Foreword: Peter Murray
I am lucky enough to live in a suburb, and a very special one at that. Bedford Park is the ‘first garden suburb’ - it was a precursor of the Garden City movement and of developments such as Hampstead Garden Suburb and Brentham. It sports tree-lined streets, front and back gardens and distinctive fences. The majority of the houses, detached and semi-detached, were designed by R Norman Shaw in the Queen Anne style and built of bright red bricks fired in local kilns. It is low density.
Since it was built in the latter part of the 19th century there have been various phases of increasing that density. The Edwardians built two new mansion blocks. They are four storey rather than the two and three storeys of the surrounding houses, and they deliver 16 generous apartments where there would be four family houses. In the 1930s a single large house, built for Jonathan Carr, the developer of the suburb, was demolished to make way for a block of older persons flats. Then in the 1950s and early sixties Acton Borough Council implemented a programme of demolishing the then rather run down houses and replacing them with blocks of flats. A single plot could deliver up to 20 new units over five floors.
The vandalism of the Council in demolishing important Norman Shaw houses so upset the locals that they set up an amenity society to protect them and as a result the majority of houses on the estate were listed in 1967 and the densification programme was halted.
Densification of suburbs is not new and done appropriately it works. It also has real benefits to the local community in providing a richer mix of types and sizes of accommodation to suit different lifestyles. Very importantly, it needs to be done with the consent of the local community; London’s suburban residents are famously sensitive about development in their back yards.
That is why the well considered approaches to densifying London’s suburbs illustrated in this book are so important. Suburban sprawl is an inherently inefficient use of land - the capital’s most valuable resource. As the ideas on the following pages show, well considered replanning and densification of suburban areas can make a substantial contribution to the delivery of much-needed homes for Londoners. Not only can it deliver large numbers of homes but it can also help to regenerate the lacklustre economies of London’s towns and high streets.
Peter Murray is Chairman of New London Architecture and of The London Society