Projects on a grand scale generate innumerable written reports setting out the developer’s vision, but very few contain the hard information you get from an architect’s visual plan. Without such spatial maps planners are working blind.
Architects love a plan – nothing makes them happier than a visual map that sets out a problem spatially, rather than in words. By overlaying the existing conditions – whether it be roads over rail; water over electricity supply; existing housing development over planned; flood defences over flood plains – you can see where different (and sometimes competing) elements intersect, or where change is most keenly felt. The beauty of a plan is that it helps you understand what the differing pressures of a project are from the outset. The ability to work out what you want and then understand what you are willing to compromise on to make this happen is the sure foundation of a solid future.
In my work for the National Infrastructure Commission, I assumed (naively) that this type of information planning would be readily to hand, either nationally or at least regionally. How can you plan for new infrastructure or development without understanding the impact it has, or better still the opportunities it could unlock? How can you hope to collaborate with your neighbouring regions if many of the jigsaw pieces are missing? Why build a new transport link from A to B based on the shortest route, when a slight deviation via C would unlock a huge number of homes?
The minute something is drawn, visualised or laid out on a map there is no denying it; no potential misunderstandings or misinterpretations
Spatial plans are not new, of course. The Dutch, French and Danish are used to providing these, often overseen by a city architect. I had been searching for something similar for the Thames Estuary as a commissioner on the 2050 growth commission. I wanted to understand how all the new developments fitted together with the new transport infrastructure planned. I was able to see a large number of exciting and well-developed masterplans for specific areas, but no one map that showed them all. As I met and talked to developers and architects, it was clear that there is a lack of understanding about what, where and when things outside of their own plot are happening. Nobody was looking at the big picture.
How can you hope to collaborate with your neighbouring regions if many of the jigsaw pieces are missing?
It was only when I visited the planning team at the Greater London Authority that I found something near to what I had been looking for: a map of London’s proposed new large-scale development masterplans overlaid with the existing and planned transport and power infrastructure. They say that it has already proved instrumental in not only averting potential clashes, but also unlocking potential investment. With funders able to see London mapped out as a whole, they are able to understand how developments fit into the existing and future picture…
…Continue reading on the Building Magazine website.
Image © Greater London Authority