New London Architecture

‘Greener, more equitable cities’ – webinar review

Thursday 16 July 2020

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

BUILD BACK BETTER, A FLEXIBLE AND RESILIENT CITY OF THE FUTURE – POWERED BY PECHAKUCHA

Monday brought about a slew of ideas intended to bring about ‘a flexible and resilient city of the future’

This was Build Back Better, an NLA webinar powered by PechaKucha in which contributors from the NextGen programme looked to form proposals to guard against future crises and perhaps create greener, more equitable cities.

Chaired by Be First’s Selasi Setufe, this kicked off with a look at smart buildings from Waterman Group’s Alex Elliott, using technologies, chiefly brought about to try and combat climate emergencies to bring about flexibility and resilience. We won’t be building new cities, said Elliott. ‘We will be retrofitting existing buildings to create new built environments’, with networked, smart buildings responding to their environments. Hyper-connectedness was also the subject material of RCA student Natasha Trotman, to build back better with equitable principles that facilitate inclusion, social justice and universal compassion, ‘weaving that into our daily lives’. Betty Owoo, meanwhile, suggested that ‘edible education’ might be a future, where young people’s lives are enriched with food and agriculture-centric activities in a post-pandemic world, bringing us closer to how our food is produced – civic agriculture. Jaffer Muljiani of BDP spoke about ‘test, track, adapt’, and the need for the sustainability movement to take a leaf out of the COVID  book, stress-testing our systems, and perhaps joining up urban planning with our civil contingency and emergency planning teams. But ‘One Size Fits No One’, argued AECOM’s Sophia Boyd, proposing that the methods and constraints of master planning are the enemy of sustainable development, while Farrells architect Giulia Robba unveiled a 10 point manifesto to build a flexible and resilient city.

View full event information here.

THE ROYAL DOCKS: EQUALISING OPPORTUNITY IN PUBLIC SPACE

How can public space be made more ‘equal’, specifically with regard to the emerging Royal Docks area? 

The question was grappled within Wednesday’s webinar ‘The Royal Docks: Equalising opportunity in Public Space’, where the disenfranchisement of local people from the development process was a key concern. How, asked 5th Studio’s Tom Holbrook, could the built environment sector contribute to a more democratised and inclusive public space?

For Royal Docks programme director Daniel Bridge, the work he and his department are doing – including greening the environment – aims to ensure that ‘opportunity that’s created is maximised’ in this often ‘harsh’ post-industrial landscape. Bridge aims too, to connect the very large development sites that have not had work for perhaps 30 years in some case, working with existing rather than a blank canvas, and with accessibility and inclusivity at the ‘forefront of our minds’. Engagement with locals through the Royal Docks Conversation, activating the water, integrating often deprived communities and essentially not having a single approach across the whole area is also part of the picture.

Foundation for Future London CEO Maria Adebowale-Shwarte said inclusive public realm was key – essentially ‘meeting human needs’ in terms of a safe, secure, sustainable and resilient habitat. But place-making was not a ‘nice to have’. ‘It’s absolutely a must’, she said. ‘It’s a human right’. The local communities are the designers and the experts, she added, so we need planning frameworks at a national level to make sure that happens. While ArchitectureDoingPlace partner David Ogunmuyiwa drew on research by White Arkitektur when he said more needed to be done in particular to design spaces and public realm for younger girls, it was a wider problem that people, in general, feel that public space does not belong to them. ‘Most of our built environments and shared places are designed from people from a very narrow monoculture, even if that is paid for from the public purse…It’s a disenfranchisement’

University of East London’s Bridget Snaith said there was a ‘whiteness’ in the landscape profession compared to the population for whom they are designing. ‘Equality is not really about treating everyone the same way’, said Snaith. ‘It’s about recognising and respecting the difference and diversity of peoples’ experiences and needs enough to adapt our practices‘.  People from black and Asian and minority ethnicities are less frequent users of public space in the UK, Snaith also reported. People from poorer households are also much less likely to vote en masse, said Resolution Foundation’s Fahmida Rahman, issues affecting Newham as well as other boroughs. ’Where people have been engaged in the democratic process there’s a sense of powerlessness, a sense of being overlooked, and that their engagement isn’t meaningful‘. Relying on digital platforms alone to secure that, however, will only take us part of the way, Rahman suggested.

View full event information here.

How are UK cities adapting their streets for active travel?

Thursday brought active travel into sharp focus, with a look at some of the key protagonists in this field nationally, and particularly in Manchester and Birmingham, as well as London.

The webinar ‘How are UK cities adapting their streets for active travel?’ began with AECOM’s Peter Wright suggesting that London has seen a great shift away from cars in this profoundly changed world and that the professions have a shared responsibility to work together and shape a response and sustainable infrastructure during the recovery. Transport for London’s Mel Cazzato outlined some of the steps the capital has made in that regard via the Street Space regime, and the urgent need to reallocate more space for cycling and walking ‘to prevent a car-based recovery’. TfL has delivered over 15,000 sq m of additional footway space in over 30 locations across London over the last three months, said Cazzato, creating new cycling routes and lowering speed limits, with one result being a noticeable new diversity of users including kids and families. Low traffic neighbourhoods, new cycle parking and an expanded hire bike system are also part of the picture, employing innovative ways to get stakeholder engagement and speed up the whole process. ‘We’re going to keep delivering and we’re going to keep delivering quickly’, said Cazzato. In response, the City of London’s Bruce McVean said the Square Mile was focused on providing as much space for people walking as possible, treating it as one ‘busy hub’, reallocating through timed closures, one-way working and closures to through traffic, alongside a programme of seating and greening through parklets and the like. Flexibility and a willingness to adapt was key, he said.

In Manchester, said AECOM’s Stephen Gleave, the streets are the local experience and a shared resource, but safe streets should be so much more than that. ‘We also want our streets to be contributors to great place’, he said. ‘To be attractive, green, to be environmentally lovely to use, to be joyful and pleasurable’. They must also work for all users, however, something that has been brought into sharp relief during the lockdown, when Gleave himself used streets in a different way. Greater Manchester Mayor’s Cycling Advisor Brian Deegan showed some of the key initiatives going on in the city, including the first CYCLOPS junction, being pushed through as an accelerated programme and allowing people of all skills to negotiate a busy barrier.

Over in Birmingham, Black Country Transport’s Stuart Everton showed how a working relationship with seven local authorities was spreading initiatives across the West Midlands as a single vision for cycling and walking. The aim is to get a mode share from 1.8% to 5% by 2023, although that could go higher, post-COVID, via a charter and levering in as much funding as possible. The canal networks in Birmingham have also been upgraded, with on and off-road cycle networks emerging, and a region-wide bike share scheme about to launch. Importantly, though, said Birmingham City Council chief executive Chris Naylor, people need to see the benefits if transformation can happen and that authorities have their best interests at heart. ‘We have to have a very solid relationship of trust with the people whose lives we are inviting to change as a result of the things we are looking to do’, he said. Naylor suggested that people should experiment by taking their kids on the school run by bike – or even do those journeys anyway if they do not have kids – go to work and then repeat it in the evening. ‘And then let’s figure out through that process how we can make that work for everybody’.

During a panel discussion, Manchester’s Louise Wyman said that it felt like a moment of ‘real reset’; one of the silver linings of the lockdown period was an improvement in air quality through less traffic in our cities, along with the aid to mental health it has given many by just being on their bikes. In many ways, said Deegan. Paris leading the way in showing what can be done, not least in the cost-effective measures of introducing more zebra crossings. ‘I’m a huge fan’, he said. ‘the French have really led the way in what you can do with tactical urbanism…and the fact that all the people are into it. I think it’s a really good message for us all’.
 
View full event information here.


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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