Saturday, 8 October 2016

Building tomorrow's suburbia - some thoughts and connections

I'll start with this blog from Orwell Prize winner, Graeme Archer - perhaps the best conservative writer in Britain.
But what – to quote a character in an early Ruth Rendell novel – is supposed to be so wrong with suburbia? A desire for a nice bit of garden and good (selective! free!) state schools; the desire to be unsurprised, should one hear English spoken on a bus; the desire for one’s country to have its own bloody passport, for God’s sake – to list just a few Mayist-Tory objectives which leave the Left spluttering with saliva-specked fury – these aren’t desires, shall we say, uncommon to those whose grandparents were in service, whose working-class parents went out on shift or opened their cornershop before dawn, so that their tiny “bought hoose” was warm and that their own children – I’m talking of myself, of course – had enough time and encouragement to study. So that they - I - could end up in suburbia, from where I commute, despicably, to and from work.
There is still, however, a desire in suburbia to make that place less affordable for the rising sons and daughters of today's working classes. Giving us this sort of commuting:
A study by online estate agent Emoov seen exclusively by City A.M. has found it would be cheaper to buy a house in seven of the UK's largest cities, fly down and stay in a budget hotel for a week, then fly back at the weekend than it is to live and work in the capital.
This isn't about rent controls, densification, or even finance - it's our bonkers planning system that's created an oligopoly of builders in an over-regulated environment of deliberately restricted land availability around the UK's golden goose of London. And it will kill that goose before long.

In the meantime the plight of high rents brought about by urban containment policies with continue to generate angst-ridden social commentary - most of it nonsense:
When they return to Britain, they face the near impossible task of buying a home without help from the Bank of Mum and Dad. I have earned more from my move up the property ladder than all the money I have earned at the Guardian in the past 17 years. This exponential increase in property values relative to incomes, particularly in parts of the south-east, will not be seen again, for a generation at least. Why aren’t the younger generation rebelling? Maybe they simply can’t afford to.
Truth is that, housing aside, the coming generation will be better off than we are - the rise in technology will see to that. And we could solve the housing crisis too if we stopped trying to plan our way out of it. Starting with embracing new ideas - not the crushing of good space standards that our housing minister (he's from Croydon which explains a lot) wants but real ideas:
London’s biggest housebuilder Tony Pidgley, boss of Berkeley Homes, has been experimenting with kit homes. “It’s a culture change but there’s a compelling case for modular,” he says.

He has committed 20 per cent of his output to factory-built homes, and plans a bigger amount in future via its own modular housing factory.

The first “Urban Houses” for the company’s 5,000-home scheme in Kidbrooke, south-east London, are already rolling off a Midlands production line, creating good-looking town houses with roof gardens.
And while we're about all this we need to think differently about transport. The days of the private car are coming to an end. Not only is there little need to own a car in a city like London but autonomous systems and digital connectivity mean that we can summon transport when we need it rather than have it sitting there doing nothing for most of the time. OK it's a couple of decades away but, for transport and transport infrastructure that's the timescale - we should be thinking about our cities accordingly. Meaning more space for this sort of initiative:
Toronto has more than 2,400 publically owned laneways, covering more than 250 linear kilometres of public space. This offers a huge amount of untapped potential for multi-purpose public space. Consisting of planners and urban designers, The Laneway Project works with city officials and community groups to green, beautify, and breathe life back into these back alleys in the city.
Or for making new use of redundant infrastructure:
Anders Beremsson Architects (ABA) have been commissioned by the Kungl Djurgårdens förvaltning (Swedish Royal Court) to investigate the potential of repurposing twelve power towers. The towers are located in the urban national park, Norra Djurgården, in central Stockholm. ABA has proposed transforming one or two of the power towers into sky-high picnic towers.
Or more space for the increased leisure time the robots will give us:
The idea for the project emerged in 2010. Every year, a so-called cultural capital is named by the European Parliament, and in 2010, the city of Essen in the Ruhr region was designated the European cultural capital. We launched a project called Still-Leben (Still Life), during which the most important highway in the Ruhr region, the A40, was closed to car traffic for a day. The A40 is a highway with six lanes. In one driving direction, we set out a long picnic table and on the other side, in the other three lanes, people could circulate as pedestrians, on their bikes, rollerblades, or whichever way they chose, between the city of Duisburg and the city of Dortmund, which is a distance of approximately 50 miles. That day, I biked from Essen to Dortmund and for the first time in my life I was in a traffic jam caused by bikes — a completely new experience. 3 million people came out for the event.
Town planning is mostly about stopping things from happening not making places better. We should change this to allow a bit of inspiration - everywhere we look there are fantastic projects hacking their way through thickets of bureaucracy. Helping these projects should be the priority for planners rather than dreaming up some sort of perfectly zoned and balanced utopian city. Help us build tomorrow's suburbia.

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