No really, where do the children play? Stealth segregation in housing developments

When a housing development says “inclusive” it might pay to look closer. An award-winning mixed-affordability development in London ended up literally segregating the richer kids from the poorer kids in its play areas. How on earth did this get through?

Segregation. Economic apartheid. Ghettoising.

Tough words, and things people in nice liberal democracies like to tell ourselves we wouldn’t stand for. New Zealand, in particular, has long prided itself on being an egalitarian society that’s better than the class-discriminating UK.

That’s why we’re right to feel revolted when we learn about segregation at a macro scale – school districts, suburbs and so forth. That’s damaging enough. But imagine having segregation in your face every time you look out the window. To have your kid ask with a hopeful face, “can I go play with those other kids?”, and feeling your stomach sink when you try to figure out what you’re going to tell her.

But surely, surely when a good-looking development has been explicitly required to provide social housing to get planning permission, and markets itself as “inclusive and family-friendly” and in its prospectus says “common areas are there for the use of all the residents” – surely you can trust that it does what it says on the tin?

As the hapless residents of the Baylis Old School complex in London discovered, the answer was No. Kids whose families rented their apartments rather than owned them were literally banned from using the bigger, nicer play area in the complex.

“My children are friends with all the other children on this development – but when it is summer they can’t join them. Children shouldn’t know who owns and who is renting.”

A renting resident

A thorough exposé, Too Poor To Play, brought profile to this injustice. It unpacked the complex interweaving of responsibilities in the comprehensive redevelopment of the sites. A series of cockups due to complexity is one thing, and we can at least tell ourselves “hey, at least it doesn’t look like anyone intended to create a horrible discriminatory development”.

But then there was the completely unapologetic attitude of the developer:

“Although, as you state, the block overlooks the swing area, the residents have no access to it. This is for [a] very good reason – being that [they] do not contribute towards the service charges,” said Emma Blaney of Warwick Estates. “This is in no way discriminatory but fair and reasonable.”


Fortunately, loads of people said “No this isn’t good enough, we don’t want England to be like this”.

And after lots of battling and campaigning, the story does have a happier ending for the Old School development.

It’s a cautionary tale though. Surely, kids being able to play with other kids in the place they live, regardless of their skin colour, families’ affluence, or gender, shouldn’t require huge campaigns and investigative journalism…

Further reading

Check out the affordability reads on our Curious Person’s Reading List

Banner image credit:

Graeme Robertson | The Guardian

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