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Katherine Shonfield

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If media coverage is a gauge, Ken Livingstone has made few pronouncements in the five months since his electoral victory as London's first mayor.

All the more reason why last week's AJ report of his declaration that tall office buildings must have accessible public space on high deserves notice.

In believing that the social exclusion implicit in such buildings can be spirited away by a few judicious planning conditions, Livingstone is uncharacteristically sanguine.

He has bought the myth of the sky lobby which rests on the erroneous assumption that the vertical conduit of a tall building is the equivalent of a street. The old trick of sticking the elevation on its side so that it reads like a plan, reveals the 'sky lobby' for the baloney it is. The tall building is a cul de sac: once you've gone up, you come down. Cities with effective public space have a multiplicity of interconnecting streets, providing an infinite number of ways in. These vertical culs de sac have a single gateway controlling access. You don't need anything heavy handed.

Ask the south London family who tried to exercise their right to 'public space' at the top of the Oxo tower on the South Bank.

After negotiating the door, you get gawped at by a collection of London's ponciest upmarket diners, look at the view, and down you come. The problem with 'public space' in high buildings is an unfashionable fact of life that won't budge. It ain't virtual: it's physical.

When high-rise builders are serious about public space they provide it at ground level. Ken should look to his namesake Yeang: at the foot of the Twin Towers are a range of facilities for all - parks, playgrounds and waterfalls. What do we want: a city of glimpses grudgingly given by the haves to the havenots, or space to inhabit for as long as we want, in the benign anonymity of equal citizenship?

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