New mayor to launch his grand vision for a livable city...
The “all powerful” new London Mayor, Boris Johnson and his architecture Tsar, Peter Bishop will use this week’s launch of the London Festival of Architecture as a platform to unveil his radical blueprint for London. But could this Grand Strategy for developing a utopian metropolis of the future, formed in just six weeks since his inauguration, simply be a Sarkozy style political “branding exercise” rather than addressing the real and more complex issues of Londoners such as transportation.
It is already well known in architectural circles that the incoming mayor does not share his predecessor’s support of tall buildings, but until now little other detail of his views has been forthcoming. However, indications are that he will unveil a series of initiatives this week aimed at making London a “liveable city” to compete with other world cities such as Shanghai and Mumbai.
His far-reaching plans are believed to include; moving Heathrow Airport across London to the Thames Estuary in the east; raising some of the culverted Thames tributaries back to the surface as urban water features; re-building the Skylon, the iconic 1950’s cigar shaped structure; creating traffic-free cycle superhighways; building a riverside promenade on the north side of the Thames (involving taking the traffic underground) and the creation of a tree lined pedestrian boulevard from Primrose Hill in the north to the Embankment via Oxford Circus and Trafalgar Square. Johnson also favours keeping tall buildings in clusters and three locations have already been identified, City, Canary Wharf and Croydon in the South.
The thread running through Johnson’s vision is said to be raising the “quality of life” but many of the elements of his vision seems uncannily familiar. Could Johnson have simply cherry picked successes from other leading world cities and pinned them onto his Grand Plan map on his new office wall in city hall?
In particular, the plans for moving Heathrow are almost certainly following a global trend for replacing tired airports with brand new Mega Hubs, such as Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok and the new Dubai World Central International Airport. The cycle initiative is probably fuelled by the hugely successful Parisian Velib project, whereas the riverside promenades could be a Chinese import based on Shanghai’s iconic Bund. No prizes for guessing the origin of the tree lined boulevard - Barcelona’s las Ramblas being one of the most successful urban development projects in recent times. As for raising the rivers, this is a clever move as waterside developments are increasingly popular with both developers and residents, and this plan also draws on London’s historic past. Nice one Boris.
So what is wrong with just harvesting the best of the best? Well, whilst most of the elements, taken in isolation have merits and indeed are “sponsored” by eminent architects, are they addressing the real needs of Londoners and the silent mass of the capital’s working population who don’t actually live there, or tourists…. ? Ask anyone standing on a Victoria line platform in the rush hour what they think of spending millions raising rivers and you will get an answer very quickly.
The only thing that Johnson seems to have missed appears to be a Bilbao inspiration. Maybe there is a queue at Franks...oh and yes, one last thing Mr Mayor, who picks up the tab?
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