Convenience and affordability trump community in London’s new ‘high density’ housing developments

We still need to work on community-building within individual developments, and on knitting the schemes into surrounding neighbourhoods.
- Kath Scanlon
Flats 747 x 560

Transport links and affordability take precedence over sense of community when residents decide to live in London’s new high-density housing, according to a new LSE report. 

Researchers surveyed over 500 residents in 14 high-density housing developments in London, including 11 recent developments and three historic ones. Increasing the density of housing is now a key aim for London’s development over the next decade. This research sought to understand the experience of existing high-density residents so as to provoke discussion and inform best practice for the future of housing in London.

Overall, nearly 70 per cent of respondents said transport links were an important factor in choosing their new homes. Other major factors were price (43 per cent) and liking the neighbourhood (33 per cent). In general, considerations such as being close to family and friends were well down their list of criteria for choosing a home.

The high proportion of private tenants —many of whom stay for relatively short periods--was often perceived as obstructing community building. In contrast, the older schemes – particularly the Tachbrook Estate in Westminster with its stable population of long-term tenants – generally reported a stronger sense of community. A number of respondents in the new schemes – who were mostly young and childless – said they had no interest in being part of a community based on where they lived. Their social networks were located elsewhere.  Kath Scanlon, Deputy Director of LSE London and co-author of the report, said: “Our research clearly shows that the mere fact of living in close proximity to others in newer developments does not on its own create a sense of community.’

In all new schemes, most residents were under the age of 40 and childless. Some 13 per cent of households who responded to the researchers’ survey had children living at home. This compares with 31 per cent of all London households.

Respondents were likely to know their neighbours if they had lived in the same place for a long time and/or if they had children. Only six per cent of households with children said they knew nobody else in their development versus 32 per cent of households without children.

Many respondents said influxes of residents moving into major new schemes had put local infrastructure and services under strain, leading to overcrowding at tube stations, difficulty getting a GP appointment and schools being at full capacity. Some respondents reported tension between the typically ‘young professional’ occupants of new developments and existing residents in working class neighbourhoods.

On the whole, residents thought their flats were good homes. Pluses included good views, a feeling of safety and good communal amenities.  About two-thirds said they planned to remain in their developments for a number of years—although many said they would prefer to live in a house with a garden if they eventually had children.  Respondents identified three endemic physical shortcomings in the new schemes: lack of storage, noise and overheating.

Kath Scanlon said: “The largest developments we studied house thousands of people and are more populous than many English villages. On the whole we found that most residents were satisfied with their high-density homes, with 63 per cent saying they planned to remain a resident for a number of years. This is remarkable given how alien some of these blocks would be to most people in the UK.

“We still need to work on community-building within individual developments, however, and on knitting the schemes into surrounding neighbourhoods.  And improvements in infrastructure and services should arrive in local areas with the new residents, not years later.”

The report is the culmination of a three-year research project, jointly led by the research groups LSE London and LSE Cities, with support from the Greater London Authority and LSE’s Knowledge Exchange and Impact fund.

Living in a denser London: How residents see their homes is by Fanny Blanc, Kath Scanlon and Tim White.

Behind the article

The study looked at developments with more than 100 dwellings per hectare.

The developments the researchers looked at were: Strata SE1 in Southwark; Stratford Halo in Newham; East Village in Newham; Hale Village in Haringey; Woodberry Down in Hackney; Lanterns Court in Tower Hamlets; Pembury Circus in Hackney; Thurston Point in Lewisham; Barking Central in Barking & Dagenham; Greenwich Creekside in Greenwich; Woolwich Central in Greenwich; and Millbank Estate, Tachbrook Estate and Lillington and Longmore Gardens which are all in Westminster.