Another link to Spillway - a photo-essay on the terrifying security landscape created around the Olympic site, documenting the relentless advance of the new Gothic architecture discovered by Patrick Keiller in Robinson in Space, made up of ubiquitous fences, barbed wire, labyrinthine security walls, walls topped by broken glass, with unnerving new space - there big sheds, here seemingly empty waterside luxury flats (featuring possibly the worst example I've ever seen). This links with one of the most brilliant, and unexpected points of Anna Minton's excellent new book Ground Control (reviewed by me for the NS, link soonish) - a passionate, convincing attack on one of the most accepted, cliched ideas about urban planning since the early '70s, Oscar Newman's theory of 'defensible space'. She introduces this by mentioning a housing association project which Hans Van der Heijden of BIQ Architecten worked on in Liverpool. They planned a 'continental' development, and were told in no uncertain terms that, according to police-led Secured by Design policies which have to be followed to get planning approval, the development must 'be surrounded by walls with sharp steel pins or broken glass on top of them, CCTV, and only one gate into the estate'. Despite having the support of residents, they were sacked from the project and something containing all of the above was built in its place.
Minton argues that defensible space, the attempt to design away crime from new developments, something equally prevalent in gated communities and in the housing association-run remnants of social housing, is a paranoid assault on the polis, a form of negative determinism (perhaps to complement the positive determinism of the modernists who tried to design community into estates). Rather than obliterating fear, by closing off an area and filling it with security paraphernalia, defensible space (and its state form as Secured by Design) creates fear. Interestingly, given that both Jane Jacobs and Oscar Newman were very popular among postmodernists, she contrasts it with her idea of 'eyes on the street' from The Life and Death of Great American Cities, where strangers should be welcomed into the urban district and the housing development rather than repelled with the Orwellian apparatus of spikes and cameras that dominates British cities; patterned on the grid, rather than the cul-de-sac. It's odd, really, that this pessimistic, paranoid form of urbanism has been so popular for so long, its applicability being extended from the New York projects studied by Newman to the whole of the UK. There's sadly little acknowledgment of the only seemingly converse Urban Task Force approach of pedestrianized piazzas and overpriced coffee chains, which were frequently in the privately-owned 'Business Improvement Districts' expertly critiqued elsewhere in the book.
Addenda: although Minton doesn't write much about aesthetics, it occurred to me that the visual equivalent of Newman's ideas might be the notions of architectural legibility proposed in Alice Coleman's Utopia on Trial. Making a frontal assault on Modernism in toto, suggesting, rather extraordinarily (I don't want to bring up the Barbican again, but...) that crime increases the taller the building, her influence was brought to bear on actual housing design in Britain in the 1990s, and the results can be best seen in what Cedric Price called the 'pathetic Colemanville' of the area just behind Park Hill in Sheffield, and in the semis built by Liverpool's Militant council. It's extraordinary that Marxists were taken in by such a superficial, anti-materialist analysis - essentially, that buildings that don't look traditional are alienating, that height equals blight - when the problems of estates are mostly social rather than architectural, as the many estates of 30s semis built by local councils with fearsome reputations (Manor in Sheffield, Wynthenshawe, Flower Estate Soton) can attest. It's intriguingly stupid, what was done in the Hyde Park area. Modernist terraces and flats reclad, alternately in vernacular brick and postmodernist plastic, and even architecturally pretty conservative '30s tenements reclad to make them more 'friendly', while the streets-in-the-sky of Hyde Park were enclosed and closely guarded, making it a decidedly hostile place, according to an ex-resident of Sheffield's three streets-in-the-sky schemes - and in the process, a world-famous symbol of confidence and futurism was transformed into a provincial mess.