Senior figures involved in the new developments along the southern waterfront of the Thames met at Lambeth Palace yesterday, exploring the idea of “a good city for all”. The conversations provoked a thoughtful discussion, revealing areas of agreement as well as contested ground. Some of the contributions to the discussion are included below.
The Archbishop of Canterbury talked vividly about former Archbishops down the centuries, the prison at Lambeth Palace and the need for a Guard Room, but also of the significance of the Library and the Church’s deep concern for the welfare of the city, caring for the people of south London a long time before local authorities existed.
At the heart of the Christian faith, he said, there is a belief in the infinite significance of every human being regardless of status or power. Churches work with local authorities and also on foodbanks and with rough sleepers, picking up the sorrows and the suffering of those who slip through the safety net. The Church needs to speak out of being deeply earthed in the day to day realities of people’s lives.
“The plans for taking this conversation forward are both exciting and challenging”, the Archbishop said.
He encouraged an imaginative view of what had brought people together from the arts, commerce, institutions and levels of government. What will make London a global city of enormous significance, and not only as the centre of world finance, is a city that people will look to and say, ‘There is the kind of city we dream of.’
Sir Edward Lister, Deputy Mayor of London, described the immense scale of the London Plan’s targets for jobs (half a million more by 20125) and homes. He said, “A third of our Opportunity Areas are along the river.” We also need a place, he added, “you have to have a heart in it, there has to be a reason why you want to go there” – cultural activities, facilities for communities, churches.
Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, talked first of her Liverpool roots and of her grandmother who wanted good education and opportunities for her fourteen children. Then she spoke about the legacy of the Festival of Britain, excellence and egalitarianism side by side, “You need both for a recognition of good.” Port cities are places where competing stories can be traded, shared, enjoyed. People who have felt powerless have the greatest expertise in how to make a good city because they know what it’s like to be excluded. Culture develops people’s imagination, and this is the route to a better world. “We don’t want to end up with a riverfront of gated communities, with some emblematic ‘leisure’, it’s much deeper than that.”
Rob Tincknell, CEO of the Battersea Power Station Development Company, spoke of putting people at the heart of what he’s doing, creating a “well thought-out cocktail” of residential & office accommodation, shops, restaurants, cafés, community uses and a village hall where people can come together. He is working with the Diocese of Southwark on developing hubs to bring new and existing residents together.
Dr Noha Nasser works in urban design and the role of place in social cohesion. A good city for all, she said, blurs the boundaries between those who have and those who may not have that much, between public and private ownership of space and between different cultures. Communities should be more involved. “Design isn’t just creating physical space, it is creating the stage for social life and if we don’t design places for people, we’re excluding them.” Not everyone relates to glass and steel, she said. “Having a cappuccino becomes important, but so are many other things, like going to church.”
Cllr Peter John, Leader of Southwark Council, wants the Council to be “a powerful force for the common good”. Some see regeneration as shifting problems around the borough rather than changing people’s lives, but he sees a virtuous circle – for example, investments from development have enabled the provision of free swimming and gym use for all residents. There’s a challenge in reconciling what local people want to see, for example in Canada Water, and driving investment and opportunity into the borough.
The Revd Dr Andrew Davey, urban theologian, talked of “the responsibilities of being placed” and of London’s impact on places like sub-Saharan Africa. He cautioned against the trickle-down economy becoming a push-out economy. Church communities can model the transfigured city, he said, by crossing the boundaries of age, class & ethnicity and using that experience “in the way we participate” in civic life. Whilst the Church used to encourage social responsibility through its relationships with local government, the new partnerships are led by the private sector.
Sue Foster of Lambeth Council works in partnership with citizens, developers, investors, community and faith groups. “It’s no good having really significant growth if we don’t have good neighbourhoods.” How do we begin to close the gap between wealth and poverty? This is a big aspiration, she said, and there are serious challenges: austerity, the crisis of affordable homes, competing voices.
Bob Allies, architect, is working on the masterplans at Canada Water, Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich Arsenal, re-imagining how these places might be. Architects look back to the city they inherit, protecting it, and also look at the future needs and aspirations of society as it evolves. These two objectives are sometimes in conflict. He rarely has the opportunity to include places of worship, so at a simple physical level there’s a gap. Cities are human artefacts, he said, and by their very nature they are collaboratively made – no individual can make a city.
Mike Hayes is an urban planner, which he likened to being a theatre director, encouraging all the actors – public agencies, the developer, the community, national policy and local political leadership – to play their part. His idea of a good city for all is one that is fit for purpose (safe, accessible, affordable for all, a strong economy, places for play and worship), but which also lifts the spirits – clean & attractive, enlivened by art and landscape, enabling ‘meanwhile uses’ and with a mix of activity, encouraging creativity and building community. “A vision challenges the process and asks are we getting it right?”
The Dean of Southwark chaired the conversations. “The developments along the south bank of the Thames, which has always had a different character to the north bank, are so dramatic, so radical that we want to engage with you in making these not just good places to live but life-enhancing places to live.”
He quoted Psalm 45.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The 6th century St Isadore of Seville wrote about the two words for city, he said – urbs, the built environment and civis, the people. ‘A city is a number of people joined by a social bond. It takes its name from the citizens who dwell in it. As an urbs it is only a walled structure, but inhabitants, not building stones, are referred to as a city.’
The Dean posed a challenge. “You are builders, planners, community makers, we are priests. Together we’re making a city. The question for today is, can that be a good city?”
The Bishop of Southwark offered a commitment from the Diocese to continue these conversations and to convene future gatherings on what makes a good city for all.
He said the Church remained active along the riverside. The pace of change is enormous, he said. Offering continuity in the current context is reassuring and helps bind a community together. Churches in the UK are the largest employers of youth workers and away from the blaze of publicity, much is being done by parish priests to support communities: buildings are shared, the hungry fed, the elderly cared for, and there’s a welcome to those who speak different languages. There is still great poverty, which is a scandal in a city as rich as London, said the Bishop.
What binds us together in our common life is more important than our individual contributions, the Bishop said, and the Church is at the heart of that work.
In the discussion, questions were raised from the floor and from the panelists:
“What does it look like to have a city that encourages human flourishing and the common good?”
“Is the risk that we end up like Paris, with a city centre that has no concept of the common good?”
“With the resources the Church brings – investment in people, in buildings, in services – how can it partner with the Council to get the result that we all want: sustainable development for the common good?”
“Can London be the city that cracks the long-stalled idea of urban regeneration that’s for the common good of every citizen?”
“The elephant in the room is the housing crisis. The gains made by the church-led living wage and credit caps are lost if people can’t afford their rent.”
“Why doesn’t the Church go in there and make the case for the people it represents?”
“We are the next generation. How can young people, practically and realistically, put forward their views on how they want change in their city?”
“We paid a worker £25k pa but we lost him because he couldn’t find somewhere to live in London. What will you do to remedy this?”
“Do you think the Church embraces change, growth and regeneration or do you think it’s slightly afraid of what’s going on in our city?”
“Why are the spaces for celebration and coming together put at the edge of developments, not right at the centre?”
“Is there a vision for learning from people’s experience of the chaos caused by redevelopment?”
“There are winners and losers in redevelopment. When should the public sector intervene to enable the process of change in a way that is more just?”
Video of the gathering and of the interviews afterwards will be posted later.