Much is talked about the housing deficit and hardly an election, local or national, goes by without a pronouncement on the need for vast numbers of new houses. The increment of measurement is extraordinary, with units of 100,000s bandied about like confetti. For most of us we measure numbers of houses by where we live, maybe sharing a close with seven others, living in a terrace of ten or perhaps 20 or so in a street, either side or across the road - but 100s of thousands?
The recession crippled that ambition with the result that inroads into that quantitative challenge have been limited over the last six years. In fact if you add up the annual need figures we must be millions of houses in deficit. Which is of course mind boggling.
Why does it matter? In crude terms every community needs a supply of houses to offer mobility and flexibility to its workforce and families whether it is the office workers, nurses, teachers, drivers, retail staff, policemen or fire service. If they can't be provided then cities and towns become less attractive for investment. At an extreme cities and towns begin to decay and descend into a downward spiral of unattractiveness.
The danger of course in the numbers game is we panic into thinking that the answer lies in numbers. Remember though that our personal measure of where we live is in small numbers of units - the close, terrace or street. Therein lies the trick and level of the bar we need to jump. Yes we need numbers of units but at the same time we need to conceive them in attractive quantities. Simply multiplying individual house numbers becomes a daunting target.
However, if we convert it to a close of eight in a tenement, we have 15,000 closes needed or 10,000 terraces or 5000 short streets. Still daunting but if we re-imagine the closes joined together to make a block of 12 closes around a courtyard and then group 8 blocks around a garden square and that is a hundred 'quarters', a couple in every city around the country might meet the need in attractive ways. That would be dense, but with variations of terraces and individual houses we can imagine meeting our needs in coherent and positive ways.
Critically our increment is not the house, but the grouping, the quarter in the city, the neighbourhood in the suburb, it is the stuff of architecture and urban planning - the unit of attractive living that can deliver the essential targets.