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June 24, 2005 || 3:58 am

Interesting reporting of a MORI poll on liveability. Its assumptions regarding blocks of flats taller than five stories and terraced houses ("both viewed negatively") made my antennae twitch. High-rise apartment blocks are a usual target, but terraced houses? I thought Georgian terraces were everyone's ideal. The report is going to be launched tomorrow (I assume the Guardian got a sneak preview) so I can't check the basis on which they decided that terraced houses were bad. But the inbuilt bias against urban areas by this yardstick says everything about the misguided nature of such 'surveys'. Yes, in a rural area high-rises, or even terraces, may be out of place and residents may find they make their area less attractive. But in a city different aspects come through and the survey did in no way ask public opinion on whether, as the Guardian says, "the English vision of an ideal local environment still leans towards a bucolic idyll of green pastures dotted with detached houses".

The other measures - graffitti, litter, neglected open space - are more applicable to both rural and urban environments. But (although it is hard to tell without reading the report) the Guardian seems to really misinterpret the report as a survey of public opinion. It suggests that because its 'physical capital index' (based on "'visual quality' of an area as assessed by chartered surveyors...the proportion of householders living above the fifth storey, and the proportion of local housing stock that is terraced (latter two negative features)" correlates closely to the findings of a separate poll on "satisfaction with their area for residents in each [local] authority" means that the one is the resultant of the other - a classic statistical misinterpretation of cause and effect.

In fact, if you look at MORI's report on its regular tracking survey of residents satisfaction with their local authority, tellingly entitled 'Be Happy', it says that public concern with liveability is now falling. "When we first noticed this trend, we scratched our heads but now having reviewed the evidence, and recorded an upturn in repeated surveys over the last 18 months, it is definitely happening." MORI places credit for this with the government, central and local, for taking more care of liveability through its task forces.

"Exactly the same pattern is clear in local studies - in MORI's surveys for the Mayor of London, and the Greater London Authority, we have seen year on year decline in concern about litter, noise and pollution in London."

The Guardian turns this around to make it sound like the public are still highly concerned about liveability - and it is true that liveability concerns are still top of the list of areas residents would like to see tackled. But the trend is for decreasing concern, not increasing. And whether a decreasing number of high-rise apartment buildings or terrace houses have anything at all to do with this, I doubt. I haven't seen that many Georgian terraces get knocked down in London over the last few years.



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