LONDON.


London, for years, has been one of those cities of the world, which is increasingly oriented towards promoting its competitive advantage and enhancing its status as a global city. Not-with-standing the influence of neo-liberal ideas, city politicians have demonstrated keen interest in formulating urban visions and strategies. However, although strategic land-use plans have been seen as tools to implement visions for the future of cities and linked to a rhetoric about economic change, alternate reactions to globalization remain unexplored, and environmental and social consequences are continuously neglected. Susan Fainstein, in 'Planning and the Just City' claims that "the profession of city planning was born of a vision of the good city". It stems out of a repulsion to the disordered and damaging character of the industrial city and aims at achieving "efficiency, order, and beauty" through the imposition of reason. The advocates for new urbanism, most planners and academic commentators believe that visionaries should not impose their views upon the public, and a scepticism reigns over the possibility of identifying a model of a good, just city. While the left attacks planning for its class bias and anti-democratic character, the right regards markets as appropriate allocators of urban space and the centrists consider comprehensive planning destructive of the urban fabric and indifferent to people's aspirations. The emphasis on economic competitiveness that tops the city's list of objectives, further, causes planning to give priority to growth at the expense of all other values, additionally serving developer interests at any expense.

The London Plan, introduced in 2004, was a statutory spatial development strategy for the Greater London area in the United Kingdom written by the Mayor of London and published by the Greater London Authority. Revised several times after that, it predominantly included in its scope, the health of Londoners, equality of opportunity and contribution to sustainable development. Some of its key objectives were accommodating London's growth within its boundaries without encroaching on open spaces, making London a better city for people to live in, making it a more prosperous city with strong and diverse economic growth, promoting social inclusion and tackling deprivation and discrimination, improving London's accessibility and making it a more attractive, well-designed and green city. The plan identified areas of opportunity, where the bulk of efforts were to be concentrated, with an aim of reducing social deprivation and creating sustainable development. The opportunity areas were to accommodate, both jobs and homes, or a mixture of the two, and were mostly town centres as opposed to suburban developments in the boroughs, although those were maintained as important in terms of job growth and quality of life. An overview of London’s spatial, political and socio-economic DNA, reveals its increasing population and growing economy. Its cultural, economic and physical profile has, over the years, transformed in an organic fashion, driven predominantly by a speculative planning regime and a strong entrepreneurial tradition. The skyline is being transformed by a string of high-rise structures, and its residents are experiencing, both, benefits as well as pressures of this growth - new jobs and opportunities, rising prices, increasing inequality and an acute housing crisis. Endeavours at providing a normative structure need to be scrutinized in terms of the practical realities of regime formation, social exclusion, and the bases of conflict, and they ought to take into account the variations among places within London.

The main issue arises, as mentioned by Susan Fainstein, for the concept of the "right to the city" is vague and lacks specificity, both in terms of what is included in that "right" and what is meant by the "city". Hence, what stems out of this ambiguity is a strong spatial and social divide, a physical disposition and more specific to London's case, extreme inequalities between East and West London in terms of housing, jobs and public infrastructure. The strength of the London Plan, then, lies in its adaptability as it forms a functioning link between politics and the city. Two main laws of planning govern all growth in London. First, its outward expansion is restricted by the periphery of the Green Belt, and second, all speculations in terms of the hotspots of growth and intensification are identified for investment and development in areas of well-connected public transport. The density matrix and the urban regional systems indicate that Central London is well-connected to all the parts of the city and hosts the chief financial district, while the periphery is dotted with higher income housing, thereby resulting in a lopsided stability with reference to the urban distribution of density and infrastructure. Further adding to the disposition of its urban laws, is the fact that London shares an extremely complex relationship with its past, the St. Paul's Cathedral being an important part of the city's collective social memory. Hence, planning regulations also entail that the sacrosanct dome of the Cathedral remains unobstructed in terms of view, irrespective of the additions to London's skyline.

Although, East London has witnessed migration, policy initiatives and investment for decades, it is anticipated that the area will accommodate most of London’s growth in jobs and people, generating new interest from the investment, design and development community. Ever since the closure of the Royal Docks, vast industrial land and water, have become inactive, with repeated attempts to revitalize the local economy and employ these underused assets more substantially. The neo-liberalisation under the influence of the Thatcher and Reagan governments led to the creation, decline and rebirth of the market-driven Canary Wharf, which was observed to have similar income patterns as the Central Financial District, but was, until then, not significantly developed. Consequently a long-term comprehensive development plan was launched to tackle this condition at Canary Wharf. The miscellany of the nearby Royal Docks, being extremely deprived, had a profile entirely different from that of Canary Wharf, and it was aimed at for transformation into a centre with its own gravity, through infrastructure and contemporary architectural developments.

The Public Transport Accessibility Level (PTAL) Map identifies the zones of well-connected areas, utilizing them as nodes to mitigate the East-West divide, with the public transport as a lifeline. Further, with respect to East London’s deprived neighbourhoods surrounding Stratford, the 2012 Olympics were seen as a motivation to rebalance London’s continuing East-West imbalance. The Olympic site, was located in one of the most deprived areas, in terms of education standards, life expectancy and economic inequalities, and was intended to ensure that these areas have the same economic and social opportunities as the rest of London, post-development. The urban design and planning approach for this immense yet transitory sports event was founded on the basis of the establishment of a enduring legacy that would bring homes, jobs and opportunities to these comparatively less affluent but well-connected communities. The master-planning strategies included spatial, landscape and architectural decisions, and building up of the city’s urban DNA, through a "convergence" of opportunities between the residents of East and West London; the temporality of the controlled event planned with the vision of an open city of permanence. This involved the landscape development of the Queen Elizabeth Park II, public transport development for better connectivity, synthesis of jobs and homes in close proximity, a legible distinction between the permanent and retrofitted venues and the temporary and re-locatable ones and detailing at two levels of scale and grain. The strategy of incorporating the 20-year legacy plan into a 5-year one penetrates beyond the physical realm and into the socio-economic fabric of London, accelerating the decision-making and execution of interventions owing to the urgency of the situation, dealing with temporary requirements with ephemeral solutions, while respecting the scale and grain as permanent conditions of the city.

As mentioned by Susan Fainstein, the movement toward a just vision of the city requires the development of counter-institutions capable of locating concerns and mobilizing resources, both organizational and financial, to fight for their solutions. Even with the evident usefulness of abstract conceptions of justice, there is a need to persuade people to transcend their self-interests and realize the potentials of a collective enterprise. This depends on a widely felt sense of justice, as well as a sufficient threat to induce redistribution as a rational response from the bottom and the acceptance of a moral code to reject resistance, and rather support, re-distributional measures in the upper social strata. Thus, when thinking about just cities, we must think simultaneously about means and ends, urban renewal, socio-economic strategies as well as appropriate public policy. For London, the Olympic Games were the means to an end of permanent socio-economic and infrastructure development through urgent decision-making.


Recent Posts

Follow Us

  • Facebook Classic
  • Twitter Classic
  • Google Classic

-----

© 2017 by SHALMALI WAGLE.