Thursday, August 11, 2011

An urbanist interlude.

Note, I'm still trying to get my thoughts together to write more on the #londonriots. I seeded this wiki with links to stories that I find interesting. This is just one of many sporadic thoughts.

I just posted an answer to a thread about the London Riots in a discussion group, pointing out that Tottenham has far more unemployed people than job vacancies.

Without wanting to detract from the seriousness of that problem, I just realised something about Tottenham and my own borough of Hackney - they are basically inner suburbs developed at the end of the 19th century and beginning of 20th, mainly for lower middle-class households who worked in the centre of London or in the industrial belt further out.

Over the last 100 years, these boroughs have been infilled with denser and denser housing due to bombing; slum clearance and social housing and, more recently, gentrification. Now old three-storey houses are converted into multiple apartments; social housing is in the form of blocks typically 6-8 storeys high and there are a few taller blocks of 10-20 storeys.

In other words, the number of people has increased by a fair amount. But there is very little new commercial building. The number of traditional shops probably hasn't increased that much. The land is too expensive to build a shopping centre (they're built further out, mainly on ex-industrial land). You wouldn't be allowed to build a factory here. And it's too far out of the commercial centres of London for anyone to want to build offices.

So here's the question. In addition to all the other economic and political problems, does the urban structure of an inner-suburb like Tottenham or Hackney doom it to an imbalance of jobs and people seeking work? How much does the mismatch of residential locations and work locations within a zoned city act as a drag on creating jobs for people?

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