Planning, design and problem solving for urban environments.

A High Line for Gaza?


The successful transformation of a former elevated freight rail line in New York into a public walking path has triggered a wave of similar projects from Miami to Singapore. Could lessons from the High Line help Gaza?  Converting a former rail corridor to a priority walking and cycling space was one urban design intervention we considered as part of a long term spatial visioning exercise for Gaza as part of an Urban Planning Advisory Team for UN Development Programme and UN Habitat.  The International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) arranged the UPAT and brought together 12 planners from around the world with the intention of undertaking a rapid, creative spatial visioning exercise.  The team was split into two parts, one half focused on the West Bank and the other on the Gaza Strip. 

Initial concepts for the Gaza trail include gabions filled with rubble to separate vehicles from pedestrians and provide seating, planting date palms or other edible landscaping, to further define the space and provide shade and marking a dedicated cycle lane. Over time, the trail could integrate other services like solar powered mobile phone charging stations and drinking taps.  Not only could this type of trail support affordable, healthy and sustainable modes of transport, shops and homes generally overlook it, providing a safe space for all user groups.

Detailed design is needed to create an appropriate layout for each block of the trail, and implementation of the project would also need to include traffic diversions and driver education – not easy tasks in any city but surely worth testing on a small section of the trail to gather public feedback.  Yet the success of Gaza’s port side Corniche suggests that a pedestrian and walking trail could be an important addition to Gaza’s few, but much loved public spaces.


Development management advice


Much of London's planned growth is currently concentrated in Opportunity Areas and Housing Zones designated by the Greater London Authority, and in many of these places regeneration is anchored by improvements in transport infrastructure.  Urben has provided advice to Local Planning Authorities and Crossrail for new railway stations under the Crossrail Act 2008, and for major mixed use redevelopments around these new stations. Services include pre-application feasibility studies and advice to developers, policy review, consideration of cumulative construction impacts, affordable housing requirements, design review, stakeholder engagement, drafting Section 106 Heads of Terms, and written assessment of applications for determination.  


What to do with a hole in the ground (in Mayfair)


Urben was granted a Design Innovation Award by the Royal College of Art to enable research into how shafts left over from Crossrail construction could be redesigned to better use valuable resources, including land in central London. 

As Crossrail winds its way beneath central London, grout shafts are being used to stabilise the earth beneath buildings.  The shafts are open topped, concrete lined spaces, but rather than seeing them as unsightly holes in the ground, Urben reimagined the spaces as slim, 6 storey structures with the potential to provide automated cycle storage, waste storage, parcel drop off / collection, or even cafes and bars. Aside from creating great spaces, it is hoped that the project will lead a broader discussion on the need for cities to use their resources more efficiently. 


What happens beneath two great cities & why.


The International Society of City and Regional Planning and the International Tunneling Association Committee on Underground Spaces commissioned Urben to research the planning and design of underground spaces in London and New York.  We compared how each city has traditionally approached underground development, gave an overview of the current planning context, plus environmental, policy and design considerations, vertical and spatial integration, and scope for lessons to be learnt.  Case studies were provided on innovative new projects such as the Lowline Park proposed for Manhattan.  Our work contributed to a growing body of research and practice by cities such as Helsinki, Tokyo and Singapore.



Improving the quality of the River Thames.


London’s 150-year old combined sewage and rainwater system is currently servicing millions more people than it was designed for, leading to the River Thames being polluted by over 39 million tonnes of sewage annually.  The Thames Tideway Tunnel is a £4.2bn Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project to construct a 25.1km long tunnel beneath the River Thames that connects to existing infrastructure at 24 locations and is capable of diverting waste to an expanded treatment facility. 

Urben worked in a multi-consultant team to successfully secure Development Consent for the project.  Blackfriars Bridge Foreshore and Albert Embankment Foreshore were our primary responsibility, each of which posed unique challenges including proximity to Grade II listed properties, complex stakeholder interests and constructing within the river itself. At both sites the proposed infrastructure is to be concealed beneath new landscaped spaces built into the foreshore, at Blackfriars Bridge the design by Fereday Pollard will provide almost 5,000 sqm of new public realm. 



Large & complex tourism led regeneration.


Working collaboratively, including through design competitions can be a great way to ignite ideas and initiate constructive debate on urban challenges. In 2008 the government of Montenegro launched an international design competition and parallel tender process for development of a 13km beach (Velika Plaza) and adjacent 500 ha island (Ada Bojana).

Whilst in previous roles, Urben staff undertook initial feasibility studies, liaised with the Ministry for Spatial Planning and Environment, and managed the preparation of two alternative masterplan concepts for the site. Each comprised a tourism based, mixed-use development, and was developed by consultant teams based in London and Singapore. These concepts were then assessed to identify if a sufficient return on investment could be delivered whilst responding to site constraints such as a potential UNESCO listing, limited infrastructure, flooding, and risk of seismological events.  Our staff also reviewed the land assembly strategy and produced a briefing paper identifying likely infrastructure investment. 

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Consent for remediation & regeneration. 


Land is a valuable resource that cities need to use efficiently and creatively, sometimes by investing significant time and money into realising its full potential. A prerequisite of London winning the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games was that a positive legacy would be created through regeneration of a neglected inner urban area. The site measures over 45 hectares and had been subjected to decades of neglect, was flood prone, had industrial ground contamination and poor transport connectivity. Significant government funding was therefore required to leverage it into a condition suitable for recreation and residential use.


Whilst in previous roles, Urben staff were responsible for preparing and managing planning applications to decontaminate soil; undertake bulk earthworks to mitigate flood risk; and relocate some existing land interests. Eight, time critical applications were successfully obtained that facilitated the treatment and reuse of 1.7 million tonnes of contaminated soil. Stakeholder negotiations and a subsequent planning approval were also obtained for the relocation of housing and community facilities for residents displaced from the site.