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High-rise problems not about design

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Having attended the interesting evening on the merits of residential tower blocks at the Museum of London, I was interested to see the comments of your columnist Paul Hyett on this matter (aj 6.5.99). I wonder if he has ever lived in a tall municipal tower block - most architects haven't, in my experience. If they have, they will know that the problems of high- rise living have little to do with the design concept, but an awful lot to do with the management of the blocks, and the way your neighbours behave.

Hyett accuses Attlee of 'sickening paternalism' simply for saying that he hoped the occupants of a new tower block would be good neighbours. Well, all that proves is that Attlee showed a good deal of common sense in his awareness of what it is that makes or breaks social housing: one bad apple can eventually turn the entire barrel sour.

In a 'normal' housing situation like a street, it is bad enough. But at least anti-social behaviour is to some extent confined to a handful of properties. Unfortunately, in tower blocks the position is very different: the way the lifts are used or abused, the noise levels, rubbish-throwing, etc can all contribute to turning ordinary life into a miserable experience.

You can't force people to behave decently, whatever form of housing they live in, but you can do quite a lot to limit the damage a small minority can cause - ultimately, if it comes to it, by insisting that they leave. And you have to pay special attention to tower blocks because of their design arrangements. It won't do to leave it to chance.

John Ruddock

London W4

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