The Shared Challenges of Polycentric Cities and Tall Buildings

William Webb
Make, London

As the world’s urban population continues to grow, so does polycentric expansion – a form of development with many positive prospects, including potentially reducing carbon emissions and improving economic productivity. This type of development has challenges. Without careful urban planning, intentional densification, and proper infrastructure, polycentric cities risk lacking civic cohesion and an imbalance in provision. In particular, socioeconomically stratified cities could suffer further segregation if equal access and investment across developing polycentric cities is not prioritized.

Many of the challenges facing polycentric cities are similar to those facing tall buildings. In both contexts, maximizing the inherent assets of certain places and creating culturally bespoke environments that encourage communities to develop are of primary importance. Other shared areas of concern include accommodating population growth; preventing homogeneity; delivering effective connections; providing sufficient green space, and striking a balance between vertical and horizontal infrastructure. By using London as an example, this presentation examines the proposal that "centers" are not the result of tall buildings, but are enhanced by them.

This presentation draws a comparison between the approach to multi-nodal urbanism and vertical urbanism, and explores ways that architecture and urban design can help achieve sustainable growth and enrich residents’ prospects in both. Using London as an example, it also examines the reasons polycentric cities occur in the first place, exploring the factors of economics, housing, local amenities and transport infrastructure – and discusses the many benefits and opportunities of a decentralized urban approach.