London: The Original Polycentric City

Peter Murray
Chairman, New London Architecture Centre; London Mayor’s Design Advocate
Wordsearch, London

This presentation will draw on key research carried out by New London Architecture, and exhibited at the NLA, in 2017 which sets out the drivers and the solutions for the creation of a many-centered city that provides places where people can work, live and play and that retain their distinctiveness and character. It will also look at the role of digital technologies and autonomous vehicles in providing orbital transit in suburban areas.

Over its history London has developed naturally as a polycentric city - it’s towns and villages growing to form one large metropolis. With the City of London and Westminster at the core, Chelsea and Kilburn, Brixton and Croydon, Wandsworth and Hampstead retained their distinct identities but were absorbed into the wider administrative conglomeration.

In the 20th century, London’s center increasingly dominated the capital’s economy, following the radial pattern of the 19th century railways. Orbital movement was rarely seen as a priority. Over the past decade, significant changes have taken place in outer London town centres as the center has spread, and the high cost of accommodation has made outer areas more attractive as places to live, with new infrastructure transforming the viability of new developments. Tall buildings are located around transport hubs, providing much needed accommodation as well as active ground level environments.

There is a growing interest at City Hall in mixed-use developments with a focus on neighborhoods, placemaking and a reduction in commuting, while not encroaching on the Green Bel that surrounds the metropolis. The conclusions will focus on densification, nymby-ism, land assembly, context and height, orbital infrastructure and the need to boost the economies of town centers.