One result of the Grenfell disaster must be a complete change in attitude to social housing and the people living within it. Grenfell has opened a can of worms, the can is labelled Grenfell Tower but now opened we find the contents be, not the occupants but RBKC, successive governments and a privileged elite. For decades we have been miss sold the notion that poor people are the problem. It is time to turn that notion on its head.
A tower block is a village.
Villages traditionally grew organically in places that were not accidental or random but because of a natural resource or a social need: it may have been a river crossing, a water source, geological or agricultural resources, a major crossroad, a castle, a church, a need for a staging post for weary horses and travellers... The list is endless. As villages grew in size elements arrived to support the needs of the people... The village pump or well, the pub, the baker, the village store, the village hall, the church, the village bobby. These services were provided by enterprising villagers or incomers who themselves became part of the community. Modern transport systems and the out of town superstore have put paid to much of the self sufficiency of small communities but much is still there, most importantly the village green which is sacred.
A tower block is a village.
Through careless planning, disregard for the inhabitants and thoughtlessness over the past 70 years or so these 'villages' have been erected throughout Britain. Villages intentionally created without the infrastructure that would allow soul or character to flourish. Multi story carcass parks.
My Utopian vision:
In my tower block there is:
A village green on the roof, planted with wild flowers, a children's garden, bee hives.
Within the building on a mid level floor that is open plan, a cafe and small kids play area by day then a peaceful meeting place in the evening, perhaps a gallery space too, a place for children birthday parties and the like. A social place, a village pump. This must not be stigmatised by the patronising title of 'community centre'. Multi purpose spaces can work, Westbank Gallery under the Westway is a good example.
A floor for teenagers with a pool table perhaps, a pinball machine, sounds, a soundproofed practice room for the Joe Strummers of the future... Ask them what they want and, within reason, give it to them.
A shop or two.
A women only space, a refuge from men.This is not a modern concept, the W.I has existed for generations.
Four lifts, two stairwells, one built into a central concrete core to act as fire escape.
At ground level, a double height entrance lobby, lots of plate glass to break down the barrier that exists presently in such buildings with their steel doors and blank walls. A 24 hour concierge. A seating/meeting area (in an hotel this would be called the lobby lounge and would be considered essential). Perhaps a small cafe also catering for a seating area outside the building. A lavatory/washroom. I could go on.
My tower will not be clad. It will be painted on a 5 year cycle. The design/colour scheme will be decided by a competition open to all. It will be as dazzling as a honey coloured Cotswold village in its way.
The cost and practicalities. Where is the money going to come from?
Ring fence the council tax and rental income and plough it back into the building and its occupants. Put in place additional subsidies. Scrap Trident.
The services created within the building create jobs. Give those jobs to residents and provide them with training and support if needed.
Treat people with respect and they will invariable reciprocate. Treat people with respect and they will invariably respect their environment.
Regeneration should apply to the occupants as well as the real estate. This applies to all social housing schemes, not just high rise.
Trust me... I'm a dreamer.