Wednesday 29 February 2012

Regeneration in London is becoming a more global discipline, aided by large sites under single ownership. But too much is being asked of planners to guide new development.

Those were some of the main issues to come forward from a special NLA breakfast session ‘(Re) generation’, organised in association with AD (Architectural Design) 

Professor of Architecture and Global Culture at The Bartlett School of Architecture Murray Fraser said that the forces driving regeneration in London are genuinely global. ‘I think this is a very positive thing’, he said, but perhaps the financial side of globalisation was overemphasised in today’s discourses. 

But Terry Farrell, whose practice is working to regenerate Old Oak Common, said that town planning laws are ‘quite inadequate to create cohesion’.  ‘The problem is that town planning has to do far more than of the job than it was ever meant to do, trying to create cohesion, but it is doing so retrospectively as a negative control. 

Fraser told the audience that American ‘transplants’ such as Canary Wharf fitted well with Thatcherism, but those days have passed with an economic shift to the east of the globe, and a more fluid and differentiated scene. He pointed to buildings like The Shard, funded largely from Qatari money and containing a Hong Kong-based five star hotel, or the new Westfield shopping centre, a very different animal from the American mall typology. America is still an important player, however, its new US Embassy being a ‘defensive installation’ for Nine Elms/Vauxhall as part of the regeneration of that area. The architecture of these kinds of schemes, though, is ‘monocultural’, suggested Fraser, and does not get to the heart of multicultural London. They need to ‘reclaim an urban connection’ and the way the scheme connects with the street and neighbourhood, he said. Ownership and British attitudes to it are quite fundamental in town planning, said Sir Terry Farrell. The Great Estates for example, owe much of their success to stewardship. But differing ownerships on London’s High Streets leads to ‘chaos and disorder’, in contrast to where there is common ownership, such as Marylebone High Street or Regent Street. ‘This issue of ownership is a very fundamental one’ said Farrell, highlighted by the Royal Parks. ‘You’ve got this arthritic, backward-looking attitude to the monarch and what you can do with the palaces and the parks, which has actually stopped them becoming what they could be today in terms of their usage.’ 

Newham’s experience of rapid change is ‘all about a transformation of a whole part of London’ said Clive Dutton, Newham’s Executive Director, Regeneration, Planning & Property. NLA chairman Peter Murray praised the ‘instant electricity’ which Dutton’s arrival at Newham created, and the inspiration it gave him to base a character on Dutton in Murray’s recent ‘bodice-ripping’ book, A Passion To Build. Regeneration, said Dutton, was chiefly to do with the economy, and reducing the churn of people, primarily by creating jobs for local people. ‘There’s no bigger transformation going on in the world’, he said. 

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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