The issue of housing development in London often appears to be caught between two apparently opposed agendas –on the one hand to value, preserve and revitalise existing communities and businesses (for instance the GLA High Streets initiative) and on the other the developers who want to clear land and construct new developments with new structures and new urban grains (almost all recent New-Build in the Capital).
At the same time however London is a city defined by its “villages” and local High Streets –some of which follow the 6 ancient roads into the city, others which have emerged over time as the commercial hearts of London’s distinctive, distributed villages. These High Streets contain an enormous richness of community, commercial enterprise and living and an adaptability and durability that has survived over time.
However many of these High Streets are dying or run down, occupied by betting shops and closed-up shops –while some of this could be attributed to the popularity of supermarkets and big-box retail on the edge of the city, recent research reveals that the large supermarket chains are reducing that kind of development as a result of declining demand –people are choosing to shop more locally.
So the high street is potentially facing a revival. But in many cases this is being held back by poor building stock that has aged and been neglected but which also lacks the kind of commercial spaces and standards of residential space which would be desirable today.
What if we could reinvent the High Street Typology? Can we develop a new typology that can reinvigorate our high streets and make them, once again, the centres of life and community they were in the past? Can we do this in such a way that can appeal to developer’s “bottom-lines” and fit with local communities? Can we use the Government’s proposed benefits for small and self-builders combined with the planning and design expertise available to big builders to propose good quality design?
In the past most of London was developed by small-scale builder/developers working within established but flexible typologies. This applied to the Georgian and Regency districts as much to the suburban terraced houses and High Streets. On the High Street this way of developing continues today but on a small, piecemeal scale and working within the existing typologies which no longer provide adequate standards of space or the kind of density required under the GLA’s Plan for London.
We propose a new Typology as a set of rules or guidelines which can be adapted to different plots but will build up density and quality over time.
As councils see the benefits of this approach in increased density where it is needed –close to transport and amenities—developments following this pattern would be favoured.
As developers –both big and small—see the added value that can be extracted from sites (as a result of the greater densities allowed by planning) they will be more ready to invest in high streets and more housing will be built where it is needed.