New London Architecture

London's Towns: Shaping the polycentric city

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Explore the future role of Londons outer town centres in accommodating London’s significant population growth in NLA’s latest Insight Study. How could policy and development help support Londoners to live and work across a multi-centred city?
London is growing. As central London becomes increasingly unaffordable and as the population continues to expand, many people and businesses are settling beyond the centre.

This new NLA Insight Study - informed by in-depth research, interviews with key experts, and workshops - examines the future of the capital’s outer urban centres, exploring the next wave of development taking shape and looking ahead to how the capital could be strengthened as a truly polycentric city - creating a sustainable, liveable city.

Examining the evolution of London and its towns, how this is changing, how we should shape them for the future, the report also showcases the results from our Station Sites charrette and 150 developments, ideas and initiatives currently underway across outer London - from masterplans, mixed-use buildings, workspaces and public realm improvements, to retail, leisure and community interventions.

Excerpt from the introduction

Over its history London has developed naturally as a polycentric city - its towns and villages growing to form one large metropolis. With the City of London and Westminster at the core, Chelsea and Kilburn, Brixton and Croydon, Wandsworth and Hampstead retained their distinct identities but were absorbed into the administrative conglomeration of first the County of London, then the London County Council, the Greater London Council and now the Greater London Authority.

Over the 20th century, London’s centre increasingly dominated the capital’s economy, following the radial pattern of the 19th century railways. Orbital movement was rarely seen as a priority – the motorway boxes and the M25 a means of diverting traffic away from the core rather than creating connections between town centres. Ken Livingstone was nicknamed the Zone One Mayor because of his focus on the central boroughs – although he was responsible for one of the most dramatic transformations in London’s movement patterns, the Overground rail links which have transformed places like Dalston, Peckham and Willesdon. 

Over the past decade, significant changes have taken place in outer London town centres as the centre has spread, and the high cost of accommodation has made outer areas more attractive as places to live, with new infrastructure transforming the viability of new developments. Thus we see major growth taking place in Stratford, Thamesmead, Barking, Croydon, Nine Elms, White City, Hounslow, Ealing, Brent Cross/Cricklewood, Haringey and Walthamstow.

Although the centre is still the key economic driver of the capital, the changing nature of London matches Cedric Price’s famous analogy of the city as an egg. The ancient city of London was hard boiled with protective shell of the medieval walls; the later London was a fried egg with the lower density suburban white sprawling across the plate, while the contemporary city is gradually becoming more scrambled. This is reflected in a growing interest in mixed-use developments with a focus on neighbourhoods, placemaking and a reduction in commuting. This report sets out the drivers and the solutions for the creation of a many-centred city that provides places where people can work, live and play and that retain their distinctiveness and character. 


By Peter Murray, NLA Curator-in-chief

Executive Summary
An overview of the future of the capital’s outer urban centres, exploring the next wave of development taking shape and looking ahead to how the capital could be strengthened as a truly polycentric city:

Chapter One. Introduction
Chapter Two. The evolution of London and its towns
Chapter Three. How are London’s towns changing?
Chapter Four. How should we shape London’s towns for the future?
Chapter Five. Revitalising station sites in London’s towns
Chapter Six. Conclusions

Projects, initiatives and ideas currently underway or proposed that seek to transform London’s outer urban centres.

Publication details

Published October 2017
188 Pages
ISBN 978-0-9956144-4-4 

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