A much-admired housing estate in Crystal Palace which is under threat of demolition by the local council is open to public view this weekend, to dispel Tory-driven myths of “sink estates”, as part of something called the Open Garden Estates project.
Open Garden Estates is an initiative by Architects for Social Housing (ASH), a collective working to save London council estates from demolition because of government housing policy, the (former) London Mayor’s building programme, local authority estate regeneration schemes and profit-hungry property developers.
This weekend, a dozen estates are taking part, including the threatened Central Hill estate just across the borough boundary in Progress-run Lambeth.
Central Hill was designed by Rosemary Stjernstedt, a pathfinder for women architects. It is an estate of more than 450 homes built between 1966 and 1974 on the slopes that rise near the hill on which the Crystal Palace once stood.
The Grauniad architecture journalist, Rowan Moore, described it thus: “Central Hill drapes itself over its topography, creating both moments of drama and quiet enclaves in the spaces between its buildings. It was laid out so as to preserve handsome trees already on the site, and the heights of its buildings were kept low, so as not to intrude above the tree line. There are no tower blocks here, but more street-like forms that are in some ways better than ordinary streets. The slope is used so that almost every living room benefits from spectacular views towards the centre of London, and cars and pedestrians are separated to make safe places for children to play and neighbours to meet, which they do.”
But Lambeth’s “co-operative” council, they of the despised bookish gyms and responsible for community vandalism at Cressingham Gardens, have their eyes on making millions out of Central Hill’s desirable properties. Under policies developed when the leader of the council at Brixton Town Hall was Steve Reed, Lambeth wants to redevelop the estate so that it can contain 400 additional homes, mostly for private sale, they say to help finance new council flats and the refurbishment of old ones.
Not unreasonably, the existing residents of Central Hill do not see it quite that way, and they suspect the council of selling them out to private developers. As with the Heygate and Aylesbury estates in Southwark, they accuse their supposedly Labour-run local authority of conspiring with developers for social cleansing.
It was resentment over this matter, as much as the library issue, which saw the Progress candidate in what was supposed to be a rock-soild Labour ward almost beaten in the recent Gipsy Hill council by-election.
The organisers of Open Garden Estates say that the weekend’s event “is an opportunity for the public to visit their green areas, communal spaces and private gardens, and dispel the myth of estates as ‘concrete jungles’, home to ‘troubled families’, ‘anti-social behaviour’ and ‘criminals’.”
Geraldine Dening and Simon Elmer of ASH have written, “It is in these terms that the prime minister David Cameron has justified his plan to blitz 100 so-called ‘sink estates’ across England and replace them with Starter Homes that are unaffordable for people on low incomes across 98 per cent of the country. And where the Conservative government has led, London’s predominantly Labour councils have followed.
“Under the guise of regeneration, local authorities find it easier to demolish the estates they wish to redevelop as luxury apartments when – as at the Heygate and Aylesbury estates, to name only the two most notorious examples – they start by denigrating the communities that live in the homes they plan to demolish.
“Open Garden Estates is a much-needed corrective to this widely held but deeply inaccurate characterisation of council housing. Walking tours of participating estates will show how well they have been designed, and allow visitors to meet the strong and socially mixed communities they are home to. The public will have trouble matching the concrete wastelands of popular perception with the green and leafy surroundings of Central Hill. Nor will they find the drug-taking benefit scroungers of Westminster’s feverish imagination. Above all, Open Garden Estates is a chance for residents, local communities and supporters to meet and organise their campaigns to save these estates from becoming another victim of London’s housing crisis.”
In addition to the tours, activities this year across the dozen participating estates include talks by residents, architects and campaigners; barbeque picnics and guerilla gardening; film screenings about estate regeneration; a range of performances, including a puppet show, street orchestra and art workshops; exhibitions of paintings and photographs celebrating estate communities, as well as the architectural designs by ASH to save Central Hill estate.
“The more of us get involved the stronger the message we send,” Dening and Elmer say. “Social housing not social cleansing!”
- For information on how you can take part in Open Garden Estates weekend, click here.
- For more on the Central Hill estate, visit the residents’ website here.
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