It’s a jungle out there

Wednesday 14 Nov 2007

Déjà vu as Croydon plans to regenerate - again

David Bowie once described Croydon as “complete concrete hell.” The South London borough was regenerated after the second world war but circumstances contrived against it and the brave new city failed to maintain its growth.

Now Croydon Council has appointed visionary architect Will Alsop to develop a new master plan for the city centre.

Croydon was devastated in the second world war and embraced the “new” concrete technology with a vengeance and exciting clusters of high rise towers grew up out of the bomb craters and this in turn attracted large corporations and all-important jobs. By the late 1960s Croydon was the place to be, all cutting edge and trendy. Urban planning largely evolved around the motor car with dual carriageways and underpasses carving through the centre feeding huge multi storey car parks.

However times change. A combination of factors including the opening of the London orbital motorway, the M25 (effectively by-passing Croydon for commuters) and an economic downturn led to the demise of the brave vision. Many believe that Croydon should be preserved as a time capsule of the era. It is certainly one of the best examples of post war urban development in the UK.

Will Alsop in typical flamboyant style has other ideas. His vision, dubbed the Third City in recognition of a revived campaign to achieve city status, plans to re-capture the centre for the pedestrian by closing the highways to through traffic, construct an “emerald necklace” of parks and bring the river Wandle back to the surface after living for 40 years in a culvert. The centrepiece of the plan will be a vast sky garden visitor centre, rising to 30 storeys with different plant species on each level.

A key aim of the vision is to bring back residential accommodation into the heart of the town centre where it is currently lacking having only around 4400 residents. The new scheme will incorporate some 20,000 homes. Further challenges are revitalising Croydon’s key retail offer which is central to commercial success, and subsequently repositioning the commercial/office market in central Croydon. In addition, a key feature of Alsop’s proposal is to improve the quality of the public realm and alter the perception of Croydon’s town centre by introducing additional green spaces and integrating existing underused green spaces. The vision aims to capitalise on the existing swell of developer interest in Croydon’s town centre.

Croydon has had ambitious plans before. In the early 1990s it presented a vision for the future but failed to get commercial backing, so the residents are now sceptical.

This time the climate looks good with backers waiting in the wings to invest in London’s 3rd city.

Michael Hammond

Listen to WAN’s exclusive interview with Will Alsopnow.

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