Is MIPIM a chance to press reset?

MIPIM is a chance to have good conversations. Time to make those about the things that really matter, like tackling loneliness and improving health and wellbeing.

2017 was a bit of a bruiser. Nevertheless there is hope. The year has made us all think harder what good growth looks like, and the kind of legacy we want to leave behind. We all want to shape the world for the better – but how?  What exactly should we be doing differently? And how do our designs – how do we – emerge stronger than before?

Late last year, two pieces of news sent us out into the cold, dark evening with a degree of cheer. Masterplans for Westminster’s largest regeneration project to date and for UCL’s radical expansion east secured unanimous planning committee approval. These plans meet very different briefs but share the same aims: to improve equity and create a sense of belonging.

Church Street, near Marylebone Station, is not only Westminster’s largest regeneration project to date – it could prove a pivotal model for more equitable urban development. The masterplan, by Peter Brett Associates and LDA Design, sets out to turn around an isolated area with serious social and economic exclusion. It will create 1,750 new homes and over half of them will be affordable.

The Council’s vision for Church Street is a place where people from all walks of life can live easily and well, and the plan provides a framework for economic regeneration which puts more than 4,000 new jobs on the table. It will create a new cultural quarter with lively and accessible public realm, to boost chance encounter and exchange. It will encourage healthy lifestyles with a well-connected and walkable neighbourhood, and with new leisure facilities. Critically, the phasing of delivery means that local people will see results early on.

Meanwhile in east London, UCL is planning its single biggest expansion in 200 years. Having secured outline planning permission, our masterplan for its new campus on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is with the Mayor for final consent. UCL East will provide 180,000 square metres of floor space, 40 per cent more than the college currently has across its entire Bloomsbury site.

But the significance of UCL’s expansion lies less with its size and more with its vision: to create a new type of university campus, embedded in the local community.

The word ‘vision’ means the ability to plan the future with imagination or wisdom. The masterplan responds to UCL’s pioneering history in the way it provides a radical new model to fuel cross-disciplinary research and teaching, and cultural exchange. This is a campus whose vision is to belong to its locality. It will make full use of the riverine landscape to attract people into the site, and the ground level will be welcoming, open and permeable. The plan meets global and local ambitions: it will both support UCL’s position in the world’s top 10 research-intensive universities and at the same time deliver for the LLDC a lasting legacy for the local community in terms of improving life chances with better access to good jobs.

If there’s a crack where the light can come in it rests with projects like these. Ultimately, it’s not the scale of these projects that is so significant but that they recognise the needs and ambitions of local people and how they want to live their lives. Whether they become memorable rests on the success of the public realm, that’s what people remember, what they get excited about, and what makes places safer and more sustainable.

Now is the time to change the order of our thinking. Prime Minister, Theresa May has just appointed a minister to tackle the issue of loneliness. In her announcement she cited research saying that 9 million people in the UK often or always feel lonely. Better use of shared spaces can turn this around. It can be achieved at the micro and macro scale. We need to see the public realm not as leftover space after the buildings have gone in, but where society is made, conversations had and communities built or restored. To do this well we need to have a deep understanding of the quality place – its materiality, scale, structure, history, ecology, movement and character as well as its functionality and purpose. It is by connecting people to their place through the medium of landscape that we create beautiful, distinctive, meaningful, environmentally sensitive public realm with strong identity of its locale, that people love and which is central to the success and vibrancy of communities. Places where people feel less alone and where they belong.

We want to be known for making better places – at all scales – for more people: from Aberdeen to Plymouth, and of course in London too.

So, what do you want to be known for? MIPIM, the world’s leading real estate event, is a rare chance to get together and talk, to think about big ideas, shared goals. Join LDA’s Neil, Esther, Ben and Frazer to see just what’s possible.

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