Archive for August 12th, 2012

To mark the Closing Ceremony, today, dear readers, I present to you a guest post by Michael Keith, the former leader of Tower Hamlets Council who is now a professor specialising in migration studies at Merton College, Oxford.

His post is a follow up to my piece here last month (The Tower Hamlets population boom: is it all bad?) on the early results of the 2011 Census data. Michael wrote to me with some comments and he agreed it could be used as a separate piece:

I was impressed by the points in the blog post but also thought people might want to think about the following:

A few points to note about the recent release of the first results of the 2011 Census for Tower Hamlets.

1. If the first run ONS data is correct in suggesting LBTH population in 2011 is approximately 254, 000 from a figure of 201, 000 in 2001 then this returns the population numbers in the borough to roughly the level it was in 1950.  If you look at the following consolidated table for Tower Hamlets population trends longer term it highlights that from 1800 to 1900 the area that we now call Tower Hamlets had a population that grew to approximately 600, 000 people.  The story of the 20th century for the borough was a story of population decline until the upturn of the 1980s, amplified in the property market of the 1990s and 2000s.



Tower Hamlets population data 1800-2001. Source: University of Portsmouth – A Vision of Britain

2. A major social policy concern of 1945-1980 was of central and local government – in the east end itself as well as out of it – focused on the depopulation of inner London, prompting much worry about how repopulation might be promoted.  The story of blitz damage and both the good and the awful exercises in ‘slum clearance’ witnessed post war is one part of this background but it is worth noting that the greatest population falls in the borough happened in the period 1900 to 1940 long before the Second World War.

3. Part of the tale revealed by the census is a major success story of promoting the east end of London where quite clearly a lot of people want to live now.  We might want to think for a moment about the fact that while in most of the 20th century a lot of East Enders were very keen to move out of the borough and not too many wanted to move in; in the last two decades Tower Hamlets has become a very desirable and popular part of London in which to live.

4. Equally, part of the story not told by the census is the mixed record of good lessons and bad lessons about how to rebuild, reshape and regenerate London.  There are plenty of good and bad examples of this in the borough – cases of gated communities with complete exclusion of the ‘have nots’, other places where new and old communities are brought together through sensitive architecture and smart planning (yes there are examples of ‘smart’ planning in the borough just as there examples of awful planning – we just tend not to notice the former so often or so easily).

5. One misleading debate is the fuss about density that you reference in your blog post Ted.  As the housing market and revealed preferences show across London, Paris, New York and most other big cities in the world lots of people like high density once it is built.  They hate the construction, the noise and the disruption when building is taking place. But people like living in busy and bustling cities. As long as it comes with high amenity – decent open spaces, social inclusion, accessibility (both into and out of he borough, an ability to walk, cycle and drive).

6. What people have a right to see is a strategic sense of how the appropriate social infrastructure of school classroom spaces, local GPs, a functional NHS and an opportunity to live and work reasonably close might be achieved.  This demands strategic thinking about planning that recognises that people are not ‘housing units’, they are free spirits that want to live in real ‘places’; places enriched by spaces that bring people together – parks, pubs, shops, clubs, cinemas, nice places to visit, galleries and cultural venues.  Making these new places that work is the challenge and the need for public debate about this in parts of London like Tower Hamlets is always pressing. 


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