How should we regenerate London’s estates?

London's Aylesbury Estate, mid-demolition. Image: Getty.

Given the shortage of housing in London, and his ambitious housing targets, it is of little surprise that the mayor of London is exploring available options for land. This week, it was the turn of estate redevelopment to come under scrutiny, as Sadiq Khan published his Good Regeneration Guide – marking the start of a public consultation on best practice in estate regeneration.

The production of a good regeneration charter is a welcome step by the mayor of London. But what do his current plans mean in practice? And what more could Londoners ask for during the consultation?

The real potential for estate densification

First, it’s worth noting that estate densification cannot solve the housing crisis on its own, though it could make a significant contribution over the long term.

Centre for London's recent report, Another Storey, estimated that across London, 4,000 and 8,000 homes could be added to London each year from redeveloping estates – up to 20 per cent of London’s annual additional housing target. However, it would take an estimated 10 years to start to tackle all the large estates, and a minimum of another 10 years to complete each project.

Funding transparency

Estate redevelopment does not come cheap, and ensuring sufficient funding is fundamental to delivering on promises made to local residents. After all, good regeneration is not just about good consultation, but delivery too, without overpromising, and without ducking commitments.

It is therefore good to see that Sadiq’s Good Regeneration Guide is rooted in the full and transparent costing of projects prior to the resident consultation process. This will ensure that all parties are entering discussions with as much knowledge as possible about the costs and benefits of estate redevelopment.

Our report argues that if estate densification is to both deliver additional units and ensure the continued provision of sub-market housing in such situations, more funding would be required to close funding gaps. This could require central government grant, as well as housing association cross-subsidy, private finance through stock transfer, and local authority contribution.

The mayor's Good Regeneration Guide also recognises the importance of looking beyond the red line of estate boundaries. We agree that it is vital that projects are carried out in a way that integrates the densified site with the surrounding urban fabric, adopting a mixture of block types and increasing in density nearer to urban centres and transport hubs.

The next big challenge is thinking about how the densification of estates can be combined with densification of other publicly held land such as car parks, as well as privately owned residential land (which we hope to investigate further next year).

Disrupted homes

When it comes to the important matter of how residents are compensated for the disruption caused by estate regeneration, our research found a significant discrepancy in how tenants and owner occupiers are treated. We found that displaced owners could expect to receive £25,000 by way of Home Loss Payment, whereas the displaced tenant only receives £5,300.

There is little in the current consultation document that tackles this discrepancy. While the mayor exhorts landlords to go beyond their statutory duty, we argue that Home Loss Payments should be increased to ensure the fair treatment of tenants in the demolition and densification process.

In publishing this Good Regeneration Guide, the Mayor openly acknowledges the challenges posed by estate redevelopment. The Guide has a welcome focus on opening up the financial intricacies of redevelopment projects to local residents, many of whom are better placed to understand the process than other Londoners. But this consultation must form just one element of wider conversation with Londoners about the type of development wanted in the capital, and the difficult choices that must be made in tackling London’s housing crisis.

Kat Hanna is Research Manager at Centre for London and co-author of the Another Storey report. She tweets as @HannaFromHeaven.

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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 

In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.