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The city is the space between

It’s at the human-scale, where place is shaped by the architecture, that stuff matters

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Granary Square in King's Cross Central
Granary Square in King's Cross Central

After more than a decade in architectural publishing, I’ve written a lot about buildings. My campaign on the spread of Notopia attacked the generic architecture that has made Toronto resemble Chengdu, and Mumbai look like Atlanta.

 

Too many cities in their quest to become a ‘world-class city’ have sloughed off history and culture in favour of an identikit forest of glass and steel.

 

But my Notopia campaign was perhaps too focused on the skyline view, rather than how a city works on the ground. We don’t live at drone height (at least not yet).

 

It’s the space between the buildings that make a place, where street culture is found, fashion is born, in places where people rub up against each other with nothing in common but the pavement beneath their feet.

 

If the city is thriving on the street, what different does it make if the buildings are tall or short?     

Does it matter if we can't distinguish Atlanta from Mumbai?
Does it matter if we can't distinguish Atlanta from Mumbai?

It’s at this human-scale, where place is shaped by architecture, that stuff matters. Here, the encroachment of another Notopia may emerge: sterile public spaces populated by usual-suspects retail.

 

At times, these new neighbourhoods seem to work – they are adopted and loved into being. But others, like The Truman Show, are an illusion of city; a performance.

 

When there is no community – just occupiers – people come and go without discord; there are no rough sleepers, no street drinking, no anti-social behaviour. This can fool us into thinking a place is successful, into believing that progress has been made.

 

With Notopia, I identified a problem with the generic architecture in new pieces of city, but I was no closer to identifying the ingredients that make an interesting place.

 

The evidence on how to preserve culture and enhance community while attracting investment and upgrading infrastructure at speed is elusive.

 

There’s little data, and no independent case studies. There’s research, but it’s uneven, spread around and niche. Yet, with three-quarters of us expected to live in cities, and £123bn of major regeneration in the UK, understanding these issues has never been more critical.

 

Why The Developer? Because whether a client is public or private, the developer is at the top of the food chain. The risk lies, and buck stops with them.

 

But the developer is powerless without planning approval, political will, capital, community engagement, design and an effective project team of consultants and contractors.

 

A place is not built, it’s shaped, engineered, altered. To develop implies a progressive act. Where we come together to change a place, we are the developer. We are agents of change.

 

Cities thrive on change. But how do we create places worth living in? How do we empower end users and give them a say?

 

There are many challenges: the problem of affordability, social isolation and crime. Gated communities haven’t gone away, the gates are just harder to see.

 

I believe the makers of place want to improve the city. I would like The Developer to help.

 

I want to unpick what better looks like, and explore how we get there through a range of live events, our podcasts, documentary films and by publishing independent research.

 

I want to bring new ideas to the business community and help makers of place stay relevant and informed. I want to cut through the marketing speak and hold people to account so that we can discover, together, how to make equitable, vibrant, diverse and inclusive urban places.

 

Help me build it. If you have ideas, get in touch. I want to hear from you: @tcmurray @thedeveloperUK

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