Sustainable London: the next generation of transport-oriented development.
I recently chaired a panel at Future Build (https://www.futurebuild.co.uk/visit/vision#/). Entitled ‘Sustainable London: the next generation of transport-oriented development’, this energetic session took place in the somewhat raucous environment of ExCel London. In an emerging urban age, overall mobility of population defines the potential of the city. Transport is destiny, and the next generation of transport-oriented development creates new standards of attraction, amenity, and ultimate urban value. The session benefitted from three strong panellists as well as some good questions from an alert audience.
Derek Wilson, Sustainable Development Manager at TfL, focused on the theme of ‘TOD 2.0’ - transport strategies that are emerging in part because of the ‘convergence of pressures’ that challenge a global city like London, in particular the projected shortfall of homes as the city population swells to 10.5 million by 2041 and the gradual decrease in industrial/employment lands. Derek outlined the modal shift away from motorised transport towards ‘Healthy Streets’, TfL’s signature initiative to encourage people to start walking and cycling; TfL’s engagement of public spaces becomes part of the total mobility solution. He also noted how the shift away from traditional transport asset classes parallels the broader blurring of other asset classes (e.g. work/hospitality). Eventually, integrated transport development begins to take on the open qualities of natural environment.
Harbinder Birdi, Infrastructure & Transport lead at Hawkins/Brown presented some ‘TOD-in-Action’ arguments. He noted how changes in movement patterns have progressively evolved from ‘driving-into-town’ and also echoed how emerging planning and development are increasingly adapting infrastructure to make places more attractive to communities. Harbinder recognised that infrastructure connectivity on its own can be catalytic, but the ultimate value comes through the proximity of transport and development, integration not just passive adjacency. He shared some examples, including East Croydon Station, where the station is both a bridge across live tracks live but also helps to regenerate the urban area as an active street. He also showed examples of how the urban art program at Tottenham Court Road Crossrail Station ultimately bring art close to the public and how the strategic replanning of Old Street Roundabout maintains the city movement patterns while reintegrating isolated areas back into the public realm of the city.
Peter Dijkuis, the Director of Building Consultancy and Masterplanning at CBRE, outlined the reciprocal relationships between urban planning, transport, investment funding, and identity. As transport evolves in general, the public begins to value the overall experience of the journey over simple measurements of transport speed. And as various land uses recombine, blurring the distinctions between natural and built environment, other measurements (for example door-to-door transit time, productivity, pleasure along the way) become possible and worth evaluating. He noted that technologies to encourage working from home and initiatives by TfL and planners to promote the poly-centric city were unlikely to challenge the pull of urban hubs in globalising cities, although transport-oriented development would help redistribute pressure points.
During the Q&A, we discussed how measuring the total performance of the urban system (e.g. transport as a method of land release for housing) was harder than the simple accounting of the asset itself (ridership fares), which leads to distortion of investment priorities. We noted that the different groups that pay for, invest in, and benefit from public transport were often not aligned, which suggests that we still have a way to in developing good value-capture models related to transport. We focused on what happens when the overall urban system can no longer cope with the volume of people it has to move each day; perpetual efforts to reduce friction only induces more demand. We considered how the potentials of ‘creative congestion’ that encourages mode-shift away from traditional transport within the core areas of central London could also help integrate hinterland cities into the broader economic region. We even contemplated if we were radical enough in our solutions; what would it take to deliver transformative mega-transport projects as fast as Shanghai does? Would it make more sense to provide free private transport to mobility-challenged individuals than invest in very expensive asset-based solutions - e.g. lifts in stations - that benefit only a relatively small number of individuals?
Ultimately, I felt we generated general consensus around four main points:
1/ Our expectations evolve: we increasingly value the quality of overall movement experience rather than speed of actual transport.
2/ True transport-oriented development focuses on door-to-door experience and overall movement time.
3/ Emerging poly-centric strategies create new opportunities in London that leverage initiatives like TfL’s ‘Healthy Streets’, and adopt public open spaces as part of the overall mobility solution for the city.
4/ We increasingly expect connectivity and mobility as part of our social contract with our cities, but democratic processes can also inhibit the most advanced solutions and create delivery delays.