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editorial

Commenting on the murder of Damilola Taylor, Jack Straw dismissed 'those 'pile 'em high and build 'em cheap' plans for underground car parks, high-level walkways and unlit alleys' as 'bad design'. He was wrong. There is nothing intrinsically 'bad' about highdensity, low-cost housing. Underground parking makes perfect sense in a city where land is in scarce supply.

And as anyone who has visited Hong Kong knows, there is little to touch the exhilaration of being on a high-level walkway with views of the city - provided the experience is not marred by fear.

Straw was right, however, when he went on to describe the way in which such buildings can 'turn the screw and add to the struggle of daily life'. If fear exists, it can be compounded by a hostile environment. And while thoughtless design does not cause crime, it can certainly facilitate it.

The 'tower blocks' which are blamed for so many of society's ills miraculously become sought-after residences when they are located in a desirable neighbourhood and with decent maintenance, good lighting and proper porterage.

The process of the regeneration of Peckham is not simply a case of delivering big jolly libraries. It is essentially about making it a place where a home - whether it happens to be low-rise or high-rise - is desirable. It is grossly unfair to Southwark to underestimate the extent to which the strategy is working, and it is too easy to overlook the fact that it is a generally healthy community in which many people do thrive. The improvements to housing, and the provision of outstanding (and much lauded) public buildings, have done much to boost morale. But it is important to remember that architecture cannot work wonders on its own. It is pointless to imagine that physical regeneration can be effective without attempts to improve other aspects of people's lives.

And while there is never any harm in revisiting the debate about the relationship between the built environment and crime, it would be over-simplistic to use it as an excuse to discredit a particular building type.

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