Right now, I’m settled in a well-constructed, peaceful block which is managed humanely and efficiently rather than for profit alone. I love it here, I really do - this flat has been a refuge. Despite my affection for Nice Heights, it must be said that even here, there is one aspect of its design that is found wanting.
Nice Heights exemplifies the nature of property’s most exclusive luxury: space. Contemporary flats are tiny. It’s hard to obtain accurate figures, but urban newbuilds can be as small as 45 sq metres (I suspect the worst examples are even smaller.) Nice Heights seems fine until a few visitors arrive, and highlight the deficiency. There is no internal corridor. The bathroom door opens out onto the eating area (dining room? Don’t be daft.) When I start flat-hunting again, top of my wish list is separate rooms, and more space.
The obsession with cramming people into low-rise blocks seems to be the result of ill-founded assumptions, fatally combined with a crushing lack of ambition. Low rise? It’s just how things are. There is a solution to this problem: we must build higher.
Unfortunately, the terrible fires in South London recently have stalled a growing campaign for taller buildings. There did seem to be safety problems in those particular blocks, but even a building that touches the clouds - if properly designed - will be as safe as well… houses. Safety is often a management concern though: as I’ve said before, Dovecot Towers had no fire assembly point, and we never had a fire-drill.
Apart from that, why are we so reluctant to build higher? Surely it would eradicate the argument for the little boxes foisted upon buy-to-let tenants? There’d be fire escapes and lifts at either end, and also in the middle of the building. It’s good business to use a low rise footprint for a taller building, allowing greater space for renters, who stay longer, meaning less voids for landlords, who would also benefit.
Increased height would accommodate everything I dream of, like storage space and generously proportioned rooms - even open-plan living is fine with enough space. We’d have bedrooms large enough to double as studies, with a desk and shelves (built into in a niche?) Or perhaps a separate study, and a terrace that’s a proper outdoor room, with space to dry washing, and enjoy the view. Gardens would allow for children’s playgrounds. We’d have rented homes for life in an urban suburb in the sky, with plants creeping up the outside in a vertical garden.
The circle has turned, and vertiginous living is now entirely the domain of rich owner occupiers. The over-lords of the sky-kingdom enjoy vast eyries, peering out between the branches of imported olive groves, glancing down at the poor creatures condemned to remain in orange, low-rise hell-holes. It used to be the other way around: landless, tenant proles housed in stacks of dilapidated council blocks, the very same blocks that in some cases were refurbished to make luxury apartments. How did we get from there to here?
(NB: Regular readers might like to know, I will now be posting on different days, and slightly more often.)