We need masterplans that are designed to encourage and facilitate daily contact, says Lendlease’s Selina Mason
London is facing a wave of population growth, totalling 70,000 per year until reaching 10.8 million in 2041. The backlog of housing need is only going to get worse and the mayor’s New London Plan, due to be published next year, is tasked with addressing the challenge.
In it, the mayor’s policy of “good growth” is explained and codified – it is growth that is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable which “allows us to build thousands of genuinely affordable homes at the same time as creating a more inclusive, greener and safer city that supports the health and wellbeing of all Londoners”. He has six policies that underpin his approach: creating strong and inclusive communities, using land efficiently, health and wellbeing, providing homes for Londoners, growing a good economy, and increasing efficiency and resilience.
At Lendlease we have been developing masterplans for Euston and other areas of London and so getting to grips with how we deliver good growth and what it means for planning our developments has been on our minds. Fundamentally, the mayor wants more homes alongside a better quality of life for all.
But the pressure is on to demonstrate that increasing the provision of homes within higher density new neighbourhoods can tackle all the mayor’s policies with equal weight and broad benefits. As more homes are to be delivered on less land, the pressure on the public realm increases – whether that is more play space for children, green infrastructure to tackle climate change, parking, safe and accessible streets and utilities. How will it be possible to deliver better streets, better parks and gardens, improved flood management and easier cycling and walking with less space to do it in? The public realm will now have to work incredibly hard to balance all these competing objectives. It has always been a place of contest between users, which in the past the traffic engineers generally won, but now we must shift our thinking dramatically. Masterplanning now must focus on the life of a place – its public spaces and streets as the priority. It is only through the careful planning of our public spaces that we will be able to tackle all the mayor’s good growth objectives.
Alongside this, if 68% of people feel that community spirit has declined in their lifetime we will not be able to address health and wellbeing without improving peoples’ sense of place and community. And it appears that people think it is time that is the problem – the two highest reasons for the decline were that neighbours were too busy to get to know each other and people are working too hard. A pattern is emerging of communities starved of the time needed to build strong local connections. And in our recent research into loneliness we have uncovered a range of issues at a local level that create barriers to people getting to know each other.
So, we need masterplans that are designed to encourage and facilitate daily contact. Designers need to think about the rituals of daily life – whether it is the commute, the school run, or the nip out to buy milk, contact happens when these patterns overlap. If it is people that create a sense of community then it is the public realm where that happens.
Selina Mason is director of masterplanning at Lendlease