HOME FRONT — A successful British expo will depend on a holistic approach to regeneration

Since the successful Bo01 Expo in Sweden in 2001, the concept of the housing expo is being promoted in Britain as a panacea for cities large and small. London, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Cork have all discussed hosting an expo, focusing on related themes that include regeneration, environmental sustainability and even modern methods of construction.

But have we forgotten what an expo is for and what it means in the UK context?

Historically they began as a showcase for a city to flaunt innovation, prosperity and power, and were inherently linked to advances in technology and production. During the modernist movement, the housing expo was a European innovation that focused on the provision of mass housing and challenged how we live in towns and cities.

Today, with a renewed interest in the housing expo, the remit has evolved to advance housing design quality and the creation of housing markets, with a particular focus on sustainability. However, an adaptation and translation to the UK context is required with clearly defined goals to leave a positive and influential built legacy.

In the UK we continue to struggle to define sustainability, yet alone practise it. From an Urban Design perspective, the places we build should be desirable and lasting for current and future generations. This requires an initial focus on the urban scale to challenge how we make and expand our towns and cities beyond the current urban design practice. We must consider a holistic approach to attain sustainable regeneration that creates the healthy and inspirational cityscapes of the future. This will not only advance the recent rediscovery of our urban centres, but also define an expo worthy of international attention and criticism.

Our planning system facilitates this process and promotes best practice in urban design, architecture and sustainability – on paper. However, rarely is it delivered. In our development system, costs are externalised from the public to private sectors, risk diminishes innovation and short-term developer interest precludes lasting quality. These all go to reduce the expo opportunity. Innovative approaches will need to be created to involve developers early in the process and to ensure that long-term interest is maintained. Dealing with these issues is essential to delivering a truly successful expo that promotes a legacy and the long-term aspiration of a sustainable community.

If fully considered, a successful British expo should set the precedent and provide a route map for the delivery of future urban, sustainable places throughout the UK. Go, Newcastle!