Planning Under Fire

Town planning is often seen as a fairly benign profession, however the last week has been a reminder just how powerful a simple line on a plan or map can be.  I have recently returned from the Middle East, where I worked for the United Nations Development Program and United Nations Habitat as part of an Urban Planning Advisory Team (UPAT) attempting to picture and plan for a future State of Palestine along 1967 borders - a critically important but entirely ignored spatial plan.  

Separation wall in the West Bank

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 two parts, one half focused on the West Bank and the other on the Gaza Strip.  The challenges of planning in the West Bank are well documented in the UN Habitat report Right to Develop: Planning Palestinian Communities in East Jerusalem (http://unhabitat.org/books/right-to-develop-planning-palestinian-communities-in-east-jerusalem/), however the UPAT was able to add to the discourse by thinking pragmatically about public transport and public realm improvements for Ramallah, Jerusalem, Jericho and Bethlehem.   

Notwithstanding the challenges faced by Palestinians trying to live, work and plan for the future in the West Bank, the situation in Gaza is considerably worse.  

A few of the many destroyed homes, places of work and community facilities in Gaza


It is hard to explain what it is like to experience Gaza first hand.  Yes, a great deal of it is currently very badly damaged or destroyed, but it is also a beautiful place.  Our local planning and architecture counterparts are very capable and have spatial land use plans in place for each of their five governorates, there is also a National Spatial Strategy and many other plans prepared for infrastructure, commercial and residential development.  However plan implementation is extremely difficult - Gaza has been afflicted by three wars in the past six years, and is still under a suffocating blockade.  It has also lost large sections of land within its borders, turned into no-mans-land within firing range of Israeli (and indeed Egyptian) military.  

Access map.jpg

In addition to these considerable challenges, attempts by Gaza to “build back better” are further hampered by only a fraction of pledged international development donations having been paid, and the supply of most building materials being blocked by Israel.  
In addition to over 9,000 homes still lying destroyed and 134,000 more left damaged, many industrial buildings, community facilities and farms have also been lost, thereby removing places for people to work and play.  

In the face of these very significant obstacles, we asked people to consider how they hoped Gaza would look, feel and function at an unspecified time in the future when a State of Palestine would have full sovereignty of borders that would be open for the movement of people and goods, as it is now within Europe.  Although we tried to focus on macro level spatial visions, some possible short-term local interventions also emerged.  Initial ideas, sketch concepts and precedent images suggested:
•    Pocket parks for the many children who play on the streets;
•    Ecological system improvements for Wadi Gaza (as part of wider planned measures to address critical water and sanitation risks);
•    Transformation of a former rail corridor into a priority walking and cycling trail; and 
•    Facilities to support the sharing economy.  

More details on the proposed spatial vision and design concepts will be shared in a series of three magazines, to be presented at the 51st ISOCARP International Planning Congress “Cities Save the World: Let’s Reinvent Planning”, which will take place from 19 to 23 October 2015 in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

It was an honour to be a part of the ISOCARP UPAT and I hope that we can make a small contribution to Gaza once again being a vibrant and successful crossroads in the Middle East.  

Urben on The Urbanist

On Thursday 4th June our Director Elizabeth Reynolds joined Editor Andrew Tuck on episode 190 of The Urbanist on Monocle radio (http://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-urbanist/).  The episode features stories on underground transport systems in New York, Singapore and Toronto; the Lowline park proposed for New York; and our views on the importance of the spaces beneath our cities. 

The radio interview follows Elizabeth’s keynote address for a session at the World Tunnelling Congress in Dubrovnik on 26th May, hosted by the International Tunnelling Academy Committee on Underground Spaces (ITACUS).  The session brought together planners, engineers, architects and geologists to discuss innovation in using underground spaces and launched the book ‘Think Deep: Planning, development and use of underground space in cities’.  The book is published by both ITACUS and the International Society of City and Regional Planning (ISOCARP) and features five case studies, ours being NY-Lon Underground’ – research considering how New York and London have evolved in their approaches to underground development. 

Hidden bar .jpg

In addition to our work with ITACUS and ISOCARP, in November Elizabeth spoke at the Commonwealth Association of Planners conference in Singapore, and in January this year we published our Underground Urbanism project with Royal College of Art, for which we received a Design Innovation Award.  To learn more about planning and designing the resources beneath our cities, we are also hosting an event for the Urban Design Group in London on 16th September – so stay tuned for more details!

I Was only trying to help!

When urban innovation meets the media.

Built environment professionals generally love a good challenge - by nature we are curious about the spaces around us and love to solve good, tricky problems.  Recently Gensler Architects launched their London Underline project to turn disused underground train stations and lines into cycle paths able to capture kinetic energy, plus cultural and retail spaces.  The concept responded to several issues relevant to London (and indeed other cities) namely – high land values, a need to use space more efficiently, regeneration of disused assets, cycle safety and the physical interface of on-line retail. 

At Urben we are strongly advocating for cities to make better, more strategic use of their natural resources, including those found underground.  We were pleased to see Gensler collect the ‘Best Conceptual Project’ at the London Planning Awards.  However, as this resourceful and innovative project was picked up by the mainstream media something strange happened – there wasn’t so much of a debate about the concept as a backlash, primarily by cyclists – a group Gensler had no doubt aimed to help. 

Sometimes in the course of nurturing a design concept we tend to keep it close to our chests, not least to protect the intellectual property of something that has often taken sleepless nights and unpaid overtime to create.  I’m embarrassed to say my first thought when I saw the Underline concept was one of envy – Urben has undertaken three projects researching the planning and design of underground space, not only were we close to releasing our project with Royal College of Art, but also hoped our next project might be an underground walking or cycling path in London. 

The green monster subsided a little as I saw this exciting concept become hijacked by cyclists outraged at being forced underground rather than sharing road space with vehicles at ground level.  The Guardian said 'Gensler's proposal to turn disused underground tunnels into arteries for bikes and pedestrians looks like fun.  As a sober response to congestion, it's ridiculous'. Compared to some of the project’s one eyed critics I saw Gensler's project as a genuine attempt to address how London might incorporate it's underground spaces into a debate on development demand and associated resource constraints in London.  It remains to be seen if any aspect of the London "Underline"  (a terrible name by the way) will be realised, but in the interim let's hope all publicity is good publicity!

Heathrow City

How far can you look into the future of your city?

How far can you look into the future of your city and what do you see?  Could you imagine that 30 years from now you might arrive in London at an entirely new airport built on an island in the Thames Estuary?  When you leave the airport can you imagine a journey on a high-speed train that shuttles you across London to your new home on the site of the former Heathrow Airport?  Or could you perhaps picture arriving back in London from a work trip on an airship, with an even shorter journey to your new home in Heathrow City?

Until 9th August 2014 New London Architecture is exhibiting concepts by three architectural practices that have been asked by the Mayor of London to envision what Heathrow might look and feel like, should it no longer be required as an airport.  While the Airports Commission debates the feasibility of a new airport in the Thames Estuary, let’s consider what the potential for a “Heathrow City”.

At 1227 hectares, Heathrow Airport is similar in size to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and according to a study by JLL with Peter Brett Associates, could be capable of accommodating up to 80,000 new homes with a population of approximately 190,000.  Three architects were asked to propose a concept for the redevelopment of Heathrow:

 

The Transforming City – Rick Mather Architects

This concept design creates a mixed use, residential based masterplan evolving through stages of ‘hunter-gatherer’, ‘medieval’ and ‘enlightened’.  Ten character areas, each with a traditional town centre, would be created and linked by linear runway parks to concentrate dense development.  Where possible, existing buildings would be repurposed with Terminal 2 adapted to provide high quality office / faculty uses combined with mixed use / retail. Terminal 5 would be redeveloped as exhibition / conference facilities, including a Museum of Manufacture.  Terminal 4 would act as a local centre for culture and business opportunities, incorporating meanwhile uses such as hydroponic cultivation.  Landscape and public realm design are emphasized as playing an important role in place making and integrating the re-development with it’s surrounds.

 

Romance of the Sky / A Factory for Homes / A Green Belt in the Green Belt – Hawkins Brown 

Hawkins Brown interpreted the brief most liberally and envisioned three intertwined scenarios.  A self confessed ‘deliberately provocative’ concept, Romance of the Skies asked people to imagine returning to a golden age of travel with Heathrow City acting as a hub for airships.  To address London’s housing shortage and disrupt the prevailing delivery model to the UK market, Hawkins Brown also proposed that the site become a factory for homes, with 47% of new residential properties delivered by small or medium developers (or presumably community collectives) in subplots of less than 20 units.  The housing provision also aimed to address the needs of three emerging markets, namely:

  • Sharers (‘students, co-operatives, the elderly seeking sociability, renters’);
  • Flexers (multi-generational families, co-habiting households, households with flexible arrangements); and
  • Doers (homeworkers, hobbyists)

Finally, the existing runways would be adapted to create a linear green belt for recreational and ecological needs.  Interestingly, the existing Terminal Two would be converted into a city farm with hydroponic systems capable of producing millions of vegetables to be sold within a fresh produce market also to be located within the building.

 

Liveable Landscape – MacCreanor Lavington

Recognising the scale of mixed use development that could be accommodated within Heathrow City, MacCreanor Lavington see redevelopment of the airport as an important step in creating a more balanced, polycentric Greater London.  New housing could be developed through self-build, community, or developer led methods.  Significant existing buildings would be adapted to a variety of end uses including an international conference and exhibitions centre, technology campus, light industry, shopping mall and civic centre. Working with the long-term programme for demobilisation then redevelopment, they also propose a process of bio-remediation to treat contaminated soil and paved areas, plus reuse of waste materials as biofuel.

Other options?

If you can, now think back to 30 years ago – what was your world like?  For better or worse how has it changed?  Can you remember a world without the Internet, smart phones, electric cars, or Maglev trains for example?  Could you have foreseen how different your world is?

Although each of the three architects prepared sound design concepts, we felt that Hawkins Brown were best able to imagine a very radical future scenario.  By identifying wide ranging, potentially unlikely scenarios you can make more informed decisions and better prepare yourself to deal with risks (for more on this technique I recommend ‘the Art of the Long View’ by Peter Schwartz).  So what other development scenarios do we think could evolve for Heathrow City?

Underground

If significant excavation and treatment of contaminated surfaces is required, why not take things a step further and create as much space below ground as possible.  A network of roads, utility networks, storage and recreation uses could be housed below ground – potentially eliminating the need for vehicles anywhere at street level.  This could significantly decrease road space and create a dense, pedestrian focused typology.

Growing 

Could Heathrow City become an entirely productive space to grow, harvest, refine and recycle timber, food, renewable energy and water for London?  Existing terminal buildings could potentially be converted to urban farms run using electronic monitoring and lighting systems to maximise yield.  Waste products could be used for biofuels and there are excellent opportunities for solar energy production.  Perhaps the existing transport network could even be used to distribute goods to market.

Military

Unfortunately it is necessary to consider both positive and negative scenarios.  We all hope never to experience war, however it is possible Heathrow could return to its former use as a military airfield, with all the associated supporting industries and accommodation.

Space station

Sure, the spaceport in the Navajo Desert being built for Virgin Galactic is about five times the size of Heathrow City but whilst we are using our imagination, what if Heathrow City became an intergalactic transport hub? If not actively used as flights, it could still act as a world leading space research and technology hub.

 

Zero Carbon

Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (www.masdar.ae) is a good example of a high-tech learning and living environment that is in the process of becoming carbon neutral.  There is no reason Heathrow City could not exceed the current highest BREEAM or LEED building standards with cutting edge, ultra efficient building typologies.

Green space

Theoretically, London’s housing demand could be met within the existing Greater London Authority area through targeted densification, so assuming either this scenario (or even more controversially, one in which housing demand falls), could the entire space become a National Park? Restoration of the site to provide a public open space with forests, lakes, and fields could act as lungs for London and actively support improved biodiversity.

If you have any outlandish or innovative suggestions for the future of Heathrow city we would love to hear them via twitter @urbenstudio

 

For more information on the exhibition or the Airports Commission study, see below.

Links:

http://www.heathrow-city.com/about/

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/airp

At 1227 hectares, Heathrow Airport is similar in size to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and according to a study by JLL with Peter Brett Associates, could be capable of accommodating up to 80,000 new homes with a population of approximately 190,000.  Three architects were asked to propose a concept for the redevelopment of Heathrow:

 

The Transforming City – Rick Mather Architects

This concept design creates a mixed use, residential based masterplan evolving through stages of ‘hunter-gatherer’, ‘medieval’ and ‘enlightened’.  Ten character areas, each with a traditional town centre, would be created and linked by linear runway parks to concentrate dense development.  Where possible, existing buildings would be repurposed with Terminal 2 adapted to provide high quality office / faculty uses combined with mixed use / retail. Terminal 5 would be redeveloped as exhibition / conference facilities, including a Museum of Manufacture.  Terminal 4 would act as a local centre for culture and business opportunities, incorporating meanwhile uses such as hydroponic cultivation.  Landscape and public realm design are emphasized as playing an important role in place making and integrating the re-development with it’s surrounds.

 

Romance of the Sky / A Factory for Homes / A Green Belt in the Green Belt – Hawkins Brown 

Hawkins Brown interpreted the brief most liberally and envisioned three intertwined scenarios.  A self confessed ‘deliberately provocative’ concept, Romance of the Skies asked people to imagine returning to a golden age of travel with Heathrow City acting as a hub for airships.  To address London’s housing shortage and disrupt the prevailing delivery model to the UK market, Hawkins Brown also proposed that the site become a factory for homes, with 47% of new residential properties delivered by small or medium developers (or presumably community collectives) in subplots of less than 20 units.  The housing provision also aimed to address the needs of three emerging markets, namely:

  • Sharers (‘students, co-operatives, the elderly seeking sociability, renters’);
  • Flexers (multi-generational families, co-habiting households, households with flexible arrangements); and
  • Doers (homeworkers, hobbyists)

Finally, the existing runways would be adapted to create a linear green belt for recreational and ecological needs.  Interestingly, the existing Terminal Two would be converted into a city farm with hydroponic systems capable of producing millions of vegetables to be sold within a fresh produce market also to be located within the building.

 

Liveable Landscape – MacCreanor Lavington

Recognising the scale of mixed use development that could be accommodated within Heathrow City, MacCreanor Lavington see redevelopment of the airport as an important step in creating a more balanced, polycentric Greater London.  New housing could be developed through self-build, community, or developer led methods.  Significant existing buildings would be adapted to a variety of end uses including an international conference and exhibitions centre, technology campus, light industry, shopping mall and civic centre. Working with the long-term programme for demobilisation then redevelopment, they also propose a process of bio-remediation to treat contaminated soil and paved areas, plus reuse of waste materials as biofuel.

Other options?

If you can, now think back to 30 years ago – what was your world like?  For better or worse how has it changed?  Can you remember a world without the Internet, smart phones, electric cars, or Maglev trains for example?  Could you have foreseen how different your world is?

Although each of the three architects prepared sound design concepts, we felt that Hawkins Brown were best able to imagine a very radical future scenario.  By identifying wide ranging, potentially unlikely scenarios you can make more informed decisions and better prepare yourself to deal with risks (for more on this technique I recommend ‘the Art of the Long View’ by Peter Schwartz).  So what other development scenarios do we think could evolve for Heathrow City?

Underground

If significant excavation and treatment of contaminated surfaces is required, why not take things a step further and create as much space below ground as possible.  A network of roads, utility networks, storage and recreation uses could be housed below ground – potentially eliminating the need for vehicles anywhere at street level.  This could significantly decrease road space and create a dense, pedestrian focused typology.

Growing 

Could Heathrow City become an entirely productive space to grow, harvest, refine and recycle timber, food, renewable energy and water for London?  Existing terminal buildings could potentially be converted to urban farms run using electronic monitoring and lighting systems to maximise yield.  Waste products could be used for biofuels and there are excellent opportunities for solar energy production.  Perhaps the existing transport network could even be used to distribute goods to market.

Military

Unfortunately it is necessary to consider both positive and negative scenarios.  We all hope never to experience war, however it is possible Heathrow could return to its former use as a military airfield, with all the associated supporting industries and accommodation.

Space station

Sure, the spaceport in the Navajo Desert being built for Virgin Galactic is about five times the size of Heathrow City but whilst we are using our imagination, what if Heathrow City became an intergalactic transport hub? If not actively used as flights, it could still act as a world leading space research and technology hub.


Zero Carbon

Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (www.masdar.ae) is a good example of a high-tech learning and living environment that is in the process of becoming carbon neutral.  There is no reason Heathrow City could not exceed the current highest BREEAM or LEED building standards with cutting edge, ultra efficient building typologies.

Green space

Theoretically, London’s housing demand could be met within the existing Greater London Authority area through targeted densification, so assuming either this scenario (or even more controversially, one in which housing demand falls), could the entire space become a National Park? Restoration of the site to provide a public open space with forests, lakes, and fields could act as lungs for London and actively support improved biodiversity.

If you have any outlandish or innovative suggestions for the future of Heathrow city we would love to hear them via twitter @urbenstudio


For more information on the exhibition or the Airports Commission study, see below.

Links:

http://www.heathrow-city.com/about/

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/airp

How can cities support inclusive prosperity?

Urban planning and design for inclusive prosperity?

Several months ago I was invited to participate in a conference on Inclusive Prosperity, having previously attended an event at John McAslan and Partners on Social Entrepreneurship.  I was slightly hesitant that it was being organised not only by the Policy Network but also a political party, however my interest in the topic was sufficient to accept without first sighting the conference schedule.  When the schedule did arrive it looked at risk of being an all-star Labour Party publicity vehicle, but yesterday I was pleasantly surprised – the content was interesting, pragmatic, evidence based and inspiring.  So, what is meant by inclusive prosperity and how can we help create spaces that enable this aspiration?

 

Inclusive prosperity could be defined as trying to involve the broadest possible cross section of a community in productive, sufficiently rewarding employment.  Yet surely creating economic conditions whereby the majority of people live and work with dignity is common sense, after all how can we have productive, sustainable cities if a high proportion of their greatest asset – its people, are marginalised? (For an in-depth explanation of how cities, their people and economies have evolved over time I recommend The City: The Basics by Kevin Archer.  Archer talks about trends in global urbanisation and competitiveness, it is these themes along with rapid and fundamental advances in technology that set the backdrop to yesterday’s discussion on macro policy reform – I will be writing more on this in a future blog).

From an urban planning perspective there several ways we can work to improve the quality and competiveness of our cities in a way that supports the aspiration of inclusive prosperity:

 

Infrastructure

A lack of investment in infrastructure – be it transport, utilities, energy or social, reduces the amenity of a City; reduces efficiency; increases vulnerability and compounds the cost of any deferred investment.  The Armitt Report led by Sir John Armitt recommends a UK National Infrastructure Commission be established to help address the mismatch between political cycles and long-term infrastructure planning and investment.  For those of us in the industry, it is something that has been advocated for a long time, but it was pleased to see it finally getting political traction – this is something that the Labour Party seem to have now committed to as part of their manifesto for the 2015 General Election.

 

Employment

Our cities should be spaces of production as well as consumption.  Investing in cities could drive demand for skills in sectors such as:

  • Urban agriculture;
  • Building retrofitting;
  • House building, including through pre-fabricated manufacturing;
  • Renewable energy;
  • Green infrastructure (landscaping / plumbing); and
  • Electric vehicle design and manufacturing.

 

Making space for entrepreneurship

We are lucky to have the Urben studio in a beautiful old school building in East London.  Supported by a fantastic charity (www.bathtub2boardroom.com), we get to work in a collaborative and creative environment with other small businesses, our overheads are lean and we benefit from professional skills training.  Providing live /work or shared working spaces to communities can reduce some of the barriers to small business growth.

 

Public procurement

With smaller businesses generally more likely to have low overheads, and evidence suggesting they spend their profits locally, increasing procurement opportunities for small building and design firms could help cities find innovative, affordable solutions to boosting local prosperity. However, there is a concern that many public contracts are out of reach of these smaller businesses due to the complexities of bidding and procurement which has moved towards shifting risk to the consultant.  To counter this, the Peabody housing charity recently established a small projects panel as they felt the ‘lengthy and onerous bidding processes typical of many processes shut out emerging, innovative practices’. This is a promising start, and is a model which will hopefully be taken up more widely in the public sector.

 

Spontaneous spaces

People of all income brackets need spaces to meet and interact, be it libraries, public parks or publicly accessible but privately owned open spaces.  Cities can be alienating places for those on low incomes and ‘free to enjoy spaces’ can be great equalisers.  There is a concern that more and more spaces are becoming privatised, with people being required to spend money in cafes or shops to be able to access them, even if on the surface they seem to be public.  While evidence shows this is more about perception than reality, and the shift towards privately managed space has actually seen many previously inaccessible areas in our cities made available for use, there must be a focus on how we can find and manage spaces from public funds in a sustainable way.  This is particularly vital as we seek to increase density in our Cities, making unfettered access to communal public spaces essential.

Public procurement

With smaller businesses generally more likely to have low overheads, and evidence suggesting they spend their profits locally, increasing procurement opportunities for small building and design firms could help cities find innovative, affordable solutions to boosting local prosperity. However, there is a concern that many public contracts are out of reach of these smaller businesses due to the complexities of bidding and procurement which has moved towards shifting risk to the consultant.  To counter this, the Peabody housing charity recently established a small projects panel as they felt the ‘lengthy and onerous bidding processes typical of many processes shut out emerging, innovative practices’. This is a promising start, and is a model which will hopefully be taken up more widely in the public sector.

 

Spontaneous spaces

People of all income brackets need spaces to meet and interact, be it libraries, public parks or publicly accessible but privately owned open spaces.  Cities can be alienating places for those on low incomes and ‘free to enjoy spaces’ can be great equalisers.  There is a concern that more and more spaces are becoming privatised, with people being required to spend money in cafes or shops to be able to access them, even if on the surface they seem to be public.  While evidence shows this is more about perception than reality, and the shift towards privately managed space has actually seen many previously inaccessible areas in our cities made available for use, there must be a focus on how we can find and manage spaces from public funds in a sustainable way.  This is particularly vital as we seek to increase density in our Cities, making unfettered access to communal public spaces essential.

The Farrell Review

An overview of the Farrell Review

On Monday 31 March Sir Terry Farrell CBE and a panel of 11 industry experts published the Farrell review of Architecture and the Built Environment.  The review was held in consultation with a variety of individuals, companies, groups and institutions, including Urben Director Paul Reynolds who participated in a workshop on Urban Design & Landscape Architecture.

Farrell Review.png

The Farrell Review contains five chapters, namely:

1.         Education, outreach & skills

2.         Design quality

3.         Economic benefits

4.         Cultural heritage

5.         Built environment policy

We think that the Farrell Review is a valuable contribution to raising the profile of built environment issues like this and the next step should be to allocate adequate resources to implementing its recommendations, a few of which we have highlighted below.

‘Recommendation #01 – PLACE institutions and agencies should develop online resources for teachers and professionals to teach architecture and the built environment across a whole range of subjects…’  The challenges faced by cities globally need collaborative solutions from a range of professional disciplines and at a micro level, individuals need to be more aware of their environmental impacts.

Given the dire state of many UK high streets, ‘Recommendation #11 – PLACE institutions and built environment agencies, the Design Network and the LGA could research the feasibility and viability of urban rooms (or “Place Spaces”) and establish pilots in different-sized towns and cities where there are no architecture and built environment centres. They would need a facilitator, supported by volunteers, and some costs might be offset against planning receipts like Section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levies’.  John McAslan and Partners are leading with a similar initiative, having established their N17 design studio in Tottenham to partner with the local authority and college to improve urban life for residents living in the area where riots ignited in summer 2011.

The review authors may well have also seen some of the cringe-worthy Councillor moments in episodes of BBC TV’s “The Planners” when thinking about how to deliver better quality development – ‘Recommendation #12 All individuals involved in making decisions about the built environment should receive basic training in placemaking and design literacy and it should be given the same status as legal and financial training for elected Councillors. Local planning authorities throughout the country should formalise the role of architecture and built environment centres and PLACE Review Panels in skilling up decision makers, including planning committee members and traffic engineers…’  Organisations such as ‘Open City’ have been running this type of Councillor education in London for many years, and it is a model that could easily be rolled out more widely.

A current misconception surrounding town planning as a profession is that it is limited to development consent management.  Though a statutory planning system is needed to guide and sometimes restrict development, planners need to have the skills, willingness and ability to proactively improve our towns and cities or we risk diminishing the profession to a generic, bureaucratic role.  Therefore we agree with ‘Recommendation #19 – The PLACE Leadership Council (PLC) outlined in the “Built Environment Policy” section of this document (chapter 5) should work with government and representatives across the industry to bring about a revolution in support of proactive planning in this country…’

As Urben Director Paul Reynolds provides expert advice to the Northern Ireland Ministerial Advisory Group; Islington Design Review Panel; and Chair’s Hackney Design Review Panel we support Recommendation #22 – Design Review Panels should become PLACE Review Panels (Planning, Landscape, Architecture, Conservation and Engineering) and include professionals from each of these fields. The “Design Review: Principles and Practice” guidance produced by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Cabe at the Design Council, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and the Landscape Institute (LI) makes the case for panels to be cross-professional and underlines the importance of best practice. This guidance should be adopted by all PLACE Review Panels used by local planning authorities. At the same time, they should become less like a crit at architecture school with peers passing judgement, and more enabling and collaborative’.


Given our general distain for pedestrian guard railing, we also endorse Recommendation #27 - ‘There should be major reviews of highway regulations and specifications and the design education of highway professionals. All highway schemes could be subject to a credible system of PLACE Review and local authorities should take a lead on implementing these’.

Just as planners should be fully skilled in understanding complex urban environments, we need to collaborate with our colleagues internationally to help share knowledge and build professional capacity.  By informing better local decisions, cumulative positive impacts can be created globally.   UK Trade and Investment already arrange trade missions to raise the profile of UK expertise in eco-cities and we therefore support Recommendation #41 - ‘The Department for International Development (DFID) could focus its support on the effects of urbanisation and the skill sets UK professionals have to solve problems like climate change and to develop water, waste, energy and transport infrastructure. We should be cultural leaders on the effects of global urbanisation, helping local governments and communities to help themselves’.

‘It is important that property values begin to reflect life cycle costs and design quality as well as land.  ‘Recommendation #50 – The RICS, the Construction Industry Council and PLACE institutions should work together to define a universally adopted set of definitions and criteria for assessing property values to include measurable space standards and design quality. The RICS is already leading some international work in this area and the institutions should join forces to take this forward in the UK’.

 

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from www.farrellreview.co.uk

MIPIM 2014 wrap up

City regeneration strategies

2014 was the 25th anniversary of MIPIM – the world’s biggest property expo, and annual industry pilgrimage to drink champagne in the south of France.  Yet beyond the sunshine, sand and socialising, it can be a fascinating place to study urban trends, with 384 local and public authorities from 34 countries participating this year. Some key themes from the display stands used by cities to promote their investments were:

  • Collaborative city regions – Helsinki / Tallinn and Copenhagen / Malmo;
  • Connectivity – rail and flight diagrams demonstrated anywhere can be the centre of somewhere; and
  • Transit led regeneration – focused on over station redevelopment in Barcelona, London and Helsinki.

From wandering the exhibition halls and listening to various speakers in the cities conference stream, here is a snapshot of innovative ways cities are regenerating in an increasingly optimistic, but still damaged global economy.

Dolni Vitkovice, Ostrava, Czech Republic The city of Ostrava in the Moravian-Silesian region of the Czech Republic has demonstrated creativity and resourcefulness in adapting a former iron works into a vibrant cultural precinct.  Adapting brownfield land for alternative uses can be challenging, particularly when the former use has been industrial as the costs associated with demolition and remediation can be significant.  Ostrava has opted to preserve the majority of the site in situ, adapting buildings such as a gas-holder into a concert hall; a blast furnace into an industrial museum; and the central electricity station into a market and performance space, with the atmospheric spaces in between now home to the annual colours of Ostrava music Festival (pictured). Through resourcefulness, patience and creativity, the Dolni Vitkovice project has helped preserve the unique culture and heritage of Ostrava, adapted to changing global market conditions, improved quality of life for residents and created employment opportunities. http://www.dolnioblastvitkovice.cz

V200, Torino, Italy The City of Torino is undergoing a gradual process of regeneration for its 2 million residents, with some 5m sqm of brownfield land redeveloped from 1995 – 2003 and a further 5m sqm still to be converted.  Although the city is home to major employers Fiat cars and Lavazza Coffee, their ‘V200 Projects’ scheme in the north east of the city focuses on how to create successful development in hard times. Torino describes their approach to regeneration as focused on flexible, timeless plans irrespective of investors.  Relying entirely on brownfield land, they utilise a bottom-up approach that progressively builds up the attractiveness of districts for users and investors through placemaking events and temporary uses, with incremental growth and flexible infill.  Of key interest was their approach to crowd funded regeneration.  Describing the process as working with ‘many small hands’, Torino said that investment through micro economic networks is at least, if not more so important than seeking out global investors as it enables a finer grain of regeneration that can have a more immediate and positive effect on people’s lives. www.youcanbetontorino.it

Jenfelder Au, Hamburg, Germany Thanks to Scott Burnham and his excellent Futrastructure presentation for making us aware of a water recycling project in the planned neighbourhood of Jenfelder Au in Hamburg.  A 35 acre former barracks is being converted to housing for 2,000 residents in a mix of housing typologies underpinned by infrastructure innovations such as the ‘Hamburg Water Cycle’ system for collecting and treatment of black water, grey water and rainwater.  The pilot project is led by the Federal Ministry of Transport Building and Urban Development; with the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development. The Hamburg Water Cycle divides household wastewater into three separate flows:

  • Black water effluent from toilet waste;
  • Grey water from bathing, clothes and dish washing; and
  • Rainwater run-off from impermeable surfaces.

This closed water approach will not only recycle rain and grey water for residential use but also generate energy from effluent waste.  Drawing waste-water from 630 dwellings, Jenfelder Au is the largest known trial of this technology to date and we hope very much it can be replicated in other communities. www.hamburgwatercycle.de

Vertical Garden City, Tokyo, Japan The Committee on Urban Structure, Association for Tokyo Urban-Core Rejuvenation is attempting to regenerate the Akasaka, Roppongi, Toranomon and Shimbashi areas of Tokyo into a Cultural Centre.  An interesting component of this precinct is the Vertical City concept proposed by the late Minoru Mori, whereby super high rise buildings are promoted to free up public open space, that is then terraced and layered to efficiently accommodate cultural, transport, infrastructure and leisure uses.  Underground levels are also utilised, with theatres, supermarkets metro stations and other communal spaces. http://www.mori.co.jp/en/company/urban_design

In summary, there are clear trends that can be seen across cities as they face similar challenges of regeneration after the loss of major industries.  They are all coming up with their own innovative approaches to meet these challenges, and there is a lot we can learn from each other.  We will be back next year to see how they are progressing, and maybe see you on La Croisette for some Champagne!