one is forcing you to live in a poorly built and designed flat. There are hundreds of decent quality flats and houses out there to rent. I live in one. If renters were more choosy, landlords would have to up their game.

I guess one major cause of the problems you're writing about is greed, purely and simply. We are not encouraged to be moral, caring or serious these days - we have to be hip, and young and independent. just think how hurtful it feels to be called "old", just take a look at facebook to see all the 30 and 40 somethings pretending to be 15.

People confuse charity or compassion with religion, and then think that because they don't believe in a God, that excuses them of being compassionate or charitable or even moral.

As a result, it's now perfectly fine for someone to say "I'm selfish and I'm proud" or "I'm greedy - what's wrong with that?". People equate success with popularity (did you read that Guardan article about the most "succesful facebooker - based on how many "friends" he had?) and with the appearance of wealth - "appearance" is more important than actual wealth, hence the popularity of credit, plastic surgery, fake labels and looking like the Beckhams.

In this vacuous world where people are only interested in money for money's sake, working, getting pissed and enjoying themselves, there is no room for morality, for principles, for decency, for respect or for fulfilment.

I would argue that it is this "trend" that is helping create the poor quality housing you describe, the absentee landlords, the lack of community - look at "nick"'s comments as proof of how people see houses and flats as investments, not homes. Those houses could be shares, or gold bars, or goats - it makes no difference, as long as people capitalise on other people's security and shelter.

The "we need houses not flats" argument is nostalgic and escapist nonsense: we need to grow up, to give as well as demand respect, manners and morality, and we need to remember what it feels to actually like people, rather than the animosity we currently feel towards our fellow human beings.

Kevlin said...

Very interesting blog, nicely written too!

Interesting that the problems you mention have been around for a while. I rented rooms in shared houses (flats were too expensive) in the 80's and had all the problems you mention: dodgy neighbours, greedy and incompetent landlords and shoddy build quality.

Shoddy build quality is a general UK problem, I spent a bit of time in Holland a couple of years ago and was amazed at the good quality of most of the housing in comparison with the UK. Flats were mostly owned by social housing organisations and were properly maintained.

Good luck with everything..


Brennig said...

Hi. Just stumbled on in, hope that's ok.

A friend rents an Urban Splash one-bed flat in Manchester. It's cool design, a neat development and uses space really well. It suits his pocket too - buying isn't an option on his salary.

But walking from his place in to the centre (or even to Duke) means crossing four lanes of traffic in a 'take your life in your hands' kind of way because this brilliant piece of architecture wasn't designed with pedestrian access in mind.

Car? Oh yes, that's a doddle. Walk? Ummm... well you could but... How about a taxi? And I resent paying a licensed bandit - sorry - taxi-driver a sum of money to transport me a distance that I could walk in less than seven minutes. Also... I don't drink and drive - which limits my choices when I visit him.

Cheers anyway,


Anonymous said...

macumbah is a big girl. she lives underground in a sewer tank. she is the cause for all brownfield site. that a big beast!!!!

RenterGirl said...

That last comment is very strange, but I suspect very rude. What a creative way to evade the firewalls in your secure unit!