A Major Survey of Similar Housing Estates

400 New Council Flats Damp.
1981 Marylebone Mercury, 10 July 1981

There were large tenant protests this year. Thirty houses which were suffering from dampness got a £45,000 facelift, insulation and other, remedial work. There was also a 20% reduction of rates.

At the same time, the Police were concerned about crime levels.

Police constable Bagust said. "The problems of muggings and assault are very common ones. "Its particularly true of the Mozart Estate. There are far too many passages and places to hide."

Over one third of the families on Mozart Estate were waiting for transfers and a Home Beat Policeman was appointed to give some sense of security in a hostile environment.

In 1982 £5 million pounds was allocated for repairs to the estate where another 75 flats had been found to be defective. Twelve fire escape balconies had either defective damp-proof courses, or asphalt deck coverings which allowed water into the flats below. In the 13-19 January 1984 issue, City Limits reported glue sniffing, burglary and muggings on the estate.

‘Utopia on Trial’

In 1985, Alice Coleman's book 'Utopia on Trial' was published. Professor Coleman, an urban geographer with a 'Design Disadvantagement Unit' at King's College, London, had developed a system of grading estates according to ‘disadvantagement factors’. Her argument was that poor design can provoke bad behaviour and vandalism, so creating fear in the neighbourhood.

Her book analyzed the living conditions in 106,520 flats, housing perhaps a quarter of a million people. Estates were examined for litter, graffiti, damage, numbers of children in care, and the presence of urine and faeces in lifts and the surrounding area. She claimed that these statistics can be related directly to differences in the designs of flats and estate layout.  All these factors were graded and graphs were drawn showing how they were interrelated. One wit said to me, "I am pleased to see that the urine curve is statistical and not ballistical."

The survey method was very similar to that used by Booth's investigators when they walked round the same area with Sgt. Hawkins in 1889, nearly a century earlier. The facts were derived from observation; the opinions of experts on the ground; and supplemented by statistics of crime and deprivation. The Coleman survey was even more wide spread, covering the whole country and probably was less subjective, if less fun to read. One misses the acid comments in the Booth notebooks.

The survey concluded that Mozart Estate, six years after completion, was among the worst 4% found in the whole country. In 1889 the Booth notebook had compared Queen's Park with Kensal New Town, greatly to Queen's Park's favour. In 1985, Alice Coleman compared the original houses of Queens Park with the Mozart Estate. Today both estates are managed from the same local office, so there was no difference in management quality. A table compared the maintenance and repair cost per flat/house for housing officers, caretakers, graffiti removal and vandalism. A Queen's Park house cost £15,50 per annum to maintain, while a Mozart Estate flat cost a staggering £219, 30 - over thirteen times as much. This is conclusive proof that bad building design can affect behaviour, maintenance costs and the general contentment of people living on the estate.




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Updated March 15, 2011