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Density key to the city - and suburbs

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editorial

The Joseph Rowntree research report warning of the problems we may face if we do not nurture our suburbs is timely, and perhaps less gloomy than it appears at first sight. For what we know about cities is that, by determined action allied to popular choice, it is indeed possible to revive what were previously thought of as derelict areas, incapable of productive re-use. It used to be the inner city where depopulation and industrial decline spelled disaster. But what do we see now? Why, a return to the middle of town (at least in London, where decades of residential decline have now been not just halted, but reversed). We notice that the young like living in the middle of cities, even if their parents don't. We see that once planning authorities accept that redevelopment of redundant buildings for residential and other uses makes more sense than longing for forgotten uses to return, areas revive. Population increases generate their own activity.

Density is the key to this change. Put enough people into a given area, and shops will spring up, economic activity will take place, and you have the prospects of a community growing. The problem for the suburbs is that they are far from dense, increasingly reliant on cars (parking is starting to become a big problem) which of course are used for shopping and commuting, threatening the life of the local centre and local community activities.

If the suburbs are to continue as a lively part of our urban life and culture, it will have to be accepted that intensification of use must not just be allowed, but encouraged, whatever nimby opposition may spring up - and it certainly will. It may be that some of the lessons which the Lord Rogers brownfield group is learning will be as applicable to suburbs as they are to more 'traditional' derelict urban sites. Density will certainly be part of its argument, and it does no harm to remind ourselves that density is as much a sign of rich areas as of poor ones.

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