Keep ahead of the culture club, London

Thursday 29 September 2016

King's Cross Granary Square

Culture pays dividends to developers and cities alike. But London must continue to keep ahead of the field or risk losing ground to other cities embracing creative placemaking.

Those were some of the key points to emerge from a conference this morning kicked off by Tate’s head of regeneration and community partnerships Donald Hyslop. Hyslop said London was a ‘global cultural hub’ but could not afford to rest on its laurels, especially against such background pressures as Brexit, land values and ‘strongholds’ like Hackney Wick coming under pressure from an exodus of artists. ‘So if we want to continue as leader, as liveable as Copenhagen but grittier, we need cultural thinking embedded in all these areas’, he said. It is now 20 years since the start of the Tate Modern project, now joined by its extension as a ‘physical and philosophical reaching out to the south’. Other projects with culture at their heart abound, including the Design Museum’s move to the Commonwealth Institute site and what was known as Olympicopolis, now ‘Stratford’. Such projects need to seek an integrated approach to their communities, said Hyslop, and the planning system needs to be ‘reinvigorated’ with culture embedded within.

CBRE consultant Stuart Robinson showed how, via his new work with Jan Gehl, he is setting out to show the demonstrable economic effects of good placemaking – or simply ‘the human experience of the city’. But investors can no longer buy value, he said, they have to create it; they are interested in human capital – knowledge, skills and innovation, and those people want to live in exciting places. ‘London is successful because it has those places.’ Good cultural placemaking has been proven as creating value, as shown in the study of 20 interventions in the public realm including Granary Square, Duke of York’s, and the High Line in New York, which has significantly catalyzed development around it.

Futurecity founder Mark Davy said cities like Sydney are undergoing change as it sees itself as a city of ideas. But ‘you can’t just make it and they’ll come’, he said. ‘It’s about authenticity’. ‘We’re in an age of content. Organisations that can provide deliverable ideas are in a fantastic place.’

The conference also heard from Capco’s creative director Beverley Churchill, showing how investment in creative events such as the installation of 100,000 balloons by artist Charles Pétillon had paid dividends in footfall and worldwide acclaim, as will a forthcoming event with an artist tattooing people through a hole in the wall. Local authorities like Barking and Dagenham also have a role in leading cultural development, said the borough’s acting head of planning and regeneration David Harley, who is luring artists to the area with rents half that of Hackney Wick, and through working on providing live/work accommodation for them.

A second session looked at case studies, begun by Allies and Morrison partner Alex Wraight with a focus at Stratford waterfront, the Royal Festival Hall (‘stripping back and clearing out’), Bankside, and Elephant and Castle, where the practice’s plans for the London College of Communications is in for planning. First Base managing director Elliot Lipton showed plans to revitalize Silvertown, drawing on the history of the area and particularly Millennium Mills as a ‘real, original’ element that can be uniquely claimed as heritage. Sheppard Robson partner Dan Burr, meanwhile, showed how his practice’s plans in Poplar could draw on and enhance the popularity of the Adjaye-designed Ideas Store, creating a new adjoining cultural building and community resource alongside a new square and improved market. And finally, Street Feast and London Union founder Henry Dimbleby showed how a similarly innovative approach to creating 1000-plus venues for eating, from Canada Water to Shoreditch to Lewisham was bearing fruit, amidst further plans to expand abroad.

Ultimately, though, said Broadgate Estates strategy director Polly Plunket, ‘eighty per cent of placemaking is management. And space is always in beta.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly 

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