London is something else; it is unique and alluring as a truly global and cosmopolitan city. As one of the most visited cities in the world, it certainly needs no introduction.
It is hard to miss the power of the paradoxes in this city, the coming together of history and contemporary, classic yet a trend-setter, unplanned yet orderly, and global yet local city. I have been amazed, attracted, surprised, and bewildered with diverse experiences of this city's multiple characters.
Like many others, I fell in love with this city and decided to call it home. After 14 years of living in London, the ever-evolving Central London still evokes that feeling of 'love at first sight'. London is so unconventionally beautiful; it is a photographer's muse. It's streets and squares glisten in the light of evening ray and are equally charming on a gloomy grey day.
As an architect and urban designer, I have always been charmed by London's creativity and cultural openness. In the city's streets and squares, where life unfolds is the experience of London. London's public spaces are embellished and enriched through art and placemaking, and one such place is Leicester Square, as captured in the photographs; it embodies London's essence and spirit.
Unsurprisingly, London has been holding the top spot in cities' ranking for various reasons, mainly its diverse people and cultures. This ultimate global city is constantly reinventing itself through innovative programming of the places through culture, hospitality, nightlife, and unmatched experiential quality of city spaces.
London's Public Transport, Royal Parks, Riverside, Museums, iconic Buses and Telephone Boxes, and many more specific things to London, all have a story to tell. Story of its history and heritage, culture and diversity, talent and wealth, its people and its 'place in the world'.
Today, I want to focus on London's one of the most specific quality, its many 'villages' or neighbourhoods and discuss how we will see some dramatic changes to the way we live in this fantastic city.
Among many effects of the ongoing pandemic, placemaking in London has accelerated and is seen in a new light; mental health, air quality and safe distancing have become prerequisites to adding value to our outdoor spaces. Never before, we realised that we do not have adequate ''pedestrian, cycle-friendly, healthy and green'' outdoor areas for a safe rendezvous with friends and family. Many neighbourhoods have re-modelled their streets to discourage through traffic; planters (definitely better then bollards) have appeared almost in every 'village' to restrict vehicles entering and polluting. As much I support and like these 'liveable' places initiatives and this new way of living that sets an entirely different pace of life, I am conscious about the slow pace of life in this lockdown. I wonder what happens to these timeserving placemaking initiatives when we come out of the lockdown (for good!!) and perhaps will need to go back to certain routines.
London (with its many villages) is hardwired to quickly adapt the principles of a '15-minute city'. Going by the trend, it is becoming evident that the shift towards hyper localism and the flexible working pattern are here to stay; few specific changes to our urban environment would immensely improve and enhance the 'quality of life' in our neighbourhoods. As everyday life in this global city (rather any city) still matters the most. A couple of ideas that might resonate with some of you.
Leveraging active mobility and sustainable transport solutions at the neighbourhood level:
Past year, we have learned a lot about our neighbourhoods and adopted different movement patterns for varied activities. However, when the schools reopen, one such activity-school runs will instantly go back to the old 'normal' by private vehicles. School runs (within Greater London) do add to the rush hour traffic (personal observation). The School Streets Initiative provides much-needed solutions to manage the pedestrian environment at the entrance of the school. However, there is a need for a neighbourhood level pedestrian and sustainable travel network. I strongly feel that a localised transport solution with a good frequency that will replace private vehicles' use, coupled with active travel modes, will be needed to help sustain the new quality of our 'walkable and healthy streets'.
Creating a network of local co-working hubs:
The lockdown has forced us to adapt our homes/apartments with a 'home office' (not the government department). Many converted their dining tables to an office, whereas some got a new shed in their back garden; despite our newly adapted ways of working and communicating, we all have experienced loneliness. Post lockdown, in the new era promoting hyper-locality, there will be a need for local co-working hubs. The social infrastructure such as our local libraries, cafes, restaurants, and community halls could offer a range of flexible co-working spaces suitable for different needs. This range of creative and collaborative spaces will foster community spirit, support our community's needs and provide us with an opportunity to experience the hustle and bustle that we missed in the last year. It is an opportunity to activate and revitalise our local high street.
Prioritising our neighbourhoods' social value:
The community spaces and parks have provided us with much-needed respite for our mental wellbeing during the lockdown and restrictions. Going by the trend, we will continue to use the open spaces for various activities, enhancing these spaces to maximise flexibility, and creating new meeting spaces will add social value to our neighbourhood.
Communities working together with the local authorities can develop such ideas and nurture the social resilience of the neighbourhoods in London.
I will be interested in knowing your story about London and the changes you would like to see in your own neighbourhood. If you have interesting thoughts about London that you would like to share with everyone, drop me a line, I will be happy to publish.