The future of urban form and infrastructure: more effective management of flooding and other challenges

by Peter Larkham

“Plan boldly!” (Lord Reith, 19401)

Photo of flooded residential area at Wimborne, February 2014

Flooding on the Stour, Wimborne, Dorset.
Photo: Ian Kirk (via Flickr)

The recent floods are just one example of the problems we are likely to face in the coming 50-100 years as a result of environmental and social change.  Traditional urban forms are vulnerable, and current ways of planning are weak and slow to respond.

I spent a day recently at an ‘expert symposium’ on the future of urban form and infrastructure, part of the Government Office for Science’s “Foresight Future of Cities” project.  It was a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion with a good range of experienced academics and professionals.  But it actually said very little about form or infrastructure in any detail.  We largely accepted that much existing research had already identified good and bad form, and in fact the key to better urbanism in the future was better management, at all scales.

So, acknowledging ideas from the assembled experts (though anonymised via Chatham House rules), there are some radical lessons for planning and management. [Read more…]


A Nation of Couch Potatoes?

by Antony Taft

How far do you walk each week?  If there is one thing that most health professionals agree upon it is that our state of health is greatly enhanced if we each have a brisk walk each day.  It seems logical to surmise that if this simple direction was followed, NHS costs might be significantly reduced.

Quote Blog 14Perhaps surprisingly, built environment professionals can have a significant effect on peoples’ physical activity and this is well recognised in the USA where there is a trend towards “active design” agreed between health authorities and architects.  This might mean, for instance, locating stair cases near the main entrance instead of hiding them at the rear of the lifts.  This principle can be applied beyond buildings to the external environment.  The trend towards pedestrianisation over the last few decades has undoubtedly helped, although increasing walking is a positive spin-off rather than a planned benefit.  However, in the Country as a whole the National Travel Survey 2012 states that walking trips fell by 27% since 1997.  Conversely, the number of households with two or more cars has risen to 31% from only 17% in 1986 – this in the midst of a recession.

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Are the Streets of London Really Paved with Gold?

by Roger Wall

 

Hey!  This is one question to which I think I know the answer.  That’s unless they’ve been doing a lot of expensive repaving work since I was there a couple of weekends ago to see the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park.  The reason I’m so confident that nothing will have changed is that the government is too busy saving up so that it can build HS2.  This (of course) is the high speed rail link that seems designed to get us all to the capital as quickly as possible.  Despite controversy over the economic case, the environmental consequences and the (lack of) social benefits (not to mention a sudden £10bn price-hike a couple of weeks ago), the government seems determined to drive this one through.  It’s only track ‘n’ rolling stock but they like it.

Quote Blog 10A few things occur to me.  For a start, why are we all so desperate to get to the Big Smoke?  Sure, it’s a great place and I like going there; but Birmingham’s pretty good too and I’ve also heard nice things about Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield (feel free to amend this list to suit your own preferences).  I spent a few years living in Germany and one of the things that struck me over there was the way in which the major cities all had their own identities and sense of importance.  Perhaps this was a consequence of the (then) capital being the relatively small town of Bonn (which might give a clue as to how long ago I was there) but it always seemed very healthy to me.  One of the ‘pro’ arguments I’ve heard for HS2 is that it will allow people flying to Birmingham to get to London quicker.  Is ‘Birmingham International Airport’ destined to become ‘London North’?  Surely, it would be better if the people actually wanted to stay in Birmingham. But don’t start me up on that one.

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