Rachel Lambert - Consultant
How can London, a city formed by successive waves of development – both scattered evolution and chaotic transformations – and which does not fit any discernible pattern, benefit from masterplanning? This was the question put forward by Temple, along with Wei Yang + Partners, at an information sharing event on future-proofing of London held at Royal Holloway University. This interactive event looked at the role of local authorities in achieving spatial resilience to cope with climate change and London’s exploding population.
Climate change resilience was emphasised as a key driving principle to strategic masterplanning. Despite its acknowledged prominence, there is much uncertainty around policy and decision-making on environmental change at a global level and as a consequence, local governments face difficult trade-offs with other priorities. Climatic challenges are not constrained by administrative boundaries – this fact reinforces the need for collaborative working across political and spatial scales, a relationship dynamic that often hinders movement towards sustainability on a regional scale.
A further difficulty is the continued ambiguity of ‘sustainability’ as a concept and its implied significance for all built environment professionals. Nevertheless, it was apparent from our event that one of the three well known pillars of sustainability seemed universally important: people. From a developer’s perspective, EIA and climate change requirements are ultimately thought of as risks that have to be managed. Community on the other hand has the power to influence the success of an entire scheme.
Duncan Bower of Westfields discussing the community that make ups the shopping centre's surrounding area
It was generally agreed at the event that community engagement can have the power to significantly influence the outcome of a development, through mutual alliance between the developer and community or communities. To encourage effective communication, local authorities can use community profiling as a tool to counteract the lack of trust that is often apparent among local residents and businesses. Local authorities must not forget the hard to reach groups when engaging, as social isolation is still a common issue. These groups do not necessarily have a voice in the community and do not generally get involved in neighbourhood planning and consultation.
Initial discussions defined community as an organic collection of people who have been geographically defined, though there is much fluidity as people are part of multiple communities: business, virtual, social or mobile etc. Additionally, communities can also be artificially created, particularly in cities, due to key worker status - locating similar professions and people into a certain area. Community needs vary but generally are thought to include an element of the following: jobs and local opportunities for all ages; social care for the elderly; neighbourly support; recycling facilities; local food supplies; community facilitators/ entrepreneurs that could help to bring about community change through the development of enabling platforms; and affordable housing.
Planning has played an active role in enabling greater community involvement, dispersing more power towards neighbourhood planning. With the introduction of the Localism Act (2011), certain areas in London are seeing a growth in the applications for Neighbourhood Plans. Event attendees agreed that community participation has noticeably increased.
Temple's Jenny Stafford presenting the notes from the 'movement' session at the event
Discussions around movement recognised London as a unique and inspiring case study for the development and incorporation of sustainable transport methods. The city has a plethora of policy and guidance, with the GLA covering the spatial elements and TfL considering the aspect of movement. On reflection this raises the question as to whether additional guidance is required outside of London.
It was suggested that certain transport characteristics in London are generational – where older generations saw the car as freedom, many young Londoners opt for public transport as this represents freedom from having to maintain a costly vehicle. Although this may contribute, planning has certainly played a significant role in restricting car parking provisions in new developments. Improvements are certainly evident: the introduction of the congestion zone has significantly reduced traffic in central London and the increasing trend of cycling is apparent throughout the city. There is still a lot to be done, however, to improve accessibility and ensure transport modes are effectively connected and integrated for the user.
Ultimately, the design of urban spaces and places should couple a focus on local community need with collaborative working across administrative boundaries to respond to wider climate change and movement challenges.