London and New York face up to population pressures

Wednesday 10 May 2017

London and New York are facing similar pressures to build housing for their fast-growing populations. But while the UK capital must concentrate on becoming ‘cleverer’ about intensification and developing out brownfield land, the latter should improve its transport infrastructure to ease its ‘affordability crisis.’

Those were just two of the main points to emerge yesterday from the latest ‘NY-LON’ event run by the NLA at KPF’s offices in London and simultaneously at the Center for Architecture in New York – Deputy Mayor Dialogue: Grappling with Growth.

Deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills in London Jules Pipe said that the UK capital was finding it harder to deal with its population expansion of a projected 10.5m by 2040 – 44,000 households per year – than its move from 1 million in 1800 to 6.5 million just a century later. To deal with a housing backlog, London needed to deliver 50,000 a year but only around 25,000 are being built, while employment is growing rapidly, with the capital set to expect 46,000 extra jobs per year between now and 2041. But London must resist the desire to look to the Green Belt for an answer, said Pipe, citing mayor Sadiq Khan’s opposition to building on land there and the fact that it is ‘hard to justify’ with so much brownfield land available and so many ‘tarmacked car parks serving one-storey retail sheds’ in zones 1, 2 and 3. Instead, the focus should be on the capital’s Opportunity Areas and on town centres well served by transport where land could be intensified, and on mixed use schemes rather than allowing industrial uses to be ‘swept aside’ for housing. ‘We have to be more creative about what we develop out and have a broader offer than just homes around a station to ferry people into the centre’, said Pipe.

Pipe’s counterpart in New York, deputy mayor for housing and economic development Alicia Glen said NYC remained one of the safest big cities in the US, with a continual and consistent drop in serious crime having been a ‘really big game changer’. Public education was also in a ‘very positive place right now’, making New York a more attractive place to stay and raise a family, with unemployment also at a record low. But there were also things to worry about, including how the city has become something of a victim of its own success, said Glen. ‘We clearly have not kept up with any sort of capital expenditure on infrastructure’, she said, pointing to the ‘mass transit situation’ and an ‘affordability crisis’ affecting more than half of New Yorkers. So it has invested in the most ambitious affordable housing programme in the US, having financed or built 62,000 units inside three years, enough for more than 200,000 people or the population of Fort Lauderdale. This was a ‘downpayment on the future’ – ‘I cannot explain how important that is in terms of the future of the city’, she said.

The conference also heard from Les Bluestone, co-owner of Blue Sea Development, who said that housing was the first place to start to counter the ‘poverty continuum’ and LB Croydon’s chief executive and head of paid services Jo Negrini, who suggested that what was important for London was reinventing the suburbs, not just where the city ‘bleeds’ to, but which has ‘integrity and place.’ ‘We’re trying to keep our residents in Croydon’ said Negrini, maintaining diverse communities while attracting company offices to the area like Body Shop, Superdrug and HMRC and not forgetting ‘fun’ and culture as an important constituent of regeneration. But Croydon has been adversely affected by permitted development impacts, having lost some 2msq ft to residential of its total of 7msqft. ‘PD rights is an appalling policy’, commented Pipe.

Some answers to this scenario may come to London’s future in the next iteration of the London Plan, which Pipe promised will look nothing like the old one. It will be far more accessible, with ‘an awful lot in there to make it more understandable for local people’, he said, including a chapter on heritage that ‘reflects the importance and value that the administration puts on it’, and recognition of the Place Agency as a way to address a shortfall of built space talent and quality in the boroughs.

David Taylor
Editor, New London Quarterly 

Part of the NLA International Programme

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