The data used for the London analysis comes from the Traveline public transport timetable data. The image below shows an example accessibility measure of jobs accessible within 1 hour’s travel time leaving at 8am.
The current London mayor, Boris Johnson, has been slow to face up to the challenge. His tenure began by removing the western extension to the Congestion Charging Zone, thus increasing vehicle numbers in Inner West London, and opting out of using the Congestion Charge to tax the most polluting vehicles. This would have boosted the adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles (still only a meagre 1% of new cars) and reduced heavy emitters in Central London. Furthermore Johnson has not succeeded in comprehensively upgrading London’s bus and taxi fleet to hybrid and electric vehicles, instead embarking on an expensive new Routemaster project which still produces substantial emissions and currently makes up a minority of the overwhelmingly diesel bus fleet.
Looking to the future, London must now tackle the air pollution problem with a new mayor in the upcoming 2016 elections. The scope for change looks positive, as the main candidates on both the left and right have been openly discussing the need for change. What then could a new mayor do to address air quality and improve the health of Londoners?
Pricing Out Polluting Vehicles with the Ultra Low Emission Zone
To be fair to Boris Johnson, he did finally respond to pressure and announce a significant air pollution policy in 2013, dubbed the ‘Ultra-Low Emissions Zone‘. The ULEZ is set to come into effect in 2020 and essentially uses the Congestion Charging infrastructure to tackle the most polluting vehicles (similar to what Livingstone proposed way back in 2006). The question is whether the ULEZ goes far enough. It’s based on Euro emission standards, which measure NO2 and PM10/2.5 as well as CO2 emissions. It correctly targets diesel vehicles, requiring them to meet the Euro 6 standard, which only came into force in September 2015, so almost all current diesels on the road would have to change or pay the charge. This means that the main source of NO2 emissions will be appropriately targeted.
There are limitations however. The charge is only going to be £11.50 (except for large buses and HGVs), so it likely many diesel users will continue to drive into Central London and pay the charge. Furthermore the ULEZ will only affect Central London; the rules on diesel taxis and private hire vehicles have not been decided; and ULEZ zone residents get an overly generous exemption until 2023.
The next mayor will have a number of options that could be pursued if they want to be bolder than Johnson’s ULEZ proposal. These include increasing the ULEZ charge and/or Congestion Charge, bringing the ULEZ implementation forward to an earlier date, and potentially reintroducing the Congestion Charge Western Extension. All of these would make significant improvements to air quality, but would be controversial with drivers, many of whom were mis-sold diesel vehicles in the past as a supposedly environmentally benign option. The mayor may also want to re-examine the wider Low Emission Zone (LEZ) that tackles very polluting vehicles entering the whole of Greater London, as this affects the entire city and has not changed since 2012.
Banning Diesel? A more radical approach currently being proposed for Paris is to ban diesel cars all together. This would certainly make a huge improvement to air quality. The problem for London would be that the city’s bus and taxi fleet would fail this restriction, and there would likely be a backlash from thousands of car and van drivers. This would be a very confrontational approach for a new mayor.
The more pragmatic solution for London would be to work with the ULEZ framework, considering stricter measures and higher charges, and implementing the policy earlier. One very important issue for the new mayor is emerging from the current Volkswagen emissions scandal. It looks like the latest Euro 6 diesels produce significantly higher NO2 emissions in real world driving conditions compared to the misleading testing conditions. If this is the case then the proposed ULEZ will be much less effective in improving air quality (as Euro 6 diesels will be exempt from the charge). The ULEZ may have to charge all diesel vehicles, regardless of their Euro rating. This decision would need to made very early, so that there is sufficient time for car users to adjust behaviours accordingly.
Pedestrianising Streets and Upgrading the Bus Fleet Oxford Street is London’s busiest pedestrian street and has some of the worst NO2 pollution in Europe. A response that is gaining popularity is to pedestrianise the whole street. Certainly this would be an iconic change to both the image of London, and to the experience of the city for thousands of Londoners and tourists. The challenge for this measure is avoiding creating bus jams at either end of Oxford Street, and handling the extra demand levels that would be placed on the already congested Central Line. These challenges are not necessarily permanent however, as the arrival of Crossrail in 2018 (which follows the west to east Central Line route through Inner London) has been described as a ‘game changer’ that makes pedestrianising Oxford Street a realistic option. The new mayor should certainly pursue this possibility.
The wider challenge for the mayor is not to just think about Oxford Street, but to accelerate the upgrading of the entire bus and taxi fleet towards zero emission vehicles and develop wider pedestrianisation policies. This would improve air quality for all of London’s high streets. London is still at the trial stage of pure electric double-decker buses, which represents disappointingly slow progress considering how long we have known about air pollution problems. There’s been better progress on electric/hydrogen single-deckers. Considerable investment will be needed to upgrade the bus fleet, with decision-making based on real evidence and value-for-money. Johnson’s Routemaster project has failed both these criteria, and better leadership is now required.
Heathrow Third Runway All the main candidates for the London Mayor oppose the expansion of Heathrow, with air pollution alongside noise pollution amongst the most important factors. You can see how Heathrow already dramatically increases emissions in West London in the NO2 annual concentration map at the top of this article using the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory data. This is due both to emissions for aircraft engines, and the thousands of cars driving to and from Heathrow everyday. The challenge will be how effectively the new mayor can challenge the UK government to reject the Heathrow expansion option.
Overall, the issue of air pollution has gained unprecedented prominence as we approach the 2016 mayoral elections. The main candidates need to respond accordingly in their manifesto commitments, with London having a lot of catching up to do after eight years of little change. It will be interesting to see which candidates are prepared to be bolder.
Following rapid growth and a chronic lack of new development, housing affordability has reached crisis levels in London. Median house prices are at £300k (8 times median household income) while average prices have passed half a million. London is now amongst the most expensive cities in the world, a situation with severe consequences for economic competitiveness and for inequality. Rents continue to increase faster than wages, ownership is being restricted to affluent populations and the social housing waiting list now stands at 345,000 households, nearly double the figure from 15 years ago.
Recent development figures have been very low. London needs at least 50,000 new homes per year to meet demand, yet only 21,000 were built last financial year, and this figure has been below 20,000 for all of the last five years. Nationally around 200,000 houses a year are needed, and we are building around 100,000. These figures amount to a comprehensive failure of national and mayoral policy.
Clearly substantial changes are needed. Last week the Centre for Cities outlined how this change could happen, launching their ‘Building Change: Delivering Homes Where we Need Them‘ report. It convincingly argues that we are failing to deliver homes where demand in greatest- in the vicinity of rapidly growing towns and cities- resulting in spiralling housing costs.
The report makes a range of positive recommendations for enhancing local authority capacity in relation to delivering new housing, including the streamlining and reform of compulsory purchase orders for faster development and allowing cities to benefit from uplift values in land; allowing local authorities to borrow more with longer term commitments from central government; and enabling greater cooperation between local authorities to tackle city-region challenges. Best practice examples are provided from local authorities that have successfully delivered new housing, such as Bristol and Milton Keynes. The report also provides a useful summary on brownfield capacity, with for example the potential for 350,000 homes on brownfield sites within the GLA.
Releasing Greenbelt Land for Development
By far the most politically controversial aspect of the report is the recommendation to reconsider greenbelt development restrictions. Prioritising brownfield land has been a central foundation of compact city planning over the last twenty years, directing development towards inner city regeneration and away from rural areas. Yet brownfield land can be expensive to develop, and in combination with greenbelt restrictions, land prices have soared. These spiralling land costs have significantly curtailed new housing.
Opportunities for housing on ‘Usable Greenbelt Land’ around London are mapped in the report (figure below), based on locations within 2km of rail stations. The Centre for Cities estimate that there are opportunities for 430,000 housing units on greenbelt land within the GLA, and opportunities for a massive 3 million housing units on the London greenbelt beyond the GLA boundary. This huge housing capacity could effectively solve London and the South East’s housing crisis. So is developing on the greenbelt the answer?
Usable Land and the Value of the Greenbelt The gigantic housing development capacity figures quoted in the Centre for Cities report certainly demand attention. As housing development is such a central issue for planning in the South East, I have decided to repeat the Centre for Cities spatial analysis from a sustainable urbanism perspective and assess how realistic these recommendations are, and what the environmental consequences of the greenbelt development approach are likely to be.
First of all, some details on the Centre for Cities methodology. Their Usable Land definition is a 2km crow-flies buffer of rail and underground stations, excluding several environmental protection area types (SSSIs, AONB, SAC, SPA, Ancient Woodlands). The report does not argue that all this land should be developed, rather that it could be considered for development on a case by case basis. They take a ballpark figure that, given infrastructure, services and removing highly amenable land, 60% of the remaining land could be developed for housing at an overall average of 40 dwellings per hectare (thus each hectare of usable land effectively translates to 24 homes). I have repeated this method below and I get a very similar result of 120,000 hectares / 2.87 million homes on London greenbelt land beyond the GLA boundary. I get a lower (but still substantial) figure of 12,700 hectares / 306,000 homes on greenbelt land within the GLA.
There are two main spatial analysis issues with the Centre for Cities method of identifying usable land- firstly there are significant development restrictions missing, and secondly there are problems with using rail station buffers as a proxy for sustainable travel. Regarding the first problem, the most significant restrictions that should be included are flood risk areas, and additional environmental land and habitats (principally Priority Habitat Areas). The impact of these additional restrictions is shown in the map below. Surface water and flooding risk in particular covers large areas of land in the Thames Valley west of the GLA, and north in the Lee Valley, reflecting the role of the greenbelt in flood management. Assuming these areas would not be developed, this removes nearly 40% of the usable land from the analysis, leaving 75,000 hectares. With more data and time, further restrictions could be considered, for example local site access, road congestion, airport flight paths, heritage restrictions etc.
The second problem is how to consider public transport accessibility and sustainable travel. The basic principal used by Centre for Cities is sound- directing development to areas of public transport access. But locations within 2km of rail stations in the South East are often very small towns and villages, lacking local retail and services opportunities. Not surprisingly these small towns are generally highly car dependent, with around 80% of commuters driving to work, and similar patterns for other trip purposes. Building further low density housing in these locations would likely reproduce this pattern of car dependence.
Ideally the appropriate method here would be to do some accessibility modelling and network analysis (comparable to the PTAL approach used in the London Plan) to identify locations with access to local services and a range of public transport options. Unfortunately performing accessibility modelling for the whole of the South East is not trivial. The maps below shows a simpler alternative, identifying locations within an estimated local walk/bus trip of a retail and service centre (3km of a large centre, 2km of a medium centre or 1km of a small centre) based on 2010 Valuation Office data, in addition to the 2km buffer of rail stations. It is clear that a stricter definition of accessible locations greatly reduces the resulting volume of usable land, directing potential development to larger settlements with more facilities (and public transport services) like Southend, Maidstone and Hemel Hempstead. In this case it leaves 27,500 hectares of greenbelt land beyond the GLA, or 23% of the original figure. Note we also haven’t considered public transport capacity, which is a critical issue for commuters into London as many services are overcrowded.
This analysis points to the Centre for Cities figure of 3 million potential homes in the greenbelt being a big overestimate if sustainable planning guidance is going to be followed. Yet even with this stricter approach I still get a large figure of 27,500 hectares of potential development land in the greenbelt beyond the GLA, which would be about 650,000 homes at suburban densities or more at higher densities. This could go a long way to alleviating the housing crisis in the South East. The Centre for Cities report is convincing in its wider policy argument that land should be ‘evaluated on its merits’ rather than being fixed by blanket restrictions. Greenbelt development could play an important and perhaps even relatively sustainable role in addressing the housing crisis.
The question then is how any release of greenbelt land can be managed to prevent sprawl and retain the many environmental roles that the greenbelt embodies. There is also the problem of making the case to the public when the greenbelt has traditionally been a popular policy. And so we come back to the issue of local authorities cooperating to tackle regional challenges. A million commuters cross the GLA boundary every weekday, yet regional planning is almost non-existent. Any release of greenbelt land needs to be considered in its regional context and balanced against brownfield opportunities. The biggest housing opportunities are linked to new infrastructure (e.g. Crossrail both West and East of the GLA; the Varsity Line for Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge), again at the regional scale. Its hard to see how the housing crisis can be tackled without much greater regional cooperation and some form of regional planning for the South East.
Urban policy is currently riding high on the UK political agenda. A combination of the desire to rebalance the UK economy away from financial services; debates over massive high-speed rail investment; the worsening housing crisis in the South-East; and city devolution demands following the Scottish referendum, all point to major reform. As we move towards the 2015 general election, addressing city concerns is going to be a key, perhaps even decisive, election debate.
It is therefore a good time to take stock of recent urban growth and change in Great Britain, assess policy successes and failures, and consider how better outcomes might be achieved in the coming decades. This post draws on map visualisations from the LuminoCity3D.org website.
London and the South-East: Global Boom Region to Elite Island?
London’s recent growth has been phenomenal, gaining over a million residents (+13%) between 2001 and 2011. As we can see in the figure below, population growth has occurred across all of Greater London (except Kensington & Chelsea), with the strongest concentrations in Inner London and East London, reflecting the priorities of successive London Plans. This spectacular growth has not been confined to Greater London either, but is found across the South East region. The fastest growing UK towns and cities are nearly all in London’s orbit, including Milton Keynes with 20% growth, Ipswich with 15% growth, Cambridge with 16% growth and Ashford with 21% growth. This shared growth clearly illustrates that the South East is a closely integrated region, as further demonstrated by extensive commuting flows.
Inevitably it is strong economic growth that underpins this rise in population. London gained 650,000 jobs (+15%) between 2001-2011, strongly focussed in Inner London and Canary Wharf. Employment growth is much more unevenly spread across the South East, and arguably booming Inner London is taking jobs away from other centres, or pressuring some into becoming dormitory suburbs through soaring demand for housing. This is most clearly seen in Outer London in centres such as Croydon and Bromley where employment has fallen, while resident population has risen.
So with so many success stories, you be forgiven for thinking everything looking rosy for London and the South East. Unfortunately this is not the case. Soaring population growth has in no way been matched by new housing construction. What was previously a housing affordability problem in the South East is now an outright crisis that threatens to put the brakes on the entire region. Mean house prices just passed the incredible figure of £500,000 in July of this year, and a recent survey placed London as the most expensive city in the world to live and work. This is a looming disaster for future growth prospects. The crisis is not limited to London either, as shown below, with median prices above £300k for much of the South East, and the most popular cities experiencing similar extremes to London.
Soaring prices may seem like great news for property owners, but ultimately cities rely on their ability to attract talent and new businesses. And as London’s competitiveness falls, growth will go elsewhere. What has traditionally been a region of opportunity risks becoming a closed-shop for the wealthy.
And the situation is in danger of getting worse before it gets better. The current UK government did not create the housing shortage, but have overseen a period of historically low house building, with 2014 rumoured to hit rock-bottom. Mapping new-built housing sales leaves a sea of white, largely because there have been so few new houses constructed to sell. The recession presented an ideal opportunity for investing in housing and addressing unemployment, but this opportunity was missed. Trumpeted planning reforms have achieved very little, while right-to-buy policies have simply further increased prices.
Solving the housing crisis requires reform on a number of fronts. More power for local authorities to borrow money and make compulsory land purchases would certainly help. Linked to this is a desperate need for property tax reform to encourage housing to be used efficiently. Currently a £300k house pays the same council tax as a £10 million house, while empty housing is not discouraged, leaving many houses in Inner London as empty or underused investment vehicles. Similar arguments are made in favour of a land value tax to encourage land to be used efficiently and stop land banking.
Perhaps the most controversial issue is whether the green-belt can be retained in its current form. Calls from the eminent Richard Rogers that all new development can still be on brownfield frankly look out of touch with the reality in the South East. The debate really needs to switch towards how a controlled release of green belt land can be managed to avoid car-based sprawl and develop sustainable urban areas. Mapping rail infrastructure and urban density in the South East as shown below indicates that there are many potential locations with rail stations and room for growth. This approach would only however create more commuter towns, and ultimately there needs to be stronger planning for the entire South East region, likely with big urban extensions for successful cities such as Milton Keynes, Cambridge and Brighton. It is interesting that recent entries for the Wolfson prize were focussed on this approach.
Northern Evolution: an Emerging Hierarchy of Urban Centres? While the South East is in danger of overheating, the majority of the UK’s city-regions have been focussed on post-industrial regeneration and stimulating growth. And in the last decade there has been significant change for many northern cities. Starting in the North West and Yorkshire we can see rising populations in all the major city centres. Greater Manchester in particular has experienced high levels of growth, gaining 200,000 residents (+8%) and 100,000 jobs (+10%) between 2001 and 2011. By the regional definitions used in LuminoCity3D.org, Greater Manchester has overtaken the West Midlands to become the second largest city-region in the country with 2.6 million residents. Manchester city centre has also experienced high rates of employment growth and is the primary centre in the North West, with positive signs in the business services and science & engineering sectors.
The Leeds and West Yorkshire region is also growing quickly, gaining 120,000 residents (+8%) and 50,000 jobs (+6.6%). Population growth is greatest in Leeds city centre, but is evident across the region, particularly in Bradford and Huddersfield. Similar to Manchester, employment growth is focussed strongly on the largest centre, Leeds, with a concentration in financial and business services. Despite West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester being two of the most dynamic northern regions, there is very little travel interactions between them due to poor transport links, and this surely needs to be a policy priority.
Sheffield also displays significant city centre led growth, gaining 45,000 (+6.3%) residents and 21,000 jobs (+6.7%), as does Liverpool although there has been some population decline in the suburbs. Liverpool’s figures are a gain of 21,000 residents (1.8%) and a more impressive 44,000 jobs (10%).
The house prices map for the north-west and Yorkshire makes a very interesting comparison to London. The dramatic gentrification that has transformed Inner London towards increasing affluence and polarisation has not (yet?) occurred. The wealthy areas are mainly suburban in the north-west, often where large cities merge with national parks such as the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales. There are some signs that wealthier South Manchester is beginning to move towards the city-centre, but this is still in earlier stages of city-centre transformation.
Similar to the North West and Yorkshire, city centre housing markets are relatively inexpensive in the Midlands, with wealthier areas in the suburbs, particularly between Birmingham, Coventry and Warwick/Leamington Spa. There are signs that wealthier groups to the south of Birmingham are moving further into the city centre.
Will Growth Transfer from the South East to the North? With the South East struggling to accommodate growth and northern regions trying to attract more growth, the answer seems obvious- transfer growth to the north. Unfortunately urban economics is seldom that straightforward. London is a global leader in a range of service sectors, and it does not automatically follow that existing firms and new firms would choose northern cities over the South East. There are however many encouraging signs in cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham with growth in a range of knowledge-economy sectors. The gap with the South East still remains extensive, and this essentially is the crux of the debates about city devolution and infrastructure investment: whether or not these policies can enable northern cities to bridge this gap. London currently has great advantages in terms of public money invested in infrastructure like public transport, and also in terms of political power to plan and manage growth through the Mayor and Greater London Authority. The argument in favour of empowering northern cities looks increasingly convincing, and we shall see in the coming months whether politicians are brave enough to instigate this process.
Recent urban growth in the UK has further emphasised the role of cities in influencing economic prosperity, quality of life and sustainability. If we are to meet 21st century social and economic challenges then we need to plan and run our cities better. Data analysis can play a useful role in this task by helping understand current patterns and trends, and identifying successful cities for sharing best practice.
Taking for example employment density change in northern English cities as shown below. Current growth is mainly in ‘knowledge-economy’ services that generally favour being clustered together in city centres, generally reinforcing a select few larger centres rather than many smaller centres. There is clear growth in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool city centres, particularly Manchester which displays the biggest increase in employment density of any location in GB. But around these success stories there is a much more mixed picture of growth and decline for many other centres that are finding it more difficult to compete for firms and jobs.
Interactive City Statistics
City statistics are available to make more precise comparisons between urban areas. Statistics can be viewed on LuminoCity3D.org by moving your mouse pointer over a city of interest, or by hovering/clicking on the GB Overview Chart at the bottom left of the screen. The graphs and statistics change depending on the map indicator selected, so that the LuminoCity maps and statistics are interactively integrated.
The example below shows public transport travel, a key sustainability indicator that also has important economic and equity implications. Greater London is by far the public transport centre of the UK with nearly 50% of commuting by public transport. Without the investment and historic advantages of London, city-regions like Manchester and Birmingham do not even manage 20% PT commuting. But we can see that it is not essential to be as gigantic as London to achieve more sustainable travel. Edinburgh, with a compact form and extensive publicly owned bus network, achieves 36% PT commuting.
All the datasets used are government open data. Websites such as LuminoCity would not be possible without recent open data initiatives and the release of considerable government data into the public domain. Links to the specific datasets used in each map are provided to the bottom right of the page under “Source Data”.
UK cities have been undergoing significant change over the last decade, and the 2011 census data provides a great basis for tracking current urban structure. I’ve mapped population and employment density for all of England and Wales in 2011, using a 1km2 grid scale approach-
The main themes that emerge are the dramatic intensification of London, high densities in some medium sized cities such as Leicester and Brighton, and the regeneration of the major northern conurbations, with Manchester and Birmingham as the largest employment hubs outside of London.
Mapping all of England and Wales together is a useful basis for considering city-regions and their connections (note Scotland has not yet published census 2011 employment data and is not mapped). Certainly this is a major theme in current policy debates grappling with the north-south divide and proposed high-speed rail links. I’ll be looking at densities in relation to network connections in future posts as this topic is part of ongoing research at CASA as part of the MECHANICITY project.
It is also possible to directly map changes in density between using the same visualisation approach (note the grid height describes density in 2011, while colour describes change in density between 2001-2011)-
The change map really highlights the pattern of city centre intensification combined with static or marginally declining suburbs in England and Wales. This trend was discussed in a previous post. The two statistics of peak and average densities reinforce the city centre versus suburbs divide, with peak density measurements growing much more than average densities. But the peak density statistic is somewhat unreliable (such as in the case of Birmingham/West Midlands) and we will be doing further work at CASA to define inner cities and produce more robust statistics of these trends.
Notes on the Analysis Method-
The density values were calculated from the smallest available units- Output Area population and Workplace Zone employment data from the 2011 census. This data was transformed to a 1km2 grid geography using a proportional spatial join approach, with the intention of standardising zone size to aid comparability of density measurements between cities. The transformation inevitably results in some MAUP errors. These are however minimised by the very fine scale resolution of the original data, which is much smaller than the grid geography in urban areas.
The workplace zone data is a very positive new addition by the Office for National Statistics for the 2011 census. There is a lot of new interesting information on workplace geography- have a look at my colleague Robin Edward’s blog, where he has been mapping this new data.
Defining city regions is another boundary issue for these statistics. I’ve used a simple approach of amalgamating local authorities, as shown below-
Last week New London Architecture, centre for built-environment debate and communication, launched a new exhibition on London high rises and high buildings policy. As well as including many spectacular models of present and future buildings, the exhibition presents results from NLA research into London’s current generation of high building proposals. The most eye-catching finding is that there are over 230 towers of 20 storeys or more proposed or under construction in London, potentially resulting in a dramatic change in London’s urban environment. A high profile campaign has been launched by the Guardian and Architects’ Journal calling for for more discussion and a ‘Skyline Commission’ to assess the impacts of these many developments. The NLA exhibition itself takes a more neutral tone in the debate, and highlights are summarised below.
It’s clear from the NLA map below that the majority of proposals are strongly clustered spatially, with many adjacent to existing high rise districts of Canary Wharf and in the City around Bishopsgate and Liverpool Street. There are however many new clusters set to be created, principally Vauxhall-Nine Elms; Waterloo; Blackfriars Bridge; City Road (Islington); Aldgate; Stratford and North Greenwich. Demand for high rises is a result of acute pressures for more housing, and the prioritising of development at public transport nodes, such as Canary Wharf, Vauxhall and Blackfriars. In heritage terms a number of these clusters are controversial, particularly those along the South Bank that affect London’s river views, and those proposals in the vicinity of the world heritage sites of Westminster and the Tower of London.
The main critique from campaigners is that there is a lack of vision from planners regarding high buildings policy, and that current developments are being driven by schemes for luxury residential flats along the river that maximise developer profits. The map above lends support to this view, particularly along the South Bank and at Vauxhall. There are already many medium rise luxury flat developments along the Thames of often limited design quality, and its debatable whether the current batch of taller developments will be any better. Policy restrictions in London are strongly geared towards protecting views of St Pauls Cathedral, effectively preventing new schemes in West Central London. Protection elsewhere is more limited and dependent on borough level interpretations of policy. Westminster has prioritised conservation and prevented new high rises (except at the Paddington Station development) while neighbouring boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark are more inclined to accept proposals, and use the much needed revenue for further housing development.
As well as covering the current planning debate, the exhibition includes many beautiful architectural models of existing and future high building proposals. There are some really unique designs, such as the fountain pen-shaped ‘Pinnacle’ that is back under development in the main City of London cluster.
Overall the exhibition is well worth a visit, and whether you are a fan or a critic of high buildings in London, there is clearly a need for greater awareness and discussion of current changes and what they will mean for the urban environment. There is also a need for more public access to open models and visualisations of how new buildings will appear and change London’s physical structure. Andy Hudson-Smith (@digitalurban) argued for this a few years back in CASA’s Virtual London project, and it appears that trends are currently moving in this direction.
It’s been 14 years since the landmark Urban Task Force report, which set the agenda for inner-city densification and brownfield regeneration in the UK. Furthermore we’ve seen significant economic and demographic change in the last decade that’s greatly impacted urban areas. We can now use the 2011 census data, mapped here on the LuminoCity GB site, to investigate how these policies and socio-economic trends have transformed British cities in terms of population density change.
The stand-out result is that there’s a striking similarity across a wide range of cities, with overall growth achieved through high levels of inner-city densification (shown in lighter blue to cyan colours) in combination with a mix of slowly growing and moderately declining suburbs (dark purple to magenta colours).
We can see this pattern in the growing urban regions of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield above. Manchester has the fastest population growth after London, with 8.1% growth in the city-region, and a massive 28% growth in the core local authority. Average densities in Manchester have gone up by 28% (+35 residents per hectare), but it’s not a uniform growth. There are new development sites at a very high 300 or 400 residents per hectare, contrasting with low density surrounds and the extensive remaining brownfield sites. There is a patchy nature to the current urban fabric of Manchester, indicating that much further development could still take place.
The West Midlands Conurbation is the third fastest growing city-region at 7.3%, with a higher 10% growth in the core city authority Birmingham. Density increases are more modest here (+13 residents per hectare) but the same general pattern remains. Similar patterns of high density inner-city growth are also clear in Leeds (5% growth) and Sheffield (8% growth).
The trend applies to medium size cities also. Those cities with the highest growth rates like Leicester (+18%), Nottingham (+14%), Cardiff (+13%) and Bristol (+12.5%) show fewer signs of suburban depopulation-
Scottish cities have a stronger tradition of high density inner-city living. With compact cores already in place, Edinburgh (+6.5%) and Aberdeen (+5%) have been expanding the inner city into Leith and Old Aberdeen-
Meanwhile the UK’s former industrial powerhouses of Glasgow, Liverpool and Newcastle display a more problematic variation on this pattern. City centre intensification is still much in evidence, with core city authority populations growing at 8% in Newcastle, 6% in Liverpool and 4% in Glasgow. But this growth is in combination with outright decline in some surrounding towns and suburban areas, particularly around Glasgow. These patterns are linked to major programmes to overhaul poor inner-city housing stock, but are also inevitably linked to weaker economic growth in Glasgow and Liverpool. The picture is better in Tyne & Wear, where there are more positive employment signs (8% growth in workforce jobs 2001-2011).
What is driving this urban dynamic?
In addition to planning policy shifts, a series of economic and demographic changes are contributing to the pattern of central growth and struggling suburbs, as commentators have variously been observing in the UK and US (e.g. gentrification researchers, Erenhalt, Kochan). Demographic aspects include more students, immigrants, singles and childless couples. Economic aspects include city-centre friendly service and knowledge economy jobs, as well as increased costs of petrol. For these trends to occur over a wide range of demographically and economically diverse cities in the UK and beyond, clearly there are multiple factors pulling urban populations and growth in similar directions.
We’ve avoided the gigantic outlier of London so far. It’s a city apart in many ways- much larger (8.1 million in the GLA area) and faster growing (+14% 2001-2011). It’s also massively higher density, with average residents per hectare 50% higher (nearly 200 residents per hectare) than the next most dense city-region in GB. The biggest changes have been in Inner East London. Tower Hamlets (where Canary Wharf has boomed) is 1st on every indicator- highest population change (+28.8%), highest employment change (+50%!!), highest population density (324 residents / hectare). The pressures for growth in London are so high that there is little surburban decline in population terms (although employment has been declining significantly in Outer London).
Yet the high rate of densification in London has come nowhere near meeting housing demand. London is the midst of a massive housing shortage and crisis, with some of the world’s highest property prices. The debate is currently raging about what needs to be done to accelerate construction, with advocates of transforming more land to community ownership (e.g. Planners Network UK), relaxing planning regulations such as the green belt (e.g. LSE SERC), and implementing an array of measures simultaneously (e.g. Shelter Report). We can see London’s challenges in the maps, such as the failure thus far of the flagship housing expansion programme, the Thames Gateway, to deliver. Some high profile development sites like Stratford and Kings Cross have only recently opened for residents and so do not show in the 2011 data.
Another more surprising result is the fall in the population of Inner West London, particularly Kensington and Chelsea. While this finding does need some context- K&C is still the forth most densely populated local authority in the country- it’s still an amazing trend given the extreme population pressures in London. It is in line with arguments that the most expensive properties in London have become investments for international capital rather than homes for living. Such trends push prices up, cut supply and bring questionable benefits to the city. Addressing this issue would require tax changes, and macro economic factors like the value of the pound and yields on alternative investments are also clearly influential.
Summary- an Ongoing Renaissance and Suburban Challenges
Well to state the obvious GB cities are, with only a few exceptions, growing significantly. That’s not to be sniffed at given the history of widespread urban decline throughout the second half of the 20th century. And secondly the pattern of growth in density terms is clear- densifying inner cities, and fairly static or declining suburbs. The scale of London and the severe housing crisis has it’s own unique dynamics, while Glasgow and Liverpool are still dealing with significant population loss in many areas of the city region. But on the whole, the pattern is surprisingly consistent across cities in Great Britain.
Clearly this review prompts a series of further questions analysing the economic, demographic, gentrification, deprivation and property market processes inherent in this urban change, and what future city centres and suburbs will be like. Hopefully this mapping exercise should is a useful context for the ongoing research.
Cities that achieve social and economic success without high car use generally have three things in common: high densities, good urban design, and successful planning frameworks that integrate land-use with public transport, walking and cycling networks. I’ve been working on an LSE Cities project that investigated two leading global cities in green transport- Copenhagen and Hong Kong- to better understand how their leading positions were reached. You can read the final Going Green report here.
The project required visualising the level of integration between public transport and urban density in these cities. We developed a technique where the rail network is shown as a transect through a 3D population density surface. This shows how the density of jobs and residents in these cities is clustered around major public transport nodes.
Copenhagen has a classic radial pattern, based on the famous ‘Finger Plan‘ developed over 60 years ago, where linear urban features are separated by thin green wedges. This is quite distinct to the UK greenbelt approach. Current expansion is focussed to the south of the city centre along the Orestad corridor served by the more recently developed metro links. This area sites the airport and transport links to Sweden, continuing the cross-border integration between Copenhagen and Malmö.
Hong Kong makes a very interesting comparison. It is on average 8 times(!) higher density than Copenhagen, and peak densities are around four times higher at nearly 150,000 jobs & residents per square kilometre. This is due firstly to the natural boundaries and country park designations that prevent suburban development, and secondly to the unique ‘Rail plus Property’ planning model run by the government and MTR, where extremely high development densities are pursued at rail station sites, and land value gains captured to fund public transport. The result is a polycentric pattern of jagged nodal development.
Another way to consider this relationship is to measure typical distances to rail & metro stations for these cities. As can be seen below, Copenhagen and Hong Kong compare favourably to other leading global cities like London and New York.
It would be interesting to pursue this analysis further for London. You can see that London scores relatively lower for the population within 500 metres of stations. Intensification policies at public transport nodes are a recent policy change for London. Accessibility figures are likely to change over time with several major intensification projects under way at rail stations in Inner London.
(Above figure based on metropolitan regions. Defined as Outer Met Area for London and 100 km by 100 km square centred on Manhattan for NYC).
Despite the litany of sins levelled at the automobile- it’s woeful energy efficiency, harmful pollution, congestion, road casualties, damage to public space, contribution to obesity- we are still wedded to the car. In the UK the car accounts for over three quarters of trip miles. The flexibility, security and door-to-door convenience of automobile travel remains a winning combination, particularly when we spent most of the 20th century developing car-based cities with limited alternatives.
Current planning practice restricts car travel to improve sustainability and urban quality of life. Short of an outright ban however, the car is here to stay in some form or other.
For the automobile to be in any way sustainable we need to radically challenge current systems of car design, driving and ownership to effectively create a new mode of transport. This post considers whether such a revolution is possible in light of exciting recent innovations.
We now for the first time have competitive alternatives to the internal combustion engine car on the market with electric and hybrid models from the world’s biggest manufacturers. These technologies dramatically reduce or remove tail-pipe emissions. Surely then the eco-car has now arrived and city transport has been saved?
Well… as electric cars (and vans/taxis/buses) become more widespread urban air quality should improve dramatically, as should vehicle mileages. But as we generate the majority of electricity using fossil fuels (and will continue to do so for the next 20 years+), CO2 emissions from electric cars remain significant.
Furthermore several other car design issues are not solved by electrification, such as energy used in manufacture, road congestion, safety and damage to public space. There’s a danger that electric cars become merely a green-wash cover for business as usual, rather than as a step towards bigger change.
Most cars are driven for a relatively short period each day, and are parked the rest of the time occupying land (around 10% in cities). On-street parking eats up large amounts of valuable public space from pedestrians, public transport and cyclists. It’s a wasteful situation, both for the efficiency of cities and for the environment due to the vast amounts of materials and energy used to manufacture our largely idle cars.
One increasingly popular solution in cities is car-sharing, with the largest company Zipcar now up to 700,000 members. Car-sharing is a convenient and affordable option for many city residents who want regular car access without the hassles of ownership. The popularity of smartphones provides an easy way to manage car-share booking. Comparable sharing trends are also evident for ride-sharing and for urban cycling.
Is sharing the answer then to the sustainable city travel? It’s definitely an important trend. Sharing allows a much better pricing model for driving, paying by the mile and charging more at peak times, thus encouraging more efficient behaviour.
Car-sharing coverage is limited however to denser urban areas, and it is not yet clear to what extent car-sharing can significantly reduce the total number of vehicles and car parking space in cities.
Self-Drive The last trend is at a much earlier stage than electrification and car-sharing, yet it could have the most far-reaching consequences. Sat-nav and parking-assist technologies were early steps towards greater automation in cars. Now Google as well as several manufactures have working prototypes of autonomous or self-driving vehicles.
Amazing yes, but what’s the point? In its current form, the application of this technology is not immediately clear, beyond providing a luxury car gizmo that lets you read the paper while your car drives you to work. But future developments will likely involve cars built around self-drive from the ground-up.
Potentially you could have a city taxi fleet of fully autonomous electric cars, requested by smartphone, operating 24 hours a day, moving to areas of high demand, charging batteries when not in use. Whilst bad news for taxi-drivers, such a system could be highly efficient and provide a quick and flexible complement to mass transit networks.
A related concept has already been developed in a rail-pod form operating at Heathrow airport. Dubbed Personal Rapid Transit, it is intended to combine the advantages of both private and public transport. Obviously the challenges of converting such a system to operate autonomously in the ‘wild’ of the urban environment are many, yet are increasingly being tackled.
If such a system could safely and legally operate, the implications would be massive. Imagine freight and courier services operating automatically at night to minimise disruption; your car picking up your shopping on its own, or taking a nap and waking up at your destination.
Reality Check It’s easy to get carried away with the wonders of new technology. Transport challenges require political and economic solutions as much as technological brilliance. Indeed relying on car manufacturers alone to green transport is as unlikely as “Beyond Petroleum” BP and Shell delivering the renewable energy revolution. Yet there is some incredible innovation currently emerging, and the next couple of decades are certain to be very interesting times for urban transport.
To mark the Olympic year a series of programs on London is being broadcast by the BBC, exploring the dynamic and diverse nature of the capital and its historic roots. There have already been some great documentaries on, with interesting use of maps, archive materials and personal testimonies charting the changing city and built-environment.
Last night saw the start of The Secret History of Our Streets, telling London’s history in microcosm by picking one street to follow in each episode through good times and bad. The first episode told the rather tragic tale of Deptford High Street, which moved from a relatively thriving working class centre in the early 20th century to one of London’s poorest areas in the present.
A shop trader John Price (below) who has lived in Deptford all his life engagingly recounts the close community life of his youth with his extended family all living on the same street. This is brought to an end with the drawn out demolition of the Victorian terraced housing to be replaced by modern estates. The existing community is separated as families move out to suburban new towns.
Modernist planning is unashamedly painted as the bad guy in this narrative. “Tell ’em the truth, tell ’em how they fucked everything up” mutters a passerby in one scene. The father of British Planning, Patrick Abercrombie, appears as a monocled toff in the archive footage, as he expresses his disgust at London’s old housing. This critical view of planning intervention is clearly simplistic, as there were of course very severe housing problems in London.
Yet the filmmakers back up their perspective by uncovering the council’s environmental health archives, showing that John Price’s street was healthy and in a decent state of repair- not the slum that it was labelled. To add salt to this wound, such traditional housing is now in great demand in Deptford and Greenwich, with terraces on nearby streets selling for well over half a million pounds, in stark contrast to the drab and inflexible modernist housing that replaced it and cannot be gentrified. The forthcoming episodes in this series will likely tell more rosy tales of changing London, but Deptford’s history was hard hitting stuff and very well told.
Continuing on the traditional market theme, the BBC has also been exploring London’s remaining wholesale markets in The London Markets. These have moved out of the city centre for cheaper rents and road transport links, with Billingsgate fish market moving to Docklands and Covent Garden fruit and veg going to Vauxhall. Smithfield meat market is still hanging on near the City, but surely not for long. The arcane night-time world of the butchers appears as a weird anachronism surrounded by late night financiers and clubbers in Farringdon.
Lastly on a lighter note, A Picture of London explored artists interpretations of the city across time. As well as picture postcard views from Canaletto and Monet, some of London’s most dramatic moments are depicted such as the burning of the Houses of Parliament by Turner. My personal favourite however was this gem from the archives of a witty and prescient silent movie from the 1920’s of a time traveller guessing what London might be like in the future. Perhaps the oldest urban sci-fi film? Take a look:
As cities expand with multiple centres spread over massive regional hinterlands, the need to better understand the geographical variation across and within cities has become more pressing. This need applies strongly to issues of travel sustainability, where urban centres differ greatly in the accessibility they facilitate for private, public and active transport.
Spatial indicators are a useful tool to summarise complicated intrametropolitan patterns, as illustrated in my new working paper mapping CO2 emissions from journey-to-work travel across the London Region. The results of this indicator show a massive range of travel emissions by workplace of up to 300%, with particular problems for airports and the specialised employment region of the Western Sector, as can be seen in the map above.
This paper was co-authored with Joan Serras at CASA, who helped with the development of the road and public transport network analysis to model realistic routing behaviour from origin and destination flows from the 2001 census. One interesting aspect to this was the inclusion of GPS data to model average road speeds in London as illustrated below:
Full paper abstract:
“This paper develops a methodology for estimating network distances and CO2 emissions for UK census ward-level journey-to-work interactions. Improvements are made on existing empirical measures by providing comprehensive intra-metropolitan analysis; increasing network routing accuracy with UK public transport timetable and GPS-based average road speed data; allowing multimodal travel; and developing metrics suitable for travel sustainability analysis. The output unit of CO2 emissions has been selected to enable the integration of mode-choice and travel distance data, and to aid compatibility with integrated assessment applications.
The methodology is applied to the case study of the London Region for the year 2001. A very high degree of intra-metropolitan variation is identified in the results. Employment sub-centres diverge in their per-capita CO2 emissions by up to 300%, with specific problems of carbon intensive commuting to major airports and the specialised employment region of the Western Sector. These findings indicate that subcentre travel variation may be intrinsic to polycentric urban structures. The paper discusses means to improve the methodology, in relation to issues of coefficient disaggregation and modelling more complicated multi-modal trips.”
I presented at the CASA Seminar Series yesterday on the topic of business centre specialisation in Greater London. The discussion drew on previous research into knowledge economy agglomeration and urban property markets.
The analysis showed how the diversity and restricted growth of West London underpins the current extremely high rents, whilst the greatly densified City of London faces oversupply with lower demand for financial services after the economic crises. The recent revival of centres in the City Fringe is based on creative industries and IT/new media, and it’s hoped similar recipes will work for future business centres at Kings Cross and Stratford.
The structure of large cities such as London is complex and endlessly fascinating. Effective visualisation can reveal the many patterns in urban structures for research and planning tasks, and the visualisation challenge is to manage the multi-dimensional and dynamic nature of urban complexity. Here we explore the geography of land-use and density across Greater London using 3D cartography at a 500 metre grid scale (HD version here):
London is highly centralised, with recent patterns of intensification in the City of London, Canary Wharf and Inner London more generally cementing this pattern. Meanwhile much of Outer London struggles to attract higher value commercial uses. We will explore the agglomeration, property market, and planning policy processes that underlie these trends in future posts.
Many of land use patterns visible in London resemble the ‘classic’ urban location theory models: there is an extreme Alonso-type density gradient; retail uses retain a central-place hierarchy; and there are distinct radial corridors. Additionally further theories on the economics of mix-of-uses (e.g. Jacobs) and the lumpy mega-scale of real-estate investment are clearly key parts of London’s make-up.
The London Urban Form movie was created in ArcGlobe, which has some nice features like the ability to change the background mapping and animation timeline features. The advantages of doing the movie within GIS is the ability to easily combine spatial data at a variety of scales. Some of the more advanced animation effects that I would like to use such as geometry transitions (to show growth and decline) and controlling lighting are however not possible in GIS. A previous visualisation of this data in 3DS Max by Andy-Hudson Smith shows how these effects can be achieved.
I have recently been enjoying Terry Farrell’s book “Shaping London: the patterns and forms that make the metropolis”. Farrell is one of the UK’s best known and respected urban planners, and his passion for place-making and urban culture shine through in this accessible discussion of the development of the capital.
Rather than an analysis of planning politics and economics, Farrell considers the historic features that underlie London’s structure and continue their influence to the present day- the Thames, village centres, estates and major transport infrastructure. He convincingly shows through text and illustration that contemporary planning tensions between connectivity and place-making are age-old London challenges, from the bridging the Thames 2000 years ago to present day issues over airports and motorways.
Of particular interest to me was the discussion of rail development. London is currently dominated by rail-land development schemes (Kings Cross, Stratford, Waterloo, Paddington…) with difficulties in integrating these sites into the wider urban realm. The history of the railways underlies the many issues of connectivity and isolation that create severance in areas of Inner London from rail and industrial infrastructure.
So overall a very enjoyable book. And as a bonus it includes some great images from CASA’s very own Andy Hudson-Smith.
With a few notable exceptions such as Cambridge, cycling in UK cities is minimal compared to continental European examples, and boosting cycling is a massive opportunity for improving travel sustainability and health in Britain. The potential is greatest in London, with its high density mixed-use form, relatively flat topography and benign climate that favour cycling; in addition to congested and expensive car and public transport networks that leave many looking for alternatives.
Planning policy at the Greater London Authority level recognises this potential and has become increasingly pro-cycling, with recent investments in the ‘Cycling Superhighways’ scheme– longer distance radial cycle routes that (almost) join up; the bike hire scheme; and modest improvements at many junctions and in cycle parking facilities. These measures have helped to increase the level of cycling in London substantially in the last decade (although beginning from a very low starting point):
So can this trend be accelerated to make London a real cycling metropolis, a larger scale version of Copenhagen or Amsterdam? I believe it’s possible, but I discuss one of the biggest obstacles here- safety and space. (Other obstacles include terrible integration with public transport, bike theft, image…).
On the 4th October a student from Korea was crushed to death by an HGV vehicle near Kings Cross, becoming the 13th fatality in London this year. Overall cycling fatalities and injuries declined in the early 2000’s, in line with pedestrian and car accidents in general, but have increased in recent years as cycling trips have increased. There were 467 serious injuries in 2010, up 8% on the previous year. Cycling in London is a hectic experience of dodging traffic and aggressive driving, with very minimal segregated lanes and many dangerous junctions to avoid.
Ultimately a serious increase in cycling use requires a serious improvement in safety, and this means the creation of many more segregated cycling routes and the redesign of many key junctions. These measures will translate into reductions in vehicle flow in London, and TfL seem largely unwilling to make this compromise when it comes to major roads. A significant culture change accepting cycling as a key part of London’s transport would have to occur to achieve a genuine cycling city.
The UK government is seeking to dramatically overhaul the English planning system, releasing the National Planning Policy Framework consultation in late July. This intends to streamline the system, reducing the array of previous planning policy frameworks into a single 50-page document. Various government ministers, including the chancellor, have been arguing this is a vital reform to ‘get Britain building’ and boost growth in a time of economic hardship.
As someone who cares deeply about the economic success and quality of life of the UK, reading this document was very alarming, as its vague pro-development language fails to get to grips with the economic and built environment challenges we face now and in the future.
The document states there should be a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” yet fails to define sustainability in any rigorous way (i.e. natural resources, energy, carbon emissions…), thus effectively making policy “a presumption in favour of development”. The previous requirement to prioritise developing brownfield land, a central policy in urban regeneration, is abandoned. The section on transport is weak, stating applications “should not be refused permission on transport grounds unless the residual impacts of development are severe”. There is no understanding of cities as the engine of the UK’s economic growth, nor of the regional relationships that are needed for urban economic competitiveness.
There is undoubtedly a need in the UK for major housing expansion and for facilitating business growth through planning. This requires a coordinated approach to development focussed on cities, urban regeneration, boosting the knowledge economy, and taking into account the severe energy constraints and carbon reduction limitations we face in coming decades (i.e. we need highly energy efficient homes and a decent life without mass car ownership). This document doesn’t even get close, and policy makers need to go back to the drawing board for a more progressive vision.