Separate entrances for low-income residents have become a potent symbol of London’s social apartheid, writes Priya Khanchandani
A ‘poor door’ is not a rickety, old entranceway that doesn’t quite fit into its doorframe and is clinging onto rusty hinges. In fact, a poor door could be brand new. It just won’t be as shiny as the neighbouring door, which is more likely to be automatic, and give way to a grand lobby, perhaps with a marble concierge desk and chic pendant lights.
All new property developments in London have to include 30 per cent social housing or ‘affordable’ rentals at capped rates. Developers have dealt with this by introducing separate doors for the low-income residents. ‘Poor doors’, as they have come to be known, have become symbolic of the social apartheid in housing in London, where expensive private housing is effectively propping up the ‘affordable’ market.
The question of how to tackle social segregation in London’s housing sparked debate when Guardian Cities reported that Lilian Baylis estate in Kennington had not allowed families living in the social housing side of the estate to use the play area, nor any of the other communal spaces on the development. In response, a new draft of the London Plan issued this July has banned the segregation of play areas. Henley Homes, the developer, has since removed the divide and thrown a party to all the residents by way of apology.
The government has announced that it plans to issue new guidance to toughen up planning rules, which will stop developers from building separate entrances for lower income residents. Although the new guidance, which will take the form of a ‘Design Manual’, hasn’t been issued yet, and there will be consultation with local authorities before we know how it will be implemented, former communities secretary James Brokenshire said that it would ‘help ensure planning decisions promote social interaction in communities’. The idea will be to work through ways in which architecture that divides communities can be rethought and rendered more inclusive.
While this policy is a step forward, poor doors are a symptom and not the cause of the rich-poor divide that is actually at the root of social segregation in London, where 50 per cent of the city’s wealth is contained in just 10 percent of all households – and the bottom 50 percent are left clinging on to just over 5 percent.
Being able to walk through the same doors is one thing, but to claim this will end social segregation glosses over these vast economic differences, which divide communities and stand in the way of true social cohesion in the capital. If we had begun to tackle that, perhaps the question of ‘poor doors’ might not have arisen at all.
This article originally appeared in Icon 196, the London issue