Beirut Plans Urban Expressway That Would Make Robert Moses Proud
Getting from one side of Beirut to the other normally takes about 15 minutes. Rush hour, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. With around 2 million people working in this 20-square-kilometer city, with its joke of a public transportation system, a trip across town during the morning rush can take over an hour.
Earlier this year, in an effort to alleviate the congestion, Beirut’s Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) proposed an initiative. It wasn’t a plan to resurrect the tram system that used to efficiently connect the city’s neighborhoods, or to revive the railway network that once ran trains east to Riyaq and north to Tripoli. Instead, the proposal called for an intercity highway — a plan for traffic easement straight out of a 1960s urban renewal playbook.
In this case, quite literally. The plan for the Fouad Boutros Highway was hatched half a century ago, calling not only for an elevated high-speed roadway, but also 700 new adjacent parking spaces. Save Beirut Heritage, an NGO focused on historic preservation, has argued that the highway would run right through some of the few traditional neighborhoods still intact after years of Lebanon’s civil war. It will “puncture the continuous street facade,” and “the perspective of the street will be blocked and disfigured by the huge concrete mass of the overpass,” the advocacy group concludes. All in all, the group estimates 28 heritage landmarks will be destroyed, and the traditional Ashrafieh, Hekmeh and Mar Mikhail neighborhoods of Beirut will be forever changed.
“What is now a slow paced neighborhood, free from fast, congested and heavy traffic, will be invaded by fast cars and strangled by traffic congestion,” Giorgio Guy Tarraf, cofounder of Save Beirut Heritage, told Iloubnan.info.
The highway would cut through some of the last traditional neighborhoods left in Beirut.
Moreover, the highway will cut through some of Beirut’s best public green spaces in an overdeveloped city already starving for more parkland. The kicker, according to a report written by Wajdi Ghoussoub, a member of the Democratic Renewal Movement’s youth branch, is that building a highway in the middle of Beirut would do little to ease the burden of traffic. “There is ample evidence that intercity highways do not alleviate traffic,” Ghoussoub wrote in a policy brief.
Nevertheless, work on the highway is moving forward. It’s expected to last 2.5 years and cost $60 million — money that could be spent upgrading the city’s rickety mass transit infrastructure. Today the only public transportation options are private buses, vans and an armada of taxis that clog the roads. Most Lebanese who commute in and out of the city still drive their own cars rather than carpool or use transit.
The CDR, the party responsible for updating and reconstructing Beirut’s transportation infrastructure, reports directly to the Lebanese council of ministers, and its task is enormous and multi-layered. Which is why Ghoussoub believes that Beirut needs a separate council that would be responsible for “funding a mass public transit system” for the city. Other priorities for the council would be to reactivate the railway system in and around Beirut, and upgrade or establish ports in other coastal cities to decrease truck traffic in and around the city.
An alternate plan put forth for a string of parks was rejected.
These days, in the absence of meaningful public transportation, many Lebanese use a shared taxi system for which they use the French word service, in which privately owned taxis stop to ask customers where they are going. If the customer’s destination is on the taxi’s regular route, the driver will pick them up and charge them a fee of 2,000 LL (about $1.33). If not, the charge is 10,000 LL (around $7.50). Other Lebanese have tried to take up riding bicycles, though Beirut doesn’t have dedicated bike lanes. Cars often park on sidewalks, making it hard enough for pedestrians to get by, let alone bikes.
Despite the obvious need for more people-oriented transportation infrastructure, the activist pushback against the highway remains a rigged fight. In a city like Beirut, developer interests often trump the public good.
“Rethinking of intercity highways is a multi-decade process that needs to start immediately,” Ghoussoub wrote. Whether it will start with this particular project remains far from certain.
Photos and renderings courtesy of Save Beirut Heritage
Fascinating but bloody awful
We can’t help ourselves – when we see something unattractive in our cities we want it gone – it must be made more beautiful / more contextually sensitive / newer / cleaner. But what happens when we reach perfection?
The ability to recognise urban flaws and the will to correct them has generally now slipped, in an over-simplified form from the passionate few to the mainstream – mayors, policy makers, politicians, planners and the public all have an understanding of basics of urban design. It’s now much less likely (in Europe at least) that a wayward developer will be allowed to block an important route with an alien monstrosity, or that a treasured historic building will be razed to build a shopping centre. This is all excellent… except for the little problem of completionism. This is the collective desire of city builders to aim for perfection. Completist urban perfectionism is also most problematic in those cities with money to express it.
Cities are dynamic, living organisms, they can’t be completed, but occasionally some seem to get there. They’re quite popular and are often designated by UNESCO as a perfect example of their kind, not to be altered. They are common in Europe but can be found all over the world. They usually have an ‘old town’ which is where the paradox of perfection can be so painfully enjoyed. These towns have beautifully and immaculately cobbled streets, flawless historic buildings free from interference by anything modern or unsightly. They have an immaculate central square ringed by neat umbrellas and are populated by tourists sunning themselves and drinking local beer. Horse and carts and little golf carts with multi language, pre-recorded guides offer tours of the old streets. A local in costume plays an accordion, someone else stands motionless unless activated by a coin in a basket… the locals stay well clear of the whole thing and the tourist has a curious secret longing for a brutalist concrete carbuncle.
This globalised idea of an historic old town has spread like a virus into the minds of local planners. Any sign of imperfection – the dark alley, the concrete experimental building, the old street surface, the shabby old roof tiles – can now be identified by everyone and eradicated. No thinking necessary – it’s a no-brainer. Except everywhere you find them, they’re the same. Places are becoming homogenised and generic, and as a result they are becoming dull, unexciting and sterile. For a start, the city’s old town has never, until recently been an antiseptic, fully restored and polished place. In the past it was constantly changing, untidy, noisy and smelly. It was full of all the danger, vice, excitement, as well as beauty and wonder that a city had to offer. They were always magnets for travellers but offered a lot more than cappuccino, cold lager, a state funded art galley, and branches of upmarket fashion brands. In becoming museum cities, these places are losing their urban thrill, their relevance to local people, their idiosyncrasies and their appeal.
Modern cities and districts are facing the same paradox and in wealthy cities the processes are vastly accelerated.
London has become united in its aim to homogenise. Planners have learned about the basic concepts of urbanism. And without any deep understanding of the complexities and conflicts involved in the loose guidelines of urban design, have interpreted them to mean ‘control everything’ and ‘work towards gentrification’. Principles of urbanism are applied clumsily and the result is increasingly the application of a very generic, safe and global vision of urban. New districts are taking shape across the city which have all the beauty of a computer visualisation, and the thrill of a shopping mall. These new mixed use districts are populated by photoshop characters – the slim woman with the shopping bags, the businessmen conversing, the young lovers holding hands.
These are certainly not places for anyone who’ll shatter the globalised dream of the safe and pleasant city. These, often private estates ensure that no ‘undesirables’ can enjoy the place – there is nothing here of use or within the budget of the less well-off. There is nowhere for the skateboarder, the Big Issue seller, the illegal busker. There is nothing to see besides safe art and cultural events agreed around a boardroom table. The can of lager is banned from the streets. How democratic and yet not. There is unlikely to be any space for the workshop or for ordinary people to live. In London many new apartments remain vacant – bought off plan by international investors as kept sealed as they accumulate value, like works of art. Or, they are occupied like sealed fortresses safely elevated from anything resembling a real city. It makes you wonder if many of these new urban inhabitants actually like cities at all.
The smart granite paving and the carefully designed benches that prevent sleeping, skateboarding or lingering spread. The architecture designed internationally for the international appears in every aspirational city. The delicate buds of artistic or creative enclaves are designated as such by planners, and repaved, and branded with banners, and moved into by middle-class families, the illegal identifiers of sub-cultures are preserved in law and given fresh licks of paint.
Everywhere becomes safe, standardised, beautiful and dull. The cycle continues… cities fall in and out of fashion, they boom they bust. They are made and remade. Districts fall into disrepair and occupied by artists who are forced out by the fashionable. London rises, London falls. Old cities are demolished, missed and later rebuilt. Places are completed and they feel incomplete; cities are perfected and become imperfect; they are made beautiful and feel ugly.
Bruce Sterling’s vision of the future city:
In 2050, the Earth’s population is expected to hit 10 billion, and 75% of those people will live in cities. As our urban environments grow and grow, how do we make sure that growth is sustainable? In the coming weeks, seven experts will looks at ways cities may be able to cut lessen their impact and build a more sustainable future. To begin with, award-winning Canadian science-fiction author Bruce Sterling presents a cautionary view of what the sprawling cities of 2050 may look like.
Imagine a city of the future. Do you see clean streets, flying cars and robots doing all the work?
How does it look-and-feel, the big, grand city of the mid-century? If you’re seven years old, everything in it feels equally wondrous. The big city is a riot of sight, sound and smells – as vivid, exciting and scary for you as any big town has ever been for anybody.
No one can overlook buildings of that colossal size – but why do they exist? A city’s showplaces are always built by people anxious about their own status. In 2050, the nouveau-riche arrivistes stake their big skyline claims on the public eye. That glassy, twisting spire, as gaudy as any Christmas ornament, is owned by offshore Chinese. The gloomy tower with 85 stories of modestly greyed-out windows is an all-female enclave of Islamic business feminists. The scary heap that resembles a patchwork quilt of iron was entirely crowd-sourced.
Cars piloted by human beings were a passing thing in the ageless urban story. The urban highways are still there – far too many of them, all old – but it’s network-driven robot cars, like smartphones with wheels, that deliver the payloads now. The traffic signs and signals are long gone, since machines don’t need them. This city never stops – the wheeled machines flow night and day through every intersection, busy as ants, silent as eels.
There’s no urban smog, but the city reeks. This dense, greenhouse stink is composed of the rot from flood damage, the decay of dead lawn and parks, and bursting, sneezy clouds of weedy pollen from invasive species. At the seashores, the great, flood-stricken port cities of the past smell like dead fish and invasive brine. This fetid greenhouse fever doesn’t smell much worse than the urban smog that brought it into being. People are used to it.
Urban cats are everywhere, since people much prefer pets to children. The “human bubble” has reached its downslope. The old Population Bomb is now a rubble-clearance project. The cats are meticulously tracked by surveillance collars, and they never stray.
The same goes for the elderly. The old have become mankind’s majority, for now and apparently forever, the avant-garde of the urban machine-for-living. The old pay well for their dignity, for the always-on augmentation and the ubiquitous computing. They pass their endless twilight days in padded penthouses, half spa and half life-support module, urban spaces so intensely surveilled that one will never lose a button or drop a lit match.
Modern cities are elderly, too. Brick and stone are mortal, and entropy requires no maintenance. Every major urban industry leaves its silent retinue of dead smokestacks. The early 21st Century left a rich heritage of quaint, gentlemanly rubbish: the archaic cellphone towers, the poisonous and horrifying fossil-fuel plants, the squalid paper-shuffling headquarters of extinct government bureaus. Commonly, this is where the cities stuff the climate refugees.
The poor we always have with us, because somebody is always in the business of keeping the poor that way, and the poor can always be relied upon to rob and oppress each other. The great city of the future has slums. It has red-light districts. It has pawnshops and sweatshops, and parlours for the various illicit substances that used to be called narcotics. The big city is the wicked city. No big city has ever lacked for wickedness since the time of Ur of the Chaldees. A city that failed to generate some enticing crimes would have to invent brand-new ones.
With all its timeless continuities, the mid-century metropolis does have novel and startling aspects. Ever since their invention, cities were elite barns for the sturdy peasantry of some fertile countryside. The mid-century city has created means of food production that are post-agricultural. With swordfish extinct and cattle way beyond the budget, the people eat – well, to put it bluntly, they mostly eat algae, insects and microbes. Of course this tasty goop has been effectively refined, rebranded, and skeuomorphically re-packaged as noodles, tofu, and hamburger substitute. Soylent Green is crickets. Every urbanite loves to fuss about fine dining. The upside of a major climate crisis is the prospect it offers to entirely liberate cities from their sordid heritage in the planet’s soil. A space colony is just a Dubai-style super-tall desert skyscraper – plus some zero-gravity bone depletion. A lunar colony is just a London mogul’s subterranean basement, without the crusties or the labour strikes.
The urbanites in the mid-century city know that they are not the culmination of the city. No one’s idea of utopia, they’re not even “modern”. Everybody under 30 years of age is instinctively convinced that they are the cultural radicals, the cool and daring pioneers, the youthful froth of a tsunami of some radically different way of being – and indeed, they are. Not “better” mind you – just different.
There is fear in this mid-century city. Life is frail. A vengeful super-hurricane might cross the simmering Gulf Stream and fall like an avenging angel on the coasts of Europe – but people can get used to that. Megastorms aren’t that much worse than Los Angeles on a fault line, Naples on a volcano.
The scary part is what people find within themselves, when their city is gravely harmed. People can flee with relative ease, but cities are tender and sessile beings. When the survivors return to their beloved rubble, they find themselves forced to create another city – one that makes genuine technical sense under their circumstances.
Only engineers and architects will ever rub their hand at this dreadful prospect. These modernists are in secret collusion with the feral urban crows and hungry pigeons picking over the blast zone. For years, while a sentimental mankind clung to a museum economy, they have rehearsed another city, some angular, rational monster with an urban fabric that’s a whole lot more nano-, robo-, and geno; buildings they can shape, and that will henceforth shape the rest of us.
To tell the truth, we never liked that city. But it just keeps happening.
Beautiful work emerging soon from Mark Lascelles Thornton.
I’m not the sort of person who’d visit a volcanic island in the Atlantic to sit on a beach beside a plastic resort. As The Canary Islands are famous for tempting unhealthy British people to all-you-can eat stacks of balconies overlooking a toxic shade of blue swimming pool, I decided that there would be nothing for me in any of the settlements. Instead I headed for the most remote hostel I could find, on the edge of strangely tourist free village. It turned out that this was because it was situated beneath the only permanent rain-cloud in the whole ocean (besides the one over the UK) - not perfect considering I was there in an emergency effort to generate some vitamin D.
Tenerife, it turns out, is a jaw-droppingly stunning volcanic landscape. It has unique layers of distinct climate and vegetation that creep up the mountains from desert to cloud forest and through landscapes that look alternatively Mediterranean, lunar, Amazonia and even, briefly so northern European I could have been on a damp footpath in Derbyshire.
And then there are the bits built since the modern era began. To be fair I should confess I was only there two days. One of which was spent hiking up a beautiful mountain with nothing but the complex and wonderful richness of nature around me, and the other was spent cursing the local bus service and being amazed at the hideous and dysfunctional Santa Cruz and motorway collar that wraps the entire island.
To be fair again, I had a pleasant day in the airport garden. They had some very nice cacti. Also the villages and untouched settlements were complex and organic and evolving colourfully. Santa Cruz though… Oh God. what a horrible place. Specifically, the new part with its Calatrava designed thing.
This thing, ok, it’s like a 90s paperweight scaled up to the size of a space station and them crash landed into an area of crazy paving so vast than anyone disabled or elderly would probably never make it across. There is nothing in the crazy paving area. It just stretches from the urban motorway to the sea and then has this object sat in the middle. One solitary experience for half a mile. You can get that experience if you stand in the vast bus station and look over at it… the experience doesn’t change as you get nearer. A mono-experience. Yawn + tired feet.
In order to get to the object you might try one of the boulevards that head promisingly towards it. You would then find the road, suddenly, ended at a sewage works / wasteland. Make your way around that and cross a 6 lane motorway with no pedestrian crossings - Yes, this is the only way to get there - and you’re there. the thing is larger, but essentially exactly the same. Many minutes later you will arrive at its base. there will be fashion shoot going on and a few people milling about thinking they should be taking photos of it. They will certainly be the most boring photos from their trip.
Essentially, the bits of Tenerife that have been planned by architects and town planners are one dimensional, desolate and dull. There is more to see in a 10 metre walk along a winding street of an old village, that has been built by locals over many years, than there is to see in an afternoon in a resort or a modern part of a big town. Its almost as if planners and architects don’t know how to build habitats for people… almost as if.
Lessons on how to build human habitats:
1. Grand architectural statements are like a small experience such as looking at a rock, but scaled up to the size of an ocean liner. A town that has been developed naturally over time, by people is 1000x richer in terms of experiences available than the modern statement part of a city that has been planned.
2. new streets or boulevards are extremely boring mono-experiences. however if they don’t connect up to anything they are nonsense - a dirt track with a weeds growing in it would be infinitely more interesting but sadly such a thing would bring great shame upon the city’s planners and must not be allowed to exist.
3. We should probably look after the bits of our cities that developed organically. Planners and designers cannot recreate the perfection, complexity and depth of these places - Just as we couldn’t reproduce a human body with plastic as much as we like to have a go.
Hi there, Nice blog, I just wrote about a couple of your interesting posts - http://jasonie.blogspot.co.uk/ - keep it up! J
Well, as no-one is using them as telephone boxes any more, and there aren’t enough places to sit in London, I can see a way to solve these two problems.
Box Lounger by Benjamin Shine
Now that the square has been decorated with picturesque arty types from the isolated creative ghetto of the new St Martins college, the square looks a bit like its promotional renders - all that’s missing is that woman in shades with the shopping bag. It’s also important to note that the greatest concentration of stationary people was around the side of the college - in a more intimate and better enclosed space, by the bike storage and outside art installation shed.
The most enjoyable thing in the square, for me, is how close you can get to the two beautiful old warehouses and the sheds. One warehouse sits on the very edge of the canal creating welcome enclosure and human scale on the south side. The other is the imposing hulk of the Granary warehouse which has been left beautifully dark with its patina of age and character in tact.
Camden council is very pleased with itself in having managed to adopt the roads through Kings Cross and the square. So, if you want to protest about something, sell a Big Issue or generally behave in a slightly non-CGI render sort of way, these adopted highways are where you must stand. Stand anywhere else and you risk the management team, who’ll be excited by their new responsibilities, running towards you to shoo you away. This is because Kings Cross is a huge private estate. This might also explain why there are only about three or four ways into the masterplan area, and so many opportunities to link it to Camden town in the west or Islington to the east, have been (purposefully) missed.
I enjoyed the steps and amphitheatre leading down to the canal side. Nothing more enjoyable to look at than people on bikes, and the water. Fingers crossed they don’t try to use the working tow path as a stage though, or there will be disasters.
It was also nice to see a few old lumps of iron and railway tracks in the paving, although I’m sure there must have been more heritage around here that could be on view.
There is a little grove of trees off to one side of the square while most of the space has embedded fountains across it. While the grove is pretty, and the tables underneath very in vogue ( good though ), they have been stuffed to one side to make way for a vast expanse of stone - Maybe there is a profitable load of events planned for this space.
Overall, I can’t wait for the other old buildings to come back into use. I hope their scruffy charm will be kept and bricks will be left soot covered. The square is pretty good too. I look forward to awkward protests taking place on the quiet publicly owned streets.
Photos of old London, Spitalfields area
How is this the only decent example of this in the world? London Underground could do with a few of these. Westminster and its half mile deep pit could certainly accommodate a few slides.
Most people in London spend half their commute shuffling down a maze of stairs and escalators. Think this would cheer things up no end, although knowing the British it would all be conducted in a restrained and businesslike manner.
Late to class? Take the slide!
Students at Technical University of Munich enjoy a four-story slides on a daily basis. If only New York had a similar system for commuters.
Open source contruction set from wikihouse.cc / twitter.com/wikihouse
Think of this before buying a house from Barratt’s
( Brought to my attention by the very clever blogger http://letzterkunstgriff.wordpress.com/ )
One of the excellent ideas included in the City of London’s newest skyscraper is that the ground level will be a large public space. But as is the way with most major applications, many of the generous ideas or best design features get scrapped right at the last minute.
I’m worried that various fears about perceived security threats are going to result in some late planning applications to change the ‘public’ space at the bottom of the building into a secured private space.
I think it was always inevitable, but bollards have appeared in later renders of the base level. No doubt these will be vehicle proof, and encircle the building to deter any ambitious mobile bomber. I don’t know why such things are left off the original planning images when everyone knows they will happen. It is simply deceptive.
I’d be amazed if the space was even remotely public in feel. Security will prevent photos being taken in the space as is the way with all private ‘public’ spaces within buildings. Look no further than the generous ‘public’ space under Foster and Partners’ Tower Place next to the Tower of London. If you try to take a photograph there, security will actually run towards you to stop you.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if one or two controlled entrances were set up along a new perimeter to allow access into the space. Again, someone will raise the security question and insist than anyone entering the space is checked for explosives or guns. I imagine airport style security gates will be installed for public visitors and swipe cards will be used for office workers.
If this ends up feeling like a truly public space, as is shown in the visualisation above, I’ll eat my hair. Although I hope I’m proved wrong.
Little Boxes - Malvina Reynolds (a song about bad housing estates)
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And there’s doctors and lawyers
And business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.
And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same,
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
… can be found very close to UK shores.
Here, our family housing is about as different as possible from the wonderful housing I discovered so nearby. In the UK, volume house-builders have been churning out the same crap for decades. The legacy of private house building in the UK over the last 30 years is countless thousands of homogeneous, mass produced, low quality housing estates.
These estates are familiar to everyone: They are a common sight on the edge of every town and they all look very similar hence why they are sometimes called ‘Anywhere Estates’. They are alien impositions that land, unwelcomed on the edge of towns and villages, usually where a local council has designated a field or two as developable land. Usually, a lucky house-builder will already have a deal with the farmer, as they will have made similar speculative deals with all the farmers and landowners nearby. In order to recoup the costs of speculating, which itself drives up land values, new housing is cheaply built, extremely standardised and utterly boring. Most of the ‘value’ of these new homes is the inflated ‘value’ of the land they sit on.
Homes usually resemble cheap dolls houses. They often have a chipboard and plasterboard interior and a breeze block shell clad with a skin of cheap brick. Small plastic windows fill in the gaps and a little pitched entrance shelter is placed above the plastic front door. These houses are scattered, usually on patches of grass and connected by winding asphalt. Perhaps this new estate will be given a name such as Orchard Mews, or The Oaks, after something lovely that was destroyed to make way for it.
Millions of families will pass through such estates, and millions of children will be brought up in their soulless, uninspiring environments. Millions of families will be convinced by the house-builders’ argument that these are exactly what the consumer wants. Of course, if they never build anything different, then that is all the consumer has to choose from. There is no choice for people who prefer to live away from the centre of towns or villages, or who can’t afford to live in the truly desirable older and well built houses there. These estates are the only thing available.
If you live in a new estate on the edge of a village with an established community, you will always be ‘one of the people from the new estate’. The population will resent the imposed estate as all too often they will have had no involvement in it, and they will be similarly resentful of its occupants. While new planning regulations have the potential to involve an existing community in the design of these new estates, there is still no choice but to have a mass house-builder do the building.
So, how can it all be so different just a few miles away from the south coast? I would never have guessed that this little country with its dull image could be so surprising. Belgium can build houses! Belgium can also build towns and villages.
I first noticed the variety. On the roads leading from the busy village or town centres there is the usual lower density development. There is no escaping this anywhere - towns get less dense away from the centre. But in Belgium, every house is different. Not just you-can-choose-a-different-style-of-entrance-porch different, like in the UK, but wildly different: Sharp modern, good quality traditional, towering modern, bungalows and houses set into slopes or amongst trees, round, square, glass, brick, concrete… this is what real housing choice means.
Second, I noticed that in villages and towns and on their outskirts, land is divided into varied parcels and marked with a for-sale (A Vendre!) sign. People are buying plots of land and then commissioning, designing, and building their own homes. Really great homes! Even the simplest house was a reflection of what its soon-to-be occupants wanted. I don’t think I saw one house that didn’t have an interesting design flourish. You’d be hard pressed to find an estate house in the UK with a double height glass atrium, or even a window bigger than about 1m square.
People in Belgium are investing in villages and towns one family at a time, continuing the way that villages have grown for hundreds of years. Families invest in a community and the community assimilates them as, say, the people who have built the beautiful modern house in amongst those old trees on the edge of the village.
The results of their 30 years of housing investment are thousands of uniquely built, good quality family homes that have been carefully designed to serve and delight their occupants. There are so many wonderful modern homes to choose from, that a house resembling a UK estate house amongst them, would be recognised for what it is - rubbish. Additionally, with so much variety being demanded, builders and building component manufacturers can offer so many more options than in the UK.
I spoke to some Belgians about it. They told me that people aspired to buy a plot of land and build their own home. I wish I had learned how this model came to be, and what policies surround it, or about its effect on land value… but I had to leave.
What I came away thinking was that the UK has been harmed by our big, mass house-builders. They have created terrible places and, in a way, harmed the people who have no choice but to live in their overpriced, poorly built houses. No-one building their own house would make rooms just the right size for only 3/4 size furniture (as can be seen in estate show homes in the UK), or with windows so small that lights need to be left on inside, or chipboard floors and walls so thin you can hear people breathing on the other side.
I hope that the opportunity is taken in new Neighbourhood Plans, for communities to demand that a good percentage of new homes are designed and built by the people that will eventually live in them. Lets have real housing choice; lets end the domination of the house-builder monopolies.