The economic advantages of slow growth

January 2, 2008

An article in a recent issue of Building Design (Edwards, M. (2007) Gateway to Disaster. Building Design, Friday December 7 , no. 1799) highlights the importance of professions and politicians remembering what their predecessors in building new settlements were good at: “a bit of learning from foreigners, and a lot of innovation”. Writing about the possible “worst-case scenario” and “best-case scenario” of the Thames Gateway development east of London, Mike Edwards makes some useful comments:

– The need for other development corridors to evolve; replacing London’s “green belt” with “finger” plans as in Copenhagen and Stockholm (I seem to recall colleagues at URBED mentioning similar ideas not to long ago). He proposes that this change in development morphology (my terminology), will make home, work and shopping as well as green space and leisure more accessible, even walkable. Notably, he proposes that such developments negate the need to choose “between urban and rural situations” (a concept not to distant from Ebenezer Howards ‘Garden City’!).

– Learning from past experience (in the private leasehold development of London’s estates such as Bloomsbury), Edwards proposes that land in development areas should “to be taken in to the ownership of land development trusts” which will “retain all the freeholds and grant building leases” subject to annual reviews that take account of long-run uplift in land values. The idea is to minimise speculation and so that the gain in value over time can be plowed back into the local area and development is done more slowly (and thoughtfully). This is in contrast to the current situation of planning gain agreements under section 106, which have little incentive to create vibrant mixed communities.

– The importance for jobs in the suburban centres so that trains and roads are used in both directions for commuting, with an “improved network of routes linking suburbs using a mix of trains, trams and buses.”


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