Government response to the proposal for up to 40 Garden Cities from URBED’s David Rudlin, winner of the 2014 Wolfson Economics Prize has been lukewarm with Housing Minister Brandon Lewis advising that such proposals would not be government policy, albeit he also confirmed that the Government is backing a Garden City proposal at Ebbsfleet and will support any communities who propose a garden city in their area. He stated that “picking housing numbers out of thin air and imposing them on local communities builds nothing but resentment. This government has abolished regional quangos’ role in planning – instead, we have empowered elected local councils to determine where new homes should and shouldn’t go”.
The g15 group of London largest housing associations published their report on solving the housing crisis in London, which recommended “radical action” including a long term (10 or 20 year) finance and land plan for social housing and a Government competition to increase house building, backed with a financial guarantee, While not referring to David Rudlin’s Green Cities proposal, the report reinforced it by recommending a review of green belt around London and “a frank debate about its purpose and quality” which could enable the release of poor-quality green belt land for new communities and housing, to be replaced with new land elsewhere and by also recommending expansion of the new towns initiative using new Urban Development Corporations.
While the emphasis has been on housing, it must be remembered why cities exit – they are communities which are the social and economic engines of our economy. The Small Business Outlook 2014 provides a review of small and medium sized businesses across the UK’s 64 largest cities.
The report, supported by Zurich Insurance, reviews the performance of small and medium businesses (SMEs) in UK cities and highlights how successful cities which enable businesses to attract and retain skilled workers, access finance, and collaborate with other firms are more likely to have a larger number of high performing small organisations and start-up companies, thus supporting economic prosperity and growth.
Given the urgency to build new homes, how can the development and construction industry be more innovative in order to speed up the provision of cities and the necessary housing? There are two examples at different extremes of the spectrum. One of the most ambitious is the Songdo International Business District in South Korea, a new “insta-city” that brings together new technology, urban and architectural design and sustainability. Built on land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea, the $35-billion-dollar project, developed in partnership with the Korean Government, developer Gale International and Cisco Systems is a model for smart cities. To achieve Songdo, fifteen hundred acres were reclaimed and by 2016, more than 400 new buildings will stand, including South Korea’s tallest skyscraper, to create a city housing 0ne million people.
“We took an approach that has the best elements from some of the finest cities in the world. Forty percent of the space is open space. You can leave your car at home and you can walk to central park you can walk your child to school, you can visit an office or a retail shopping center, you can go to the golf course–all within walking distance……. Songdo is being studied by many countries, many mayors, many governors as an example of a smart and connected community and a more efficient way of organizing urban living. We hope we contribute to the global footprint in a positive way” Stan Gale, Chairman, Gale International.
In this “smart city”, residents will be able to control the functions of their homes remotely, and everyone will be able to interact through video from anywhere. New and old technologies are combined to create a environmentally-sensitive city. Songdo is one of more than 100 smart city projects in progress across the world..
Back in London, outside the Building Centre where the Wolfson Prize finalists are on display, another innovative project using modern technology has been unveiled – a two-bedroom home which can be assembled quicker and more economically than traditional techniques.
The first ever prototype of the WikiHouse 4.0 — which can be built for less than £50,000 — was opened on Friday as part of this year’s London Design Festival. Built using blueprints which will be available on the internet later this year, the 68 square metre wood-framed home was built by a small group of volunteers in eight days using component parts manufactured using 3D printing. It is claimed to be the first time a two-storey house has been digitally cut and built using open source technology.
“What we are trying to do with this installation is to spark people’s imagination about how technology can now enable almost anyone to afford their own custom-built house without the need for conventional construction skills… We don’t believe that WikiHouse is the only solution to the current housing crisis, but we do want to host a disruptive debate and challenge landowners, urban planners and policy makers to think differently about the barriers — such as land or building costs.” Alastair Parvin, the co-designer of WikiHouse.
The technique saves time and money. A typical two-bedroom house can take around two months to build, costing on average around £97,500 to build which is double the amount of the WikiHouse.
These two projects, at different scales, illustrate the way that new technology can be used to develop and to support the future development of our cities. We need the politicians and planners to provide the framework in which to do so. Given the small size of the UK, is there potential to build a new “Venice of the North” city on reclaimed land?
Lastly, the Daily Mail reported on what could be “Britain’s smallest house”, albeit with a price lag of £250,000 for 17.5 square metres of living space, the size of a small hotel room, but cleverly designed with a kitchen, living area, bathroom and bedroom. Accurately described by estate agents as ‘unique’, the cosy home boasts just one room and its front door is underneath the bed. This might be fine for a student bedsit, but it is not an answer to London’s housing crisis.