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Poverty: demolish sink estates or not?

David Cameron wrote an article today saying that knocking down poor people's homes is how to make their lives better. ("David Cameron vows to 'blitz' poverty by demolishing UK's worst sink estates").

There's a short version of my response to this: go and read Anne Power who's studied housing and regeneration a lot, and has concrete recommendations for the best way to handle all this stuff. Read this article: "Housing and sustainability: demolition or refurbishment?"

I was undecided about all this stuff in 2014 when I went to see the Carpenters Estate protests. If you're not involved, it sort of sounds like a good idea. "Ooh those scary estates. If we knock them down and replace them with shinier ones, that's the neatest way to fix the situation up, and the residents can come back and live in them so they won't be any worse off."

But then you go down to the estates and meet people, and you read about how these regenerations happen in reality, and you realise it's not as neat as that. Firstly, in modern times regeneration usually involves selling off a fraction of the estate for private development, and the community doesn't really get to be rehoused back together, many get scattered to random locations over which they have no choice. Community cohesion is lost, i.e. part of the social fabric that keeps everyone safe. Secondly, demolition has unhelpful side-effects on the area around it (house prices, antisocial stuff, disrepair, local services leaving). Thirdly, there are alternatives to demolition (renovation, infill building) which avoid many of these downsides, are more sustainable, and are good for the local economy because local small-scale builders can do them.

Cameron said three out of four rioters in 2011 came from sink estates. "The riots of 2011 didn’t emerge from within terraced streets or low-rise apartment buildings. The rioters came overwhelmingly from these postwar estates. That’s not a coincidence," he wrote.

David Cameron, your logical fallacy is: False Cause. The people he's talking about are poor and disenfranchised, and that's the common cause of both things. It's the cause of living in the less popular estates, and it's an important cause of the rioting. It's not the shape of the buildings which caused the riots!

The current UK government is acting from a position of strength, and they are really taking their opportunity to make bold moves in the directions they want. Putting money into improving housing can be a good thing - the biggest risk I see is that this initiative will end up pushing poor people out of the way and fragmenting their communities. We can do it better. Read this article: "Housing and sustainability: demolition or refurbishment?"

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