Hackney: The coolest borough?

Friday 4 October 2013

Shoreditch is like a coral reef, with lots of beautiful fish – but it doesn’t take much of a change in water temperature to kill it off.

That is according to John Drew, principal at Pringle Brandon Perkins Will, speaking at an NLA On Location event into Hackney’s future held in the borough yesterday. Drew, who detailed to the audience his practice’s work on The Stage – a mixed use scheme in the area including a 40-storey skyscraper and a museum about the site’s Shakespearean playhouse – put his finger on an issue raised again by a questioner from the floor. How long, came the question, before the ‘corporatisation’ and ‘monetisation’ of the area threatened its very success and forced out the creative community?

The answers to that question ranged from the need for sensitive planning or a ‘nuanced approach’ according to GLA’s Martin Scholar, to a simple realisation of, as Drew put it, the ‘inevitable process’ - it was not possible to ‘put a glass box around it and say we like it as it is just now’.

Hackney mayor Jules Pipe said that the borough was changing fast and had become one of the most desirable places in which to work and live in London, with a ‘unique character and incredible opportunities’. An Ipsos MORI poll, ‘Hackney 2013’ had revealed that 74% of people were satisfied with the way the authority runs things, up from just 23% in 2001, and 89% were happy with Hackney as a place in which to live (up from 51%), rivalled only by places like Kensington & Chelsea. But although it might be the ‘coolest’ place in London it is also home to thousands of ordinary people on low and middle incomes, said Pipe, and the authority was determined to spread benefits more widely in the borough.

The view was echoed by Hackney chief executive Tim Shields, citing its successful lobbying of Government to get an exemption on turning business space into residential as its commitment to keeping employment high on the agenda. Scholar, meanwhile, outlined the ‘light touch’ planning objectives for the area, including Tech City, linking up public realm projects and allowing for ‘grow-on space’ to cater for a gap in provision for expanding start-ups – a draft document for the area, Old Street and City fringe will be published by the end of this year.

Other themes investigated at the conference included the need for a new ‘iconic’, ‘gateway’ to Tech City to replace the poor visual impression conveyed by the Old Street Roundabout and ‘unlocking’ the gyratory system; the next phase of development of iCITY’s 1 million sq ft of space and Hammerson and Ballymore’s extensive reworking of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard, including reused railway arches and 4.5 hectares of public realm. There was also time for an exploration into Hackney’s housing projects to help ease ‘pockets of deprivation’, Citizen M’s venture into the area via the Shoreditch Village project, Manhattan Loft Corporation’s Adjaye-designed plans for the Hackney Fashion Hub, Berkeley Group’s reworking of Woodberry Down to the north of Hackney and Spacehive – an innovative method of crowdsourcing projects which has more schemes in Hackney than anywhere else.

David Taylor, New London Quarterly

Share this page Toggle