Heath Town Estate, take 2

Heath Town View, by M R Hasan. Image used under Creative Commons licence, please click the picture for link.
Heath Town View, by M R Hasan. Image used under Creative Commons licence, please click the picture for link.

After my post last week, I was kindly sent the details of the forthcoming regeneration of the Heath Town Estate. There’s a mixture of ideas here, the most notable of which would be taking out the extensive walkway system to encourage ground-level use of roads and crossings, and make the estate a bit less separate from the world around. Along with that, there will be re-facading, conversion of public greenery into private gardens, and some quite considerable demolition and rebuilding right in the heart of the estate.

Heath Town was built right at the end of the high-rise boom of the 1960s. By this stage the problems of overcrowding and slum clearances were in their final throes, and the futuristic high-rise world was showing early signs of disillusionment. Nevertheless, this late stage saw some of the very biggest estates go up across the country, some of which are really names to conjure with. Heath Town was completed by 1970; (in)famous estates in other parts of the country completed at this time include the Heygate Estate in South London, Wester Hailes in Edinburgh (though mostly I know about this one from Rebus – the estate in Fleshmarket Close is based on Wester Hailes) and the Red Road in Glasgow. The most notorious is surely Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, an area I know well – I used to live within ten minutes walk of the estate. This too was characterised by high-level walkways, and it was this architectural feature that proved the most significant during the riots of 1985 as a platform from which to launch projectiles.

The reasoning behind the massive problems at Broadwater Farm (as explained by Lynsey Hanley, if I remember right) was the state of housing need at the time. This massive estate was built just as Haringey’s housing list was starting to dwindle, with the result that the estate was hard to fill. The majority of tenants therefore tended towards the short term and troubled, and in Broadwater’s case in particular it became something of a dumping ground for the hard-to-house immigrant populations of the borough. Certainly it was racial tensions that provided the kindling for the riots.

I’m far more familiar with Tottenham than I am with Wolverhampton, at this stage, so I don’t know if the parallels are there in terms of housing lists, minority populations etc. I’m sure some of that angle is to be found there; but I’m guessing there are significant social ills caused by more local factors, and certainly those arising from issues that are just different to London.

Anyway, my reason for writing this post in the first place was to make a map of it, so here we are! I’ve coloured by number of storeys so you can see just how confusing this place is to the mapmaker.

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