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!