The CAZ (Central Actitivity Zone) is to London what Manhattan is to New York. Its the bit most foreign visitors think of as London and it is where jobs, places of entertainment and amenities are most dense. Mayoral policies support the expansion of the CAZ on the basis that clustering is good for the growth of the knowledge-based and service economies. It also, of course, reflects the City of London’s role as the historic centre of the region to which all roads lead.
Rasmussen in his book ‘London the unique city’ called UK capital a ‘scattered city’; it is also known as a city of villages (so is Sydney) which suggests a certain deference to the densified core - a core that in recent years has been spreading outwards from the traditional centres of the West End and the City to Nine Elms, Paddington and Elephant and Castle.
But London is also a city of towns: places like Richmond, Redbridge, Walthamstow, Merton, Barking and Croydon. Or as the bus driver’s prayer goes “Our Farnham, who art in Hendon, Harrow be Thy name.Thy Kingston come; thy Wimbledon” all the way through to “for Esher and Esher, Crouch End”. Many of these towns are struggling economically, their high streets hit by the growing power of the internet; many of them have even been losing workspace because of the Government’s Permitted Development Rights legislation that allows offices to be converted to residential without planning permission.
At the same time new tech firms, creatives and start ups are moving out of London because they can’t find affordable workspace in Clerkenwell or Shoreditch. They disappear to Bristol, or Birmingham or even Berlin in search of cheaper accommodation when Barking or Barnet should be a better option.
As London’s population continues to grow (in spite of Brexit the demographers still say it will, although some commentators are starting to query the pace of this) we will need to densify London’s towns if we are to fit everyone inside the Green Belt. It is important that such future development is genuinely mixed use instead of the preponderance of residential that we have been seeing in recent years.
In Sadiq Khan’s new London Plan he must make sure that London’s towns provide employment space as well as places to live so that people can work close to home, reverse commute from the centre or travel orbitally. Because of London’s focus on the centre, the latter has always been the most difficult. The completion of the Overground circuit connecting such diverse centres as Dalston, Peckham Rye, Shepherds Bush and Gospel Oak has been transformational. But it’s not enough. We also need better orbital bus services - perhaps demand responsive services that can be ordered via an app like a large scale UberPool. Deputy Mayor for Transport Val Shawcross should roll out the Mini Holland cycling programme across London and ensure there are the appropriate links between boroughs.
Cedric Price conceived the city as an egg: the ancient city was a boiled egg - with a defined centre and a hard shell; the 17th and 18th century city lost its walls and had a more amorphous edge, so it was a fried egg. The modern city has multiple centres and is more like a scrambled egg.
As Mayor Khan defines his ‘City for All Londoners’ he should remember that the twenty first century metropolis is scrambled, not fried.
First published in On Office Magazine
Peter Murray, commenting on London, architecture, cycling and cities