When Open House weekend comes round, it's always a treat to visit a housing estate. It's even more of a treat to visit a housing estate that still thrives, that Right To Buy never touched and whose residents clearly think the world of it. And when that housing estate is hidden in plain sight in the midst of a town centre, high above Sainsbury's and a multi-storey car park, even better. That'll be Page High.
We're in Wood Green, where in the mid 1970s Haringey Council decided to create a neighbourhood centre worthy of their new borough. They built The Mall, then called Wood Green Shopping City, and developed a penchant for 'layer cake' development - building things on top of other things. The Mall got Sky City plonked on top, a village of 201 pitched-roofed houses and flats, while a separate project stepped back from the High Road on the eastern side. Sainsbury's and Woolworths joined the consortium which saw two layers of public car park built above the shops, then above that a secluded "street in the air". That'll be Page High.
The entrance isn't over-promising - a doorway up a sidestreet beside a Matalan Clearance Store opposite a Lidl. There are stairs, but once you've been living here a while you know to plump for the lift. And this brings you out at one end of a long street lined by 92 flats and maisonettes, but not a street any car will ever drive down, more a shared community walkway. The irregular redbrick construction is appealing. The chimney for the communal heating system draws the eye. But what immediately impressed yesterday's first-time visitors was how impossible it was to tell that the whole thing was somehow six storeys above ground level.
A posse of Page High residents showed us round, their enthusiasm palpable. They recounted the day in 1975 the Duke of Edinburgh came to open the place, his royal visit fulsomely reported in the Hornsey Express. They smiled as they told how concerted action had fought off the threat of the council's recent Wood Green Area Action Plan, which would have seen the entire site redeveloped and residents decanted elsewhere. They promised to show us inside one of their flats so we could see how spacious it is, and delivered. And they bemoaned their regular battles with the housing company who manage the site, often doing too little but sometimes blundering in and doing too much.
A lot of the signage is fabulously retro, for which read utterly authentic.
These house numbers, for example, are written in a splendidly outmoded typeface on a bright orange background.
This map of the estate, with its bold black arrows, resembles a prop from a Gerry Anderson animation.
And if you step down into the car park, it seems every iteration of Haringey's logo appears somewhere.
Only on level 2 of the car park do you get a proper idea of how the architects put Page High together.
All the flats and the central street are supported on a long linear deck hoisted straight down the middle of the car park. Additional parking spaces are aligned along each side. Pipes extrude, and sometimes leak, forming large puddles on the concrete. A back staircase provides additional access for residents, because in 1975 it was crucially important that everyone had somewhere to park their vehicle. These days the car park's upper level is woefully empty, even on a Saturday afternoon, and you can see why the council might have thought this was an inefficient use of space.
And the views from the balconies are splendid. Depending on which way your flat faces you might see Alexandra Palace, or Docklands, or the City, or the chimneypots of the Noel Park estate stretching off past the courthouse towards the foothills of Essex. Little of the rest of Haringey is highrise, so the panorama rolls on in all directions. But on that central secluded street none of this is visible, just the sense of a focused community strengthened by living together, and long may it remain.