In association with CityMetric, the New Statesman's online urbanism magazine, the Society held a panel debate on what the shape of the capital might be in thirty years time, and what we might need to change about current practices in order to accommodate a population that is projected to be 11 million.
Chaired by Jonn Elledge of CityMetric, the panel comprised include Jeremy Skinner of the GLA, Neil Bennett of Farrell’s, Rose Grayston of Shelter and Nicole Badstuber from UCL. Finbar Bradley of Innes Associates reports.
A great deal of concern has cloaked the usually glistening future of London in recent times. Some fear that the wheels of progression may be failing with the addition of a grinding Brexit, and others fear that even if this had no effect on the interminable revolutions of our economy, that the simple mechanics of the City are not designed to allow for further progression.
Jeremy Skinner of the GLA and producer of the report aimed at predicting the needs of London’s infrastructure in 2050 quoted that London’s current infrastructure is a ‘highly fragmented chaos’ delivering a score card of London’s infrastructure of a thoroughly unsatisfactory “not best in class.”
As of the 6th January 2015, London has surpassed the previous population high of 1939. The solution, a strong base for fiscal devolution. 2000 years of infrastructural investment will never be thrown away, Jeremy suggests that the fabric we use now will be altered little by 2050 and instead a process of evolution will occur (there'll be no flying cars!). The biggest fiscal demands are predicted in transport and residential construction.
Regarding housing and stating that London is already in a crisis point, Rose Grayson of Shelter quoted that 50% of the nations homeless live in London along with 24% of rough sleepers. Rose indicated that 1 in every 25 people in Newham are considered homeless and that on average, Londoners pay 59% of their monthly wage on rent, claiming that the development model is broken.
Her solution is to reform CPO regulations and allow councils to borrow money in order to spur public development. Furthermore, the council should be able to use their requirement to house as a guarantor for social tenancies, reducing private developer risk. Rose’s fear is that for many they will have a similar outlook as the 40% of nurses who aim to leave London in the coming 5 years due to rent costs.
Transport infrastructure, the other major concern was considered by UCL Transport Institute knowledge co-ordinator, Nicole Badstuber. What are we travelling for and where are we going? If the city were to be arranged pragmatically, perhaps the need to rearrange the transport network would be reduced. So far as Nicole is concerned, Transport, Planning and Land Use must work in conjunction to deliver a functioning city.
TFL records some 27 million trips daily. By accommodating these trips locally and through our existing infrastructure, this can be reduced. This should not be done behind closed doors and Nicole is quick to point to the need for Londoner involvement in an open and democratic manner.
In the GLA’s predictions from 5 years ago it highlighted three levels of growth. Neil Bennett of Farrells suggests that we have only managed to meet the lowest of these three predictions, growing at a rate similar to that of the Victorian period. London’s DNA is of a city of famous growth restrictions and with this in mind, Neil asked “Should it be allowed to grow?” Can a city actually be sustainable, specifically with regards to social needs if it grows too big?
‘Successful megacities’ exist and in fact London used to be one of these but when a city is successful, living and working conditions are often unpleasant. London’s current ‘success’ could in fact be lost if population growth is increased. We have a means toward an alternative way of living with the ability to work remotely, travel distances at speed and, through a sharing community, consuming less. Perhaps the city doesn’t need to grow. Perhaps London’s success is in its current guise.
It goes without saying that there are countless individual elements which make up the rich tapestry of a city. Each of the speakers have attention for certain particulars however it is the grey space between these where the issues truly reside. If nothing more, the debate brought forward the question of which city do we want to live in and questioned if the continued polarity of growth in England is a good thing or if an alternative approach needs to be thoroughly investigated.