Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Parklife - Making London Greener

Two stories related to parks in London grabbed my attention this past week.  First was Rowan Moore’s excellent review of the proposed London River Park which is quickly turning into the capital’s new planning saga (see here).  The proposal is for a new walkway on the northern side of the River Thames, stretching from Millennium Bridge in the west to the Tower of London in the east.  The initial plans include landscaping, seating, a swimming pool and a series of pavilions which can be used for exhibitions and cultural uses.   

But it is the creation of a pseudo-public space that angers Moore the most.  Drawing on Anna Minton’s highly recommended book Ground Control, Moore describes how the river park will in fact turn a public river view into a highly controlled private space.  In addition, the effort from the architects appears to have been spent on the revenue generating pavilions and not on the walkable areas in-between.  So if London is trying to ape New York’s High Line it will have to put considerably more effort into the ‘park’ element of the scheme.  Latest news is that the planning application will not be considered by the City of London at the November Planning Committee and the project will now miss being open for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  Open for the Olympics?  We will see.

The second story was the publication by the Mayor of the All London Green Grid SPG for public consultation (see here).  This builds on the East London Green Grid which was adopted in 2008 and aims to shift the understanding of green infrastructure from individual parks towards a networked approach.  The SPG is a typical planning document full of visions and policies and hits all the right buttons with regard to what benefits access to green space can bring – health, biodiversity, climate change adaptation and many more.  But it is the delivery of the Green Grid where planning often falters.  Unfortunately the SPG excludes a historical reflection on how green infrastructure in London has changed since the introduction of the London Plan in 2001.  It would have been very interesting to see how access to green infrastructure had improved (or not) following the changed planning regime, in particular in the large growth areas in East London and the Thames Gateway.   

As with many planning themes, it is not necessarily a lack of policy but a lack of application and delivery.  The ALGG will require joined-up budgets between Local Authorities to reflect how green corridors and networks cut across administrative boundaries.  At a time of budget of constraints this will be tough and it is hard to see many LPAs prioritizing green infrastructure.  But this would be wrong.  As I have shown in a previous post (see here), investment in parks and trails can bring significant returns and may be the type of smaller and practical investments that are popular in times of fiscal constraint.  The ALGG sets the framework and justification, now it is for others to deliver.

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