Density and Urban Neighbourhoods in London

Summary report

Density and Urban Neighbourhoods in London has been carried out by a research team at the Enterprise LSE Cities, from February 2003 to July 2004, as one of a series of research initiatives funded by Minerva plc, through a five-year programme coordinated by the Minerva LSE Research Group. The research was undertaken at the LSE by a team of research professionals led by Ricky Burdett and Tony Travers and its conclusions are of profound significance to the future development of London. While it focused on the issue of density in urban neighbourhoods and what makes them successful, it has practical lessons for the whole approach towards sustainable communities in the UK and internationally.

“Density” has become a key policy issue in London. After decades of decline, the city is set to grow. The London Plan envisages 700,000 new households and 400,000 new jobs by 2016 and the Mayor has decided to accommodate this growth within London’s existing boundaries. A growing population contained within the same footprint implies higher residential densities. Yet higher densities are often associated with town cramming, deprivation and anti-social behaviour even though London has many affluent, safe and popular higher density neighbourhoods. But London’s population is not only growing: it is changing. Its incoming population will be younger, more ethnically diverse and composed of more single parent families than the typical family household with two parents and two children – with clear implications for the future form of the city and the design of its housing stock.

The report’s key findings can be summarised as follows:

• Density does not, of itself, account for positive or negative attributes
of particular urban areas. Other factors are crucial in determining how such places are judged.
• Higher levels of satisfaction are determined by access to public transport, proximity to large and safe open spaces, and also good access to shops and social facilities.
• There is greater dissatisfaction in relatively densely-populated wards where high levels of deprivation coincide with concentrations of ethnic minority groups and relatively crowded living conditions within properties.
• Lack of car parking is considered a major problem, especially in more affluent areas.
• The presence of large clusters of social housing that do not link to local surroundings exacerbate negative associations linked to higher density.
• Most residents are ambivalent or have mixed opinions about density.
• Vibrancy, social mix and other social attributes are amongst the most valued characteristics of densely-populated areas.
• Higher-density areas are capable of sustaining very different social and community dynamics: places with significantly different demographic features can operate effectively and in a way that suggests they will continue to do so.