With responses from:
Darryl Chen - Partner, Hawkins Brown (architects)
Debbie Jackson - Assistant Director- Regeneration, Greater London Authority (policy-makers)
Joanna Lea – Director of Retail and Restaurant, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland (property group)
Kevin Logan - Associate Director, Maccreanor Lavington (architects)
Peter Murray - Chairman, New London Architecture (built environment forum)
Is ‘supermix’ what we want?
DC: Yes we want it, but not everywhere and not everything. We need a strategy that both encourages more mixing where it works, and precludes it where it doesn’t.
PM: I’m not sure Supermix is an ’enduring’ ambition for London. In the post war period housing estates were designed as single use environments, often without even the most basic elements of retail or other amenity. While Abercrombie suggested the idea of neighbourhoods which would have a mix of uses, the new towns built as a result of his plan were zoned with different uses. Twenty years ago the idea of mixed use was still a novelty among developers. There is still a suspicion of mixed use amongst residential communities, even those that have chosen to live in dense urban areas. The restrictions imposed by boroughs on restaurants and bars are a direct response to residents’ opposition. Some advocates of estate regeneration are now viewing these pockets of city as sites which can be transformed into urban villages, with a mix of uses.
JL: In our view, all global cities should be designed to offer a diverse mix of amenities and services to support communities and allow them to flourish. London is no different and Grosvenor’s estate is a good example of this having evolved over three centuries, adapting in line with changing habits and demands in the city. It is now home to a vibrant mix of world-leading offices, hotels, high quality homes and a wealth of shops, cafes and restaurants and open spaces which all contribute to the appeal of these locations as some of the most desirable places in the world in which to live, work and visit.
KL: London is currently suburbanising its urbanity. In order to continue its legacy as an industrious, culturally and socially thriving city, it needs to work to understand the role and value of the mixed city in sustaining the complex economic and cultural ecosystems that define it.
DJ: London is under pressure to accommodate housing as well as places of work and all sorts of social, civic, cultural, and green infrastructure to maintain the diversity of London. However there is a tendency for the highest value uses to dominate this balance. For example London has been losing industrial land at nearly 3 times the sustainable rate set out in the London Plan. Industrial areas are crucial for London to operate efficiently. They accommodate essential functions such as food processing, preparation, repair services, logistics and distribution, and are important for construction materials and equipment. Without sufficient industrial land we risk undermining growth in London’s wider economy.
How do we mix uses?
DC: Mix in London is typically delivered according to the complementarity of certain use categories. However the final frontier of mix is industrial, a survivor of the age of zoning. Long thought to be a bad neighbour, it’s now apparent that many developments on industrial estates are not noisy, polluting or subject to constant servicing, but on the contrary, ready to rejoin the mixed urban fabric of the twentieth century city.
PM: We have not tackled issues around the changing nature of industrial processes and how we can integrate them into urban environments. Ideas about local energy production and waste treatment are not popular with local residents and have dropped down the list of priorities. Light industrial areas are segregated and make poor use of land - who is investigating high-rise industrial spaces as are found in cities like Hong Kong? At Battersea Power Station a protected wharf is planned to be integrated into a high-end residential development by enclosing the waste collection depot in a concrete box.
DJ: The scale of mix is important. Some industrial uses will not be immediately compatible with homes, but need to have a place in the overall mix of the city. In these places industrial intensification will need to be part of the answer, just as residential densities have increased. Around half of industrial land has strategic planning protection, but 36% is found in small undesignated sites, where a significant proportion of losses have been experienced as they are replaced by higher value residential uses. This has the effect of de-mixing the city.
JL: Careful planning, a long term vision and consideration of existing local communities are all essential when it comes to creating mixed-use cities that work and have longevity. It’s as much about the parts in between the buildings as the buildings themselves. It is important to also consider uses that will compliment, rather than compete or detract from, one another and have a mutually beneficial relationship.
What’s in the way of delivering supermix?
PM: Residents’ fears of disruption, of development, lorries, night-time deliveries, noisy restaurants, bars and clubs.
DC: Obsolete or incomplete notions of function stand in the way of a more mixed vision of the city. In order to achieve supermix, we need to acknowledge the increasingly broad spectrum that exists in each individual use class, and the increasingly blurred boundaries between different use classes. Changes in the way we live and work mean that the rules we draw up for mixing uses ought to be rewritten. Changes in technology (eg. small batch manufacturing), lifestyle (eg. working from home) and demography (eg. shared households) point to freer and more complex uses of buildings and land than are indicated by the simplistic and all too convenient labels ‘residential’, ‘retail’ or industrial’.
DJ: Speculative industrial developers tend to find large stand-alone units easier to build, and less challenging to manage, but there are fewer smaller industrial units available. Just as residential schemes are required to provide larger family sized units, which are not as profitable as 1-beds, industrial schemes may have to provide smaller units above or around larger ones. It may also be feasible to integrate certain types of industrial activity with housing. However looking back at recent mixed-use development we see ground floors intended for retail and office space remaining vacant for long periods of time. However commercial agents suggest that any property can be let, if the price is right, and there are some developers purchasing, preparing, and marketing ground floor space for businesses, something the housebuilders’ model does not often value or do well.
KL: London is facing a places of work crisis: there has been a loss of capacity due to the ongoing rapid erosion of industrial land, combined with a profound shortage of suitable and affordable space for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The delivery of new housing in response to London’s housing crisis is largely accountable for the loss of industrial land. Once rich and mixed neighbourhoods are being replaced by monolithic hyper-dense housing areas, which are suburban in their genesis and offer little in the way of opportunity or resources beyond dwelling. The need to have a housing land supply is bringing the delicate economic and cultural ecosystems of areas such as Bermondsey and Old Kent Road into jeopardy through increasing land values. This increases the ever-present risk of further exacerbating the places of work crisis. At the extreme, if left untempered, London could become a hyper-dense, jobless suburban city.
Where is this done well?
JL: London is home to many vibrant, mixed-use communities which have thrived for generations. We believe there are some good examples of ‘supermix’ across our London estate. North Mayfair for instance is home to a diverse range of tenures including private residential rental properties, affordable homes, office space, world-class hotels, restaurants and cafes as well as globally recognised retail streets. Over the last couple of years we have bolstered the appeal of this location with the creation of a new five-star hotel (The Beaumont), redeveloped open public space at Brown Hart Gardens (now home to a weekly food market) and the introduction of new retail stores on Duke Street with residential rental apartments above. In line with Mayfair’s rich history and connection with the arts, we have also sought to re-establish this through the creation of public art and the introduction of the new Gagosian Gallery. This vibrant array of uses is a good example of ‘supermix’.
KL: London is not the only city to grapple with these issues. San Francisco has carried out a rationalisation of the industrial land in its Eastern Neighbourhoods, introducing Mixed-Use Zones and designating Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) Zones. This rezoning is designed to safeguard capacity and build upon the areas unique characteristics whilst delivering new housing for low to middle income citizens. Rotterdam is utilising the release of the Merwe-Vierhavens (M4H) port area to create the Skill City of Rotterdam. The strategy builds on existing businesses, augmented with new business focused on innovation and technology which will be supported by hospitality, training and conference resources. The city has deliberately chosen to invest into the economy of places of work, allowing trailblazers and entrepreneurs to help establish the area’s future trajectory before considering residential development, if any.
DC: The broadening of residential tenures in the last decade provides an object lesson. Shared ownership is an ‘intermediate’ tenure between social housing and the private market. It is publicly subsidised and so can be classed as ‘affordable housing’, whilst at the same time, it is funded by owner/occupier equity and so sits in the private category as well. Given these characteristics, it is no surprise that developers often see intermediate tenure as happily co-locating with either social rented units or market housing units within a single development. Intermediate tenure housing occupies the blurred boundary between two ‘types’ of development that have been otherwise kept separate. A broadening of tenure allows increased mixing within a single use class. Similar intermixing should be possible through the acknowledgement of emergent subcategories like artisanal workshops, or hybrid uses like work hotels.
What would a supermixed London look like?
PM: It could be like Soho or it could be like Barking in the new Studio Egret West plans. High density mixed use centres around transport hubs with local area plans based on walking distances.
JL: London is already, to a large extent, ‘supermixed’. It is one of the most culturally diverse and interesting cities in the world in which to live, work and visit. As the city continues to grow we imagine the mix to continually adapt and change to reflect the demands of its inhabitants.
DJ: Most of the work on integrating industrial activity with housing is still theoretical and focused on demonstrating that it is technically possible. The market response and development viability will be key. The property sector is fairly risk averse and avoids unfamiliar products. There are examples such as decking over a safeguarded aggregate wharf, but this is only viable where residential values are very high. Public sector support may well be needed to help de-risk the proof of concept, and we are keen to explore the scope for industrial intensification and the co-location of industrial and residential uses with developers and the property sector.
KL: In order for London to maintain its status as a desirable and liveable city it needs to retain a city-wide mix. Mixed cities are equitable and pluralist, they are sustainable, liveable and workable, they provide opportunities and form sustaining and characterful neighbourhoods. Therefore, the need to deliver housing should not be at the expense of the existing economic and cultural ecosystems. We need to deploy growth strategies for optimisation and intensification that build positive synergies with existing qualities and uses. Undue change disrupts the ecosystems of the city. Change should be designed to augment and reinforce the existing desirable and necessary characteristics of a neighbourhood. The key to ensuring equitable growth is to firstly understand what already exists, the value it has in cultural, social and economic terms and any synergies prior to considering any change. Currently the use class definitions are too broad and do not represent the actualities of how space is utilised in the contemporary economy. A finer grain and more descriptive set of definitions is required in order to better represent the qualities of the existing and ensure that more nuanced and meaningful data is captured. The second key to equitable growth is to ensure that where a population increase is proposed it is coupled with a proportional increase in cultural, social and economic resources, including places of work.
DC: A supermixed London would exploit gradations between uses allowing for supermixing of some functions at certain places, while respecting isolation for other uses at the extremes. Across the city, a constellation of varying functions would interlock in more synergistic combinations: medical prototyping workshops with hospitals; temporary living quarters with offices; co-working with sixth form colleges….The promise of a supermixed London is to create richer ecologies of living and working… to make thriving economies and communities.Read Less