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How we can make a date with density

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Paul Finch's comments on density (aj 11.2.99) were dead right. Density, as any developer knows, is the engine that drives value and profit. The prospect of profit is the only thing that gets anything built, in the absence of subsidy - which can produce distortions in form that are often actively harmful to long-lasting regeneration - just as too much restriction on what can be developed produces poor architecture because simply getting consent becomes the main object, rather than winning occupiers.

Perniciously, density has been used as a blanket device by planners to control development in the absence of creative thinking. To be fair, it is the toughest and simplest weapon available to hold back the tide of development that can overwhelm local authorities. But it is a blunt instrument.

Higher density is indeed the key to encouraging more activity, but the key to unlock attitudes that keep density where it is lies in public perceptions about architecture and development, and the pressure these views bring to bear on local politicians who rule the planners' roost.

The only way to convince planners, politicians and public that a more relaxed approach to density is the route to better suburbs and city centres (I suppose we could all go and live in the countryside if we don't do this) is to sell them policies and ideas that they like the look of.

Every local authority should be continually developing and encouraging tangible visions of what might happen on appropriate sites to whet the public's appetite - not sitting there saying 'no', or fighting a rearguard action against mediocrity or powerful private developers. This is what planning might be about - the construction of realistic, exciting achievable plans for the future that people and developers can buy into. Somehow the vision behind the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act seems to have atrophied into the straitjacket of density.

Density is destiny, for good or bad.


London W1

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