Future London: could sustainable “mini towns” with homes, parks and cycle routes be the answer for changing city lifestyles?

Covid has changed lifestyles, teaching us to value neighbourhoods where we feel at home and safe.

London is set to become a series of “mini towns”, where everything you need — from shops and schools to restaurants, recreation and entertainment — will be no more than 15 minutes away from your front door.

A new report launched today presents a snapshot of a post-pandemic capital in which we stay closer to home. The study by New London Architecture (NLA) sets out a vision for the city and how it must shift to survive the coronavirus crisis and be adequately equipped for the future.

“No event has affected public life like Covid-19 with its sudden shutdown of social and economic activity,” says Peter Murray, chairman of NLA. “However, it also offers a chance to recreate London in a way that is sustainable and socially inclusive,” he adds.

The body of architects is calling on government to ensure that London’s villages, both the new and the old, are healthy and active, fairer and affordable, and zero carbon.

Flexible buildings are the future, the study also finds. It paints a picture of drones delivering parcels to the top of offices, and high street units that switch easily from shop to workspace to pop-up food kiosk in order to keep pace with consumer whims.

The report analyses the last 15 years of change, too, which has been dominated by showpiece architecture, such as Battersea Power Station and Chelsea Barracks, designed to beautify inner London. The next 15 years, however, will be about the regeneration of town centres to serve the community.

The rise of the 15-minute village

What Murray describes as “astonishing” change since 2005 was driven by record population growth and investment.

London grew from 7.5 million people in 2005 to 9.3 million this year, dwarfing the increase in New York, Paris or Sydney.

This attracted funding which powered the development of business districts such as Canary Wharf. Over that period 6.3 million square metres of office space was created in London. Yet fewer homes were built here than in those rival cities.

In the next 15 years the emphasis is predicted to shift from commercial to neighbourhood development. In the post-pandemic era, with families under financial pressure, there will be an even greater need for affordable homes.

“Covid has highlighted people’s appreciation of their neighbourhood. A new localism is changing London,” says Deirdra Armsby of Westminster council.

The report predicts a faster uptake of the new “15-minute village” concept by councils and developers, where all amenities are within a short stroll or cycle from the front door.

From dropping toddlers at the crèche, to exercising, shopping and working, daily needs will be met on the local high street.

“London has always been a city of villages, and those centres which can accommodate a mix of housing, workplaces and leisure will be the most resilient in a post-Covid London,” says Catherine Staniland, author of the report.

The need to be cleaner, greener and leaner

The Government has committed to bringing all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The construction industry needs urgently to clean up its act but lifestyles must change, too, as highlighted by the pandemic.

The reduction in road traffic during lockdown drastically cut air pollution and carbon levels, and pavements and cycle lanes were temporarily widened.

But such changes must not be reversed, argues Heather Cheesbrough, of Croydon council. “Continuing to promote walking and cycling is a huge opportunity for boroughs to help make the switch to sustainable travel and to take the motor car out where possible,” she says.

London’s parks continue to become more important post-pandemic. The rewilding of the capital’s dead industrial land and waterways, the planting of trees and widespread creation of living walls will aid mental wellbeing and filter the air, while addressing the ecosystem crisis, too.

Landmark Pinnacle, one of London’s tallest residential towers at 75 floors, is on the South Dock in Canary Wharf with views over the Thames.

Residents will be able to cycle to Bank, Waterloo and King’s Cross in under 30 minutes using the Cycle Superhighways network.

Prices for a one-bedroom apartment start from £559,000. Call Knight Frank on 020 7718 5202

Stratford’s in the spotlight

Stratford is one of the most transformed areas of the last 15 years, according to New London Architecture.

The east London neighbourhood was earmarked for regeneration from the early Nineties and the plan submitted in 2003 to turn it into a major new employment district with 4,500 new homes and a vast urban shopping centre in the shape of Westfield Stratford City, was the largest planning application ever in Greater London.

These ambitions helped secure the 2012 Olympic Games for the capital. The former 2012 Athletes’ Village is now residential East Village, home to more than 6,000 people, 23 shops, a school, a health centre, 35 acres of parks and public gardens.

The regeneration ripple has spread from there into Hackney and out to Royal Docks. Loft apartments are for sale currently at Stone Studios in Hackney Wick E9, between Victoria Park and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with prices starting from £442,500 up to £1.1 million.

The building has a concierge, a restaurant and bike storage. Contact Savills on 020 7226 6611.

Available for rent are 128 new apartments and 12 mews houses in the 1,200-home Sugar House Island scheme in Stratford.

There will be a new primary school, a row of independent shops, a dance studio and communal parks. Eight train stations, two cycle routes and five bus routes will service the new neighbourhood.

Rents for a three-bedroom mews start from £1,500 per month.

Investment for London’s villages

London is unlikely to attract the same levels of overseas funding after Covid-19.

A new breed of investor is needed to make “local” viable. Andy Downey of civil engineers Elliot Wood calls for enterprising ethical developers to help create a “fairer and more resilient city”.

And perhaps the large pension funds backing factory-assembled housing could now focus on creating communities.

Investment in London’s villages shouldn’t signal the end of central districts. But it’s time to invest in the town centres full of boarded-up units, charity shops and takeaways.

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