The housing market is changing. We tend to seek larger houses with terraces and gardens, also in outlying areas. After a year of home working, we are gearing up to return to the office, but only for three days each week. The online shopping spree is being balanced by a return to neighborhood shops. All these phenomena are altering the form of big cities and triggering new growth dynamics. After Milan and New York, we have attempted to understand what is happening in London. The British capital, like other international cities, is organizing its return. By presenting the London Plan.
I The London Plan: a 20-year vision
The new London Plan went into effect on 2 March 2021 and outlines a general strategic program for the growth of the city over the next 20-25 years. The Plan supports central London and the rich mix of uses that makes it the vibrant heart of the capital. It indicates measures to protect green and open spaces, as well as the Thames and London’s other waterways. It is an ambitious plan, envisioning London as a city of “good growth,” or growth that is socially and economically inclusive, as well as environmentally sustainable.
The program considers an increase in population, implying the need for more (and more affordable) homes, additional office space, co-working facilities and structures for the creative industries. Priorities include protection of the green belt, concentrating development in large post-industrial areas for regeneration, around transport hubs and on smaller sites in outer London. The infographic explains the lines of growth and the proportions involved.
II High Street for All,
experimenting with new public spaces
The mission of the program “High Streets for All” reflects a clear intent to work with London’s diverse communities in order to establish new, exciting and experimental uses across the city’s high streets and public spaces. The goal is to create thriving, inclusive and resilient high streets and town centers within easy reach of all Londoners. The initiative promotes local employment and near-home working, protecting existing community and cultural spaces and introducing new types of businesses and civic organizations.
The objectives include regeneration of public spaces and under-used buildings in every Borough by 2025. All this will be achieved by increasing the capacity of local authorities and town center partnerships to work with community groups and the private sector to plan, safeguard and directly deliver a diverse, resilient and lively mix of activities and services (from education to healthcare) within easy reach of all Londoners.
III Centre for Cities, a think tank
for the city’s economy
Centre for Cities is the leading think tank on improvement of the economies of large cities and towns in the United Kingdom. The country’s economy is driven by the success of its largest cities and towns, and it is fundamental, especially in this moment of epochal change, to help them realize their economic potential.
Centre for Cities also conducts research on the possible results of political programs and strategies to enable cities, large towns and government address the challenges and opportunities they face, from boosting productivity and wages to meeting the needs of a world of work that is constantly evolving. The results of the latest survey, Cities Outlook 2021, evaluate the impact of the pandemic on urban life, and its effects on the government’s promise to “level up” the national economy, balancing growth dynamics and improving prospects for the future.
Cities and large towns whose economies needed to level up before the crisis, such as those outside the Greater South East, now face the extra challenge of coping with the post-pandemic situation, conserving a productive relationship between centers and the territory having different strengths and weaknesses, different types of employment and industries.
IV According to Arup, London will be
a place for co-workers
Arup has conducted a survey – Arup’s City Living Barometer — on the perceptions of residents of Milan, London, Berlin, Paris and Madrid after the first lockdown period. Over 5000 people were asked to express their assessment of the livability of their cities: many indicated a desire to change their place of residence, and when questioned about the characteristics they seek in a location, they put the accent on neighborhood proximity, access to green areas, spaces for leisure time and recreation, and near-home co-working facilities. Walking and cycling were indicated as preferred methods of mobility, to foster personal wellbeing and community relations while reducing pollution.
In Milan, 39% of those surveyed indicated that after the experience of the first lockdown, they realized that their homes no longer fulfilled everyday needs, prompting the desire to move. Similar figures were reported in the same survey conducted in Berlin (30%), Madrid (37%) and London (41%), confirming the wide spread of such viewpoints among residents of big cities. A major transformation has happened since the start of the pandemic: places that were utilized for eating, relaxing, sleeping and dressing have become zones of virtual interchange, offices (home/smart working), schools (e-learning), fitness clubs, spaces for shopping (e-commerce and home delivery of products and services). The research conducted by Arup puts the aspirations of citizens into focus, including the facilities they consider necessary (such as distributed work hubs and local co-working spaces), and the measures they believe can make urban living more enjoyable and healthy, and less stressful. The survey found substantial agreement about what should be done on a neighborhood scale in the projects of various European municipalities, and openness to experimentation for the implementation of such measures.
V Back to the shops,
with less e-commerce
Physical shopping made a major rebound in Great Britain during the month of April. According to figures reported by the Office for National Statistics, with the re-opening of all non-essential retail from 12 April in England and Wales, retail sales volumes grew sharply in April 2021, for a monthly increase of 9.2%, as opposed to a 7.2% rise the previous year. April also saw improvement with respect to the pre-Covid period: sales volumes grew by 10.6% over February 2020, while the value of purchases rose by 9.9%. The increase in “physical” shopping was matched by a drop in the use of e-commerce channels, also impacting the fashion sector. Online sales of fashion goods were down 6.3% over the previous month. Nevertheless, the online channel is the one reporting the highest year-by-year growth, due to the extended lockdown, equal to 83.6%. As a whole, the total share of online sales dropped to 30% in April, down from 34.7% in the month of March.
VI Two-wheeled public transport:
the formula for Greater London
The British capital is now completing the largest infrastructural project since World War II. It is the Crossrail or Elizabeth line, a new underground segment that departs from Reading and Heathrow, in the western part of the city, and crosses the center to reach the zones of Shenfield and Abbey Wood to the east. It connects some of the most important economic zones of the city (Heathrow, West End, the City and central business district). The long route will service 40 stations, 10 of which are newly built.
When fully operative (the first stretch began service in May 2017), 200 million passengers per year will use the new line, significantly reducing congestion in the existing stations and lines. According to the forecasts of the London Plan, in 2031 the city will have 1.3 million more inhabitants than it does today, along with 750,000 new jobs, leading to growth in the demand for public transport of about 35%. Much of this burgeoning demand will be absorbed by the new Elizabeth line.
Other important public investments have to do with the use of bicycles. Besides various bike sharing services, many new cycle lanes have been created for easy movement around the city. There are also government incentives to support the use of bicycles as the preferred mode of transport for office workers. A constantly updated map enables users to plot out optimal routes for two-wheel mobility all over the city.