We’re not building skyscrapers in Stratford to protect the views from Richmond Park

At least these deer will have a good view. Image: Getty.

You're familiar, I assume, with the acronym NIMBY. Literally "Not in my back yard", it refers to any group of people who don't want things built near them because, well, they prefer fields and trees and chemically contaminated flood plains and so on.

You're probably also used to the fact that, by virtue of being pushy and enthusiastic and well-established in their community, NIMBY pressure groups find it easy to get their voices heard, in a way those who'd benefit from new housing development – younger, poorer, more transient – do not.

What you may not have realised, though, is quite how far those back yards can extend, when NIMBYs put their minds to it. Here's a picture of the Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, in south west London, with a group campaigning to protect that park's view of St Paul's Cathedral:

A youthful and dynamic group, I'm sure you'll agree.

What they are protecting, exactly, requires some explanation. London contains no fewer than 13 protected views: legal requirements built into the planning system to ensure that certain buildings are visible from certain places. These have a direct knock on effect on what you can build where: you won't get planning permission for anything that blocks the view of the Palace of Westminster from Primrose Hill, for example.

 

The protected views. Image: cmglee/Wikimedia Commons.

One of these protected views is the vista that looks from King Henry VIII's Mound in Richmond Park to St Paul's Cathedral. Basically, Olney and her gang are fighting valiantly to defend that gap in the trees.

It's quite hard to spot what they're looking at, so let's zoom in. I've circled it in red to help you. Here's the view in all its glory.

Thanks, Sarah, what would we do without you.

So, basically, these campaigners all trying to protect a rubbish view of something 10 miles away that you can barely see anyway. That seems silly enough, in a city with this sort of housing crisis, but it’s actually worse than it sounds.

That’s because the protection afforded by the planning system doesn't just stop developers from building something between Richmond and St Paul's: it also stops them from building anything behind it that may make the view less pretty. It’s not enough to be able to see St Paul’s: these nice old people don’t want to take the risk that they can see anything new at the same time.

Where does your back yard end? If you live near Richmond Park, 15 miles away it turns out.

This problem may be silly, but it is not theoretical. From Paul Wellman at  Estates Gazette:

Six high-rise projects in Stratford could be in jeopardy due to a historic viewing corridor from Richmond Park.

Architects Allies and Morrison have confirmed their proposals for 30- and 40-storey towers, as part of the Olympicopolis proposals, are to be redesigned and reduced in height.

This comes soon after conservation charity Friends of Richmond Park called on London mayor Sadiq Khan to halt the construction of the 42-storey Manhattan Loft Gardens, E20.

I'm not going to bore you by quoting figures about the scale of London's housing need for the thousandth time. I'm not going to bang on about the other various ways in which we tie our hands as to what we can build or where.

I'm just going to note, very simply, that even at one of London's largest brownfield sites – an area which the government has spent a fortune on reviving, which has some of the best transport connections in the whole of London – development is being stymied by a bunch of old people 15 miles away who don't want to take the risk they might just about see a skyscraper behind St Paul's when they're out walking the dog.

And the local MP is on their side.


We are never going to solve the housing crisis in this country, are we.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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