Build July (2016)

Build Magazine 58 By Paul King, Managing Director of Sustainability & External Affairs, Lendlease Today’s approach to urban regeneration provides us with a once-in-a generation opportunity to create new living standards, addressing the cornucopia of environmental and social challenges playing out so acutely across parts of our country. The demand for cleaner air, affordable homes, safe spaces for children and provision for an ageing and growing population, all point to the need for innovative developments which place environmental sustainability at the heart of construction. The future happens first in the places where we have the most hands-on control: our cities. And it is indeed cities which provide a focal point for C40, a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change. Participants include San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Beijing and London, all of which are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks, while increasing the health, wellbeing and economic opportunities for citizens. So, how can we realise these goals? We are already seeing some positive signs. C40 city Sydney plans to ensure every resident is within a 250m walk of continuous green links that connect to major city parks, while San Francisco aims to achieve zero waste by 2020. The aspirations of C40 must be realised particularly in London, with its population forecast to hit 10 million by the 2030s. Yes, the city has had major successes with initiatives like the congestion charging zone, which has improved air quality by reducing vehicle numbers in the central business district by over 70,000 per day. And yes, with 40% publicly accessible green space, it already ranks as the world’s third greenest major city. But in order to maintain the capital’s status as an attractive and inclusive place to live, work and play, so much more needs to be done. More of the right kind of urban renewal infrastructure is the key. We’re so used to thinking about infrastructure in a drab, grey sense – such as roads and power lines – while green infrastructure – which refers to, and considers the value of, the green spaces in our towns and cities – is often an afterthought. It’s true it’s been part of the narrative since the inception of town planning, with Ebenezer Howard articulating the value of the garden city and Patrick Geddes championing nature conservation in urban areas in the late 19th century. However, green spaces have more often than not either been considered in isolation, or had their wider benefits overlooked. Yet studies show that green infrastructure can have a real impact on people’s health and wellbeing, and can help create places that people want to invest in, generating new jobs and businesses. And the UK wants, and clearly needs, greener spaces. A good example of the value that green infrastructure can bring to urban regeneration dates back to the 1960s. While the UK was building its Brutalist housing estates, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, decided to transform the country into a garden city. He felt that abundant lush greenery would not only make life more pleasant for inhabitants but would showcase Singapore as a well- organised city, and therefore a good destination for tourists and foreign investment. The rest, as they say, is history. Singapore grew to become the top country in which to do business, and today it offers arguably the best living standards in Asia. Whether it is rain gardens, green walls or cross- laminated timber (CLT), green infrastructure goes well beyond simple aesthetics. Contributing to a sustainable ecosystem, with an ethos of open- access public realm at the heart, is what turns a collection of buildings into a community. Green infrastructure also has a significant role to play in ensuring the built environment is fit for the future. Like London’s Georgian squares, we should want our homes to stand the test of time, and ensure they look as good in 100 years as they do today. This hasn’t always been the case. In the post-war rush to build homes across the UK, mistakes occurred in the design and quality of homes. The result was that a mere 30 years later, many had to be demolished. The Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle is one such example; a neo- Brutalist structure of more than 1,200 council homes, which, following its construction in the 1970s, quickly fell into dilapidation. Today, we are fortunate to be working in partnership with Southwark Council on a transformative 15-year regeneration project in Elephant & Castle. Set to be one of the capital’s greenest new developments, it will create 3,000 new, sustainably-designed homes in an environment which enables people to live healthy, productive lives. Our commitment ranges from offsetting more carbon than will actually be generated by those living and working there, right through to the creation of the capital’s largest new park in the last 70 years. We are planting hundreds of new trees. We will make every roof we can, a green roof. And we’re lacing the new streets, squares and apartment blocks with verdant spaces and public gardens to promote biodiversity and places for all in the community to connect. Developers must look at creating places that meet the needs of the present, but which deliver a positive, long-lasting social and environmental legacy too. And they must do so without it being a bolt-on or obligation. Transforming Cities from Grey to Green