Estate regeneration can be done well. Here’s how

South London's un-regenerated Heygate estate. Image: Getty.

Everyone knows that regeneration is frequently done badly. Everyone knows that consultation can be tokenistic or faked. These are people’s homes, people’s communities – and people’s lives. People deserve better than being lied to or materially ignored by developers, as is all too frequently the case.

It can be hard to dissociate the very word “regeneration” from all the well-known negative examples. But it is not inherently impossible to upgrade the urban form. It can be done well.

This won’t solve all of society’s ills, which run much deeper and more systematically than anything a change or urban form can fix: education and social capital top architecture.

But what has been proven is that urban form can, and frequently does, have a meaningful impact on wellbeing. Multiple studies have shown that, even accounting for broader socio-economic factors, urban design can have a positive impact if done well – and a negative one if done badly.

And as the housing crisis reaches new levels of the stratosphere, urban form is edging closer to the forefront of policy debate. This gives an opportunity for meaningful action and meaningful impact, to try to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Seven habits of highly effective regenerations

At Create Streets, we use seven tests for assessing regeneration – and argue that there’s scant point in changing the urban fabric of a place if it doesn’t pass these tests. Stubborn? Perhaps, but a development that fails these test will end up doing more harm than good. They are also eminently passable, as we’ll see. 

The seven questions are:

  • Does it have support of residents?
  • Does it have support of neighbours?
  • Does it increase total housing?
  • Does it at least keep social housing equal & treat leaseholders and tenants fairly?
  • Is the new spatial layout better – and does it “plug into” streets and city?
  • Are new internal standards better and good enough?
  • Does it produce mixed community by tenure and use?

Just to be clear, the answer to all of the above should be “yes.”

A lot of high profile estate regenerations have failed these tests: indeed, often one of the reasons why they are high profile is precisely because they’ve not gone about things properly. Neglecting these points can obviously have a negative impact on residents – but more than that, failing these tests creates controversy and therefore opposition.

“Residents could be re-housed without being decanted”

Compliance with these tests should therefore be a no-brainer. As Savills’ recent report for the Cabinet Office recommended, new developments should give “a genuine and privileged role for the local community”. And don’t let anyone tell you that the “value” is not there to do it properly. Again, the recent Savills reports shows quite clearly the value inherent in medium-density, provably popular urbanism. It can work on everybody’s terms.

The secret of my success

The community on north London’s Packington Estate had this sort of input. Built in the late 1960s in Islington, tucked behind Upper Street and bordering the Regent’s Canal, the process of redeveloping the estate began in 2006: a poll of residents approved transfer of ownership to the social landlords the Hyde Group, who then funded the improvements through densifying.

The rebuilding shows the value of effective consultation and dialogue with residents. The process led to an estate that residents were pleased with and proud of. It re-instated integrated streets (86 per cent wanted a new development to reinstate the traditional street pattern), built more houses and, crucially, avoided the high-rise towers residents had explicitly said they did not want. The rebuilding process took place over several stages, meaning that residents could be re-housed without being decanted.


The maximum height at Packington was increased by just 33 per cent (from six storeys to eight). But the development still managed to increase overall density by 56 per cent (from 538 homes to 839). This was a very clear and specific win for residents: Hyde themselves have acknowledged that they would have built higher without this input from residents, and without a planning authority who supported the residents.

The Portobello Square development in North Kensington, by Catalyst Housing, is also worth citing. Its rebuild will create more homes, and the housing of all existing residents, including the social housing provision, will be fully replaced.

After consultation, the key design objectives were reintegration with the surrounding neighbourhood, and the creation of a new square at the heart of the scheme to replace a previously poorly-located square. The visual typology is one of the key strengths of this redevelopment: it was drawn from “traditional Kensington residential precedents,” including mews houses and townhouses, and fits into the local street network. This also helped to keep the development in line with the densities of the borough, the second densest in London. 

Neither of these examples are perfect. Little in life is. Some of the squares in Packington, for example, have confused fronts and backs.

But they do show that working with residents and listening to both their concerns and preferences can lead to a popular urban form that is dense enough to increase London’s total housing stock, but of high enough quality to boost wellbeing and improve lives.

Indeed, if you’re not making better and more popular places that can function as an integrated part of the city for generations then what, in the long term, is the point?

Kieran Toms is a researcher and urban designer at Create Streets, a social enterprise encouraging urban homes in terraced streets.

 
 
 
 

Eight thoughts on TfL’s “new” walking tube map

Wow, this will definitely be useful! Image: TfL.

Oh joy! Oh rapture! For here in the late summer doldrums, when significant news stories are about as easy to come by as offices with decent air conditioning, Transport for London (TfL) has released a new tube map.

Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s repackaged an old tube map by scrawling some numbers over it. Anyway: we’re never one to look a tube map in the mouth, so let’s do this.

The new tube map is meant to discourage you from getting on the tube

No, really. From the press release:

Transport for London (TfL) has launched a new version of the iconic Tube map, which shows how many steps it takes to walk between stations in zones 1 and 2.

The new map is the first official version in the world to show the number of steps between stations.

[London mayor] Sadiq Khan says the map will be a fun and practical way to help busy Londoners who want to make walking a part of their everyday lives.

In other words, if this tube map does its job right, you won’t set foot on a tube train at all. You’ll glance at the map, realise it’s only five minutes to your destination at ground level, and, pausing only to throw a smug glance at the poor saps going into the tube, start walking.

The new tube map only shows central London

To be specific, zones 1 and 2. There’s a reason for this: things are much closer together in central London, making walking a plausible option. Nobody in their right might is going to swap a Metropolitan line train from Rickmansworth to the City for a brisk seven hour stroll.

Anyway, I’m sure you’re just scrolling past this bumpf to get to the actual map bit, so here it is:

 

Click to expand, if you must. Image: TfL.

The new tube map is not actually new

If all this sounds a teensy bit familiar, that’s because it is. Last November TfL release its first official walking tube map. It’s, well, look:

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The new one is exactly the same map only with all the figures multiplied by a factor of 100. That’s because:

Approximate steps are based on a moderate walking speed of 100 steps per minute

It’s exactly the same. It’s not “new” at all, it’s the same bloody map.


The new map isn’t necessarily that useful

For the vast majority of us, who don’t go around with Fitbits on our wrists, minutes are surely a far more intuitive measure of distance than steps. I don’t care that somewhere is 2,000 steps away; I just want to know how long it’ll take me to walk it.

More than that, this map is only useful if you’re trying to get between two places on directly connected by a single tube line. If you want to go from Oxford Circus to Holborn, then brilliant: you can see its 1,900 steps or about 19 minutes, and think to yourself, well, I might as well walk.

But what if you’re going from the middle of Mayfair to somewhere in Bloomsbury? You have no idea how long it’ll take you to get to and from the tube stations, and anyway, the quickest route is probably not the one that involves changing at Holborn. This map is effectively useless to you.

The charitable reading of this is that it’s about persuading the very small number of Londoners who do count their steps to get off the tube a stop early, or to do the last stretch above ground rather than changing lines.

The less charitable reading is that TfL have worked out there’s a flurry of press coverage (Hi, TfL!) every time they publish a new map, and they’ve decided that this is the best way to promote their campaign to get everyone walking.

The new map doesn’t tell you anything about how many steps you have to walk inside a tube station

Changing trains between the Bakerloo and Victoria lines at Oxford Circus is incredibly easy. The platforms are right next to each other. Get off at the right door, and it’s probably less than 50 paces.

Changing trains between the Jubilee and Piccadilly lines at Green Park, though, is not incredibly easy, because the platforms are nowhere bloody near each other. Scientists say the average Londoner spends approximately 5 per cent of their life changing at Green Park.

On this, the map is weirdly silent.

To be fair...

The new map shows that some journeys are really better done on foot

Look at this:

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

Remembering our conversation rate of 100 steps per minute, you can see that it’s less than 10 minutes between Bank and St Paul’s. Really not worth bothering with the tube, is it?

Cannon Street to Mansion House, meanwhile is just four minutes, while Cannon Street to Monument is around five. Cannon Street very obviously only got a tube stop because there’s a mainline terminus there. If it weren’t for that, no one would have bothered to build the thing in the first place.

Covent Garden to Leicester Square has no such excuse: 400 paces. No wonder they can get away with making Covent Garden exit only for extended periods of time without anything breaking.

Many of the shortest journeys of all are on the DLR. Which makes sense what with it being a tram with ideas above its station and all:

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

From Poplar to West India Quay it’s just 400 steps. Between Canary Wharf and Heron Quays, meanwhile, it’s just 200. That’s nothing.

(A side note: Canary Wharf’s DLR and tube stations are actually quite a long way from each other – the latter is much closer to Heron Quays DLR – but the map doesn’t bother to inform you of this, instead insisting on the fiction that there’s a nice easy change between Canary Wharf DLR and Jubilee line stations. Great work, guys. Fantastic map.)

The new map shows that some journeys are hilariously impossible on foot

Look again at that extract from the map above. It shows that, from Canary Wharf to North Greenwich, it’s 7,600 steps – or about an hour and a quarter to walk. From Canary Wharf to Canada Water, it’s 14,400 – heading for an hour and a half.

Why? Because the only to cross the river on foot around there is the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which means going a very long way out of your way.

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a less extreme version of this phenomenon out west, where getting from Imperial Wharf to Clapham Junction, the next stop down the line, will take you about 36 minutes. Might be time to build some more bridges.

The new tube map shows that the tube map is still hideous

I know I have form for banging on about this, but seriously, all the old flaws are there in all their hideous glory. The awkward new shade of grey for the zone 2/3 bit in east London; the massively over cramped bit around Hackney. All of those were bad enough before someone started trying to add little numbers to them.

Come on TfL. Instead of mucking around with new variants on the existing map, how about you get too it and design a new one? Enquiring minds want to know.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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