Condominium living is the ultimate in control, from the Congo to Chislehurst
In warning Mike Tyson to 'stay out of Brixton' the Lambeth Council leader, Jim Dickson, was speaking way beyond his authority. Indeed, even boxing promoter Frank Warren, not known for his expertise on civil rights, was able to assure tv viewers that only the courts can restrict the liberty of individuals who have legitimate 'business' in this country - as indeed was Tyson's status, courtesy of our Home Secretary.
Nevertheless, the moral outrage combined with a clear expression of community pride and a desire to control territory, be it a street or a village, a neighbourhood or a borough, touched a common chord in many people.
Indeed, I was amazed by the anger expressed by residents in our street when the police refused a closing order for a street party on the 50th anniversary of VE Day. Never before had such permission been refused. No longer, apparently, can traffic be interrupted even in our quietest streets. Perhaps this is why housebuilders increasingly offer their privatised products in clusters of six or eight dwellings around cul-de-sacs. You know the stuff - paved areas for the Porsches and Mercs, with lawns, shrubs and big executive homes plonked about without any meaningful relationship to one another.
All of which reminds me of the plan of Apa Lelo, a tiny hamlet in what is now northern Zaire. The drawing was produced by anthropologist Colin Turnbull in his book entitled The Forest People, which provides an account of the time he spent in the early 50s living with the Pygmies.
Located in a horseshoe bend of the Lelo, a tributary of the old Congo River, this clearing in the dense forest contained some 20 dwellings - built by the women.
The most serious punishment for those breaching tribal rules was expulsion - devastating because a family's survival depended on the head male retaining a position within an effective hunting group.
Self-rule was the main difference between the organisation of that small Pygmy community in the Congo, and a modern Barrett, Wates or Tarmac housing cluster. For while the general random positioning of dwellings is a feature common to both, the Pygmies have powerful rights of community decision- making which your average accountant or solicitor living in Chislehurst or Chipping Camden simply doesn't enjoy.
Such rights seem to be increasingly in demand. For example, condominium living used to be restricted to apartments within large blocks - you know: concierge, private lobbies and shared gardens, surely found in its most sophisticated form at Lubetkin's Highpoint. Now, however, we see 'condominium housing' being built again - whole areas of private roads serving 'secure' estates that are 'controlled' by road access past a porter's gatehouse.
Such arrangements are more akin to a medieval castle than to contemporary urban living, yet clearly the demand for security and self-management amongst small groups of people is there to be seen. Membership is still, however, governed by the only rules that apply universally in our modern society - you need lots of money to get there, and lots of money to stay.
The rest of us can't choose our neighbours any more than we can stop Mike Tyson or any other allegedly unsavoury character from visiting our town. But those who live in the newly emerging 'closed' estates have gained some level of control over their areas that we normal citizens, thankfully, do not enjoy.
What is clear, however, is that the social organisation of communities is critical. The housebuilders, by taking us back to our primeval roots with their simple planning have, perhaps unwittingly, revealed this. But they have yet to realise that modern architecture and successful communities are not mutually exclusive. And architects must finally learn that it is the organisation of space within such architecture - the extent of, and clear delineation between public and private, and most controversially between semi-private and semi-public space, which is the crucial ingredient of successful residential work in the city.