Last Thursday the final of our highly successful series of events centred around ‘liveable cities’, hosted in partnership with RIBAJ took place, with industry experts presenting their solutions to the problems facing modern cities.
Alex Jan, director of economics for Arup; Colin Ross, director of Cornerstone Assets; Julia Park, head of housing research at Levitt Bernstein; Joe Wheelwright, associate landscape architect at Arup; Peter Head CBE, founder and CEO of the Ecological Sequestration Trust and Neil Howsam, an associate at Piercy & Company had spent the day in the AluK Design Studio addressing the challenges of urban living, from sustainability to housing, to present their findings that evening.
Peter Head opened the presentation by explaining the panel’s agreed definition of a liveable city as: ‘A city where people have a wide range of choices and good health, opportunities and a sense of wellbeing, ownership and inclusion.’
Each panellist discussed one key issue, expanding on the themes used for previous Cities series debates from sustainability to housing and commercial development, identifying problems and presenting the panel’s solutions.
Joe Wheelwright covered green infrastructure, celebrating its far-reaching benefits that affect us ‘environmentally, socially and economically’. Wheelwright emphasised the need to ‘sweat the asset’ of the UK’s green spaces, going so far as to suggest that the green belt could - and should - be utilised to ease the desperate demand for housing in London.
Tackling the contentious issue of housing, Arup’s Alex Jan reeled off alarming statistics to support ‘genuine affordability issues’, from low-quality, high-cost housing to plummeting home ownership levels and under-occupation.
The solution? Jan suggests off-site manufacturing, increasing densification levels and, above all, building more homes: 'We need some sort of supply-side systemic change to help secure an increase in the number of units built every year. It might be difficult to achieve, but local authorities should be allowed back into the house construction game.’
Summarising, Peter Head considered how the concept of a liveable city may actually be changing as technology, social media and digital advances alter society's views and values, before questioning how commercial buildings seem able to respond to those changes and recycle buildings while residential developments appear ‘stuck in a rut’.
The panel agreed in their final conclusion that key to addressing the challenges discussed is education, emphasising the need for architects to understand urban and development economics to truly understand the social, environmental and economic impact of buildings.
We’d like to say a huge thank you to our expert panellists for their insights at all the Cities series events, and also to everyone who came along to hear the discussion. To keep up with the next series of debates and talks at the AluK Design Studio, follow us on Twitter and check our website.