I found it heartening that the Mayor’s London Plan embraced heritage and culture as being part of the fabric of London. Culture is so important in any city but London, as a City of Villages, is awash with it. That texture and variety of histories is what makes London London. It’s London’s golden goose.
It’s what attracts 31 million tourists London every year – 17 million of them from other countries. It’s what brings talented people here to make their lives and their careers. It’s what attracts, develops and retains businesses.
If we keep jamming insensitive developments into London, we’ll crush that texture. We’ll lose what makes London London. We’ll kill that golden goose.
Developers have been part of this problem. The property developer is a fairly primitive animal. Its natural instinct is to keep things simple: buy the land, get the permission, sell it on or build it. End of.
So that’s one reason we don’t get great placemaking – developers can’t always see a good reason to do it, or don’t have the right people and the right skills to do it.
That’s why the Mayor’s vision where access to great culture is built into the fabric of every part of London is so welcome.
It is all the more important when you consider London is getting denser as its population grows. In 2015 it reached 8.6m and its set to reach 10 million by 2024. This population growth isn’t an insoluble problem as London is not as dense as cities like Paris and Madrid, never mind New York. So, a higher population density for London is part of the answer. But we want the right kind of densification.
Fewer towers of expensive flats. More mixed-use regeneration, often on brownfield sites, that creates great places for people and chimes with the patchwork of villages that is London.
London has 436 towers in the planning pipeline, and nearly 90 are under construction. Over 70% of the towers in planning are residential only.
It’s an example of how out of step London’s development and planning is with what London needs: single-use residential towers deliver very little money to local communities and do nothing to regenerate the areas they sprout up in.That’s why I believe the lack of good placemaking and culture in new property developments is an urgent problem. If we don’t do something about it soon, then short-sighted development may kill the golden goose.The good news is that we can get it right – and I say ‘we’ to include developers, local authorities, arts-and-culture professionals, communities, and all the other stakeholders in powerful partnership with each other.
And when it’s right the benefits are real and joyous. A lovely place to live and work, recurring rates revenue for councils, a leg-up for smaller businesses and artists and creatives, and a scheme that’s economically self-sustaining.
How do we go about combining placemaking and culture? We do a lot of research to understand the place and find the history, stories, and myths that make it unique. We take care to respect places, to work with their grain. We listen to local people and communities.
Working together we can weave the golden threads of culture and placemaking and creativity into the thinking and process of development in this city.
I believe now is the time for this change. London needs it and the Mayors’ focus on the importance of culture and Placemaking is a worthy step in the right direction.