In response to the continual growth of our populations, there is a pressure to use our urban spaces more intensively but also more imaginatively. Whilst housing may often be the driver for a new development, it is increasingly rare for schemes to now solely deliver homes.
As landowners, developers and councils look to use existing land more efficiently, this often involves the replacement of existing uses to unlock a development opportunity. The GLA and local authorities are increasingly aware of the need to protect non-residential uses, which in turn is being reflected in regional and local planning polies. Equally and as we increase the housing supply, this programme brings with it the need for a wider social infrastructure to support communities.
This should be celebrated. It is encouraging to see innovative new models of dense, tall developments come forward providing a wider range of uses. Successful neighbourhoods are not only shaped purely by physical spaces and buildings, but equally by the rich layers of activity and interactions that arise from the communities that live there. London’s housing need is well documented but solely providing housing isn’t the answer and does little to serve existing communities. If new developments can also provide new schools, new community centres, new healthcare and new workspace alongside new homes, there is a clearer benefit for all. The richness of our neighbourhoods will be supported as a result.
Providing this wider mix of uses within tall developments does bring a different set of challenges but it can be done successfully, as witnessed by numerous new and inventive schemes across the capital that all demonstrate this. Traditional models of delivery and development are failing to meet our society’s needs, therefore we have to explore such new ideas and solutions.
Dudley House embodies what can be achieved by an openness to try new approaches. Alongside the re-provision of existing uses such as a church and retail, new homes and a multi-storey secondary school have also been created. It has required a different approach to managing and operating the school but over one year on from cutting-the-ribbons, it is flourishing with real verve.
The current health emergency is re-shaping our world to a degree and pace that has not been experienced before, with the impacts of Covid-19 still to be fully understood. It is therefore impossible to predict how our approach to urban design and architecture will need to adapt in response without greater knowledge. The appropriateness of density and height will need to be considered in conjunction with broader issues such as overcrowding, air pollution and potentially other factors we are yet to understand.
The wellbeing and health of each individual living in our city has been placed in clear focus. Similarly, a gulf in social standing and wealth has been brutally exposed. Set against these divisions is the importance of community and our public institutions. Within this context, the need for development to provide the wider social infrastructure that supports communities and our public institutions feels more critical than ever.