Make space for work, London and New York told

Thursday 8 December 2016

Jeniffer Ross, Tibbalds © Agnese Sanvito

Regina Myer, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership talking from New York © Agnese Sanvito

Reza Merchant, The Collective talking about the future of the co-movement

London and New York are facing up to similar issues over population growth and a lack of affordable housing but must each make greater efforts to retain and grow workspace in the city without destroying their respective characters.

That was one of the take-away messages of NYLON, the 10th in a series of live link-ups between speakers in the US and UK capitals yesterday on the subject of new working neighbourhoods.

The NLA/AIA/Urban Design Forum debate was kicked off by NLA chairman Peter Murray, welcoming a debate between cities in a ‘post-Brexit, post-truth era’ that aimed to make for better places and lives. AIANY board president David Piscuskas said that both New York and London shared population growth similarities, with each set to exceed 9 million inhabitants by 2025, and each thus experiencing new ‘work/life paradigms’.

And while Hana Kassem, director at KPF said that the ‘co-movement’ was prevalent, with ‘work environments becoming extensions of ourselves’ and living environments becoming more places to do work, aided by remote technology, the secret was about blending. ‘Making salads, rather than perhaps soups’, she said, where the right mixture of developments have distinguishable elements but ‘which complement each other beautifully’.

In Brooklyn, Regina Myer’s work as president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is chiefly in the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, which seeks to nurture and grow tech companies in the area. It is concentrating on the areas of Dumbo and Brooklyn Navy Yard as well as Downtown Brooklyn because a rise in this activity is happening already, with 13000 innovation companies, 22% up on 2012 figures, and employing more than 17000 people, 45% up in three years. The group has looked at finding more space for such companies to grow, improving transportation, placemaking and communicating what the tech triangle was all about. The neighbourhoods also needed to connect, and become ecosystems integrating talent from local communities. ‘We needed to make the tech triangle distinct’ said Myer. ‘WEeneeded to compete with Manhattan’.

In London, Hackney Wick represented an interesting case study in changing work patterns, said Tibbalds Planning and Urban design director Jennifer Ross. The area had become quite disconnected and cut off, said Ross, but was one of those vibrant places supporting a whole range of businesses, with some 600 studio spaces in Fish Island and Hackney Wick, hitherto relying on affordable rents. ‘But change is coming’ said Ross, along with pressure, which has led to the London Legacy Development Corporation recognizing its ‘fragility’ and commissioning Ross’ firm along with Karacusevic Carson to produce a spatial plan or framework to guide the area’s future development and which looks at different workspace typologies and how they could be structured and combined. ‘This has been a mechanism’ said Ross. ‘Some would argue it is all a bit late but at least the LLDC are doing something.’

Back in New York, Heritage Equity Partners CEO showed how the 25 Kent project epitomizes an approach about how workspace can be brought into a community, as a speculative shared scheme that answered a strong desire from government for somebody to step up and provide. ‘I hope this is the start of the future of development in Brooklyn and other boroughs in bringing commerce into the communities and neighbourhoods of New York City’, she said.

In London, meanwhile, The Collective represents a new model in ‘co-living’ said its founder, Raza Merchant, in an age where people value experiences over material possessions. ‘We feel there’s a real need to provide spaces where people can have these amazing experiences’, he said. The scheme at Old Oak is the largest co-living building, in which the firm takes care of the ‘hassle’ of much of the everyday, even linen changes and collecting data on inhabitants to, allowing people to ‘focus on the important things in life’.

Respondents from the floor included Gensler director Nigel Lea, who stressed the need to maintain ‘a sense of place and genius loci’, rather than kill the goose that lays the golden egg, ‘which is a very live conversation in places like Shoreditch’.

And Tom McKnight, executive vice president for planning, development and transportation, NYC Economic Development Corporation, had more to say about how to foster innovation and commercial growth. ‘We really need to be proactive and think to ensure we’re encouraging commercial growth along with the housing, in such a strong housing market in New York’, he said. ‘We need to make sure we’re also creating space for businesses’.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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NY-LON Simultaneous Seminars: #10 New working neighbourhoods - LONDON


New working districts are evolving in major cities across the world, with hubs of talent and creativity taking shape beyond the center. How are the global cities, New York and London, transforming their neighbourhoods to accommodate new ways of working?