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Sam Martin: A Divergent City – Architecture IO

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Rethinking How People Move in Cities November 14, 2014

A Divergent City

Who is the city of London for? Who has priority? If London continues to grow at its projected rate in the locations that have been identified for where it is allowed to grow then just as we near the completion of Crossrail 1 another will come along. Tunnelling and forcing its citizens underground is not the foundations for an egalitarian city. SkyCycle is a proposition that suggest there is an alternative infrastructure route that London needs to invest in for all of its citizens.

As people live further from work and spend more on travel, SkyCycle offers access for all into their city. SkyCycle runs above railway tracks that have often either a) divided the urban areas either side of them or b) prevented those two sides from knitting together. SkyCycle integrates what railways separate.

As you may have gathered, and probably read in the literature, I wasn’t born in London like 40% of those who do live in London. 20 years ago, I first moved to London and when I first moved here, I could only afford to cycle everywhere because I certainly couldn’t afford public transport. And so, the point of my talk today is to explore what I think it is a very important part of any city, or the world that we live in, is that, I think it should be as equal and egalitarian as possible. I, at the moment, consider that London is possibly on a course for creating sort of divergent zones, or areas within the city that only certain people can afford to live or not.

So, on a flight coming back from a project the other day, a highbrow movie, “Divergent”, it explored this sort of the theme of a post-apocalyptic city and the divisions within which people lived, and though people were stratified by this sort of nature and purpose of whatever they were meant to be in life, but then they were put in certain areas. And within the city, there was one method and mode of transport, or public transport, and that was a train, and the train never stopped. So, it was only those who were brave enough to jump on a moving train and jump off it that can actually get around the city. So, you know, the next logical step from that, in my mind, is to then consider London and how London works. And, you know, London is made up of zones, because you can afford to live in certain parts of London, because maybe the rent is cheaper and if you’re lucky enough to work near where you live, then you don’t have to spend quite so much in getting around your city. But there are parts of London where it’s more expensive to travel into the middle, the red in the centre represents the congestions zones as it is now, the blue as it once was, and white what it could have been, but it’s slightly smaller than that.

So, in terms of, therefor of London in the way which is evolved over time, it has very much began or did begin around its main arterial which was the river Thames, and so from the river Thames London sort of started. The bridge was the first big connection that then created, perhaps, a greater connection to the rest of the hinterlands around in the Thames valley.

What you then added on to that was the slightly finer grain of the streets of London. The streets of London are still evident, and with us today, and we are in the middle of that here today. And in time, then you add the further bits of infrastructure to get connectivity. This was then connecting by canals, London to the greater, wider UK or England. And in terms of in trade, and what it did, it spiked up all sorts of activities and things along the canals. Then obvisouly the big one, the thing that we celebrated as we refer to previously in terms of celebrating architecture, the real Victorian spend, and I think that the really big visionary part of what London infrastructure’s still is now, was the rail. And the rail created a huge amount of connectivity for people getting into the middle of London, people getting to the rest of England, but in doing so, also rail does create areas of disconnect so the closer to the centre you get, you get viaducts, you get railway tracks, you get places on either side of the track, so you get divisions within a city.

Then, the layer that then came with rail, was the underground. And the underground, obviously, as everyone knows, is a very successful part, and we’re also working on the NLE [Northern line extension] extension on the Battersea tube station with Robin’s [Buckle] team, although we yet to have a proper meeting… And we are working on the Gehry and Foster building and how the landscape integrates and knits with that. For us is very important which building the tube station goes into but we’ll talk about that later. But in terms of what that means that there for suddenly Battersea is on the map so the tube station has meant that what they get 400 million out of the local developers so I think it is 300 million from Battersea power station, but it also then sparks, and Lord knows, how other many developments will occur around that. So, the infrasctructure’s leading the development but, without the development, the infrastructure wouldn’t occur. So, you know, where is, who, what is the chicken and what is the egg? I think, you look back to the start, it started with the river, that was the infrastructure, you know, it’s the layers upon layers of the things that we build. So the final piece of the puzzle in terms of London’s connectivity is the roads. And, you know, the roads, Lord forbid, TFL is looking at maybe putting them underground at a huge and exorbiting cost and I can’t really see the point of that. I think if it is 80% of London’s public space is roads, then they should be used far more effectively and efficiently than what they are, but I think it’s going back to that discussion about the streets of London being more important and the roads of London still have to connect central London to greater London. And the solution, well the discussion that we are looking at now is Crossrail 1, which is being built and it’s a great way to experience your city going into a tunnel, like a mole, and appear from one end to another. I mean, that’s a good way to get around but it is a good way to celebrate and understand your city? I think in terms in, this is someone’s diagram, which I’ve grabbed off the internet, Luke Peters, thank you very much, Luke. This is CrossRail 5, you know, where does it end? How many tunnels and how many billions do we need to spend on popping in underground and reemerging somewhere else? But, you know, somewhat drier probably, than if we were out in the rain, but this is one way of building and developing infrastructure for the city and, obviously, if as Robin [Buckle] says we get to 2.2 million journeys a year by 2030, we obviously need more infrastructure to cater for that. But I do believe that this is the quick reference to the proposed orbital tunnel and this is the idea of putting the ring road underground and you know, that is one way of freeing up road space space, but again, in terms of what you’re doing to help people get around and experience the city, to me, is not really celebrating your city.

What I just wanted to touch on is the area of London where my office is based, where I live, I walk to work, is right next to the Battersea power station. And from the office, we get a fairly good idea of the rail infrastructure that exists around there. And having spent my last 20 years walking and cycling around here, I know that there are certain parts that you can and can’t get to and you have to make the decision a lot earlier than closer to the end. So, if I’m wanting to come from my home, here, and get to my office there, if I go this way, I can’t cross the rail line right until the end. So, whilst it’s an incredibly important part of the way in which London is evolved, and we Londoners are at now, it is also, when you start looking at it, quite a large network of space that is obviously, for a singular, utilitarian purpose for rail. And I guess, the proposition that we began thinking about now offers an experiencing the spaces we do around us, and the elevated view you get from the Battersea power station, so we’ve been working on this project for three years, the great thing is that you get a good view of the rail infrastructure from on top of the surface chimney, which is the one nearly down now. But, there you understand and kind of experience the amount of space it’s available above Network Rail land.

So this idea of building above railway track, I think only 1% of London’s open space is actually rail track if you took a snapshot view of the Greater London area. However, it’s also where about 80% of people get around, at the moment, currently on rail, or in combination with the tube, sorry. So in terms in of maybe adding another layer of space, of capacity, to London’s transport needs, this is where we start looking at building a layer… this isn’t for just taking people off the roads and off the streets, and your bicycle, this is offering another capacity solution for London. Cycling is the mode, walking would also be the mode, up on this structure. SkyCycle is represented here by a network of 221 kilometres around London with 209 stations for getting on and off, and this is being studied and developed by Space Syntax, with us as well, as with Foster and Partners who we’ve been working with, and essentially, what it means is that from these highlighted in red here, we have a 10 minute catchment to an on-point for getting onto the SkyCycle. And it gets to or affects, I suppose, if you like, 5.8 million people. However, if we add then in another 2 million people into the mix in the next 30 years a fare few of those are going to be within this line. This is a fairly, no, it’s not rudimentary, it’s a studied example of how the network could work in terms of the way in which there are stations available, there are places available, there are lines available and there are ways in which we could build above the track. What I just didn’t want to look at is, obviously, we know that we’ve got a rising use of cyclists and this is cycling on the road. What SkyCycle is about, is about bringing people from the outside, people who are paying thousands of pounds per annum to get into the middle by road, by rail, by tube and instead of spending all their money on that, they could then spend some time, some leisure time, maybe even get fitter, save some money, save the environment and cycle to work on mass. This is not Crossrail 2, this is not Crossrail 3, this is instead of. This is an opportunity where we can understand renetworking the city not with another big whole in the ground.

So, this is, obviously the condition that we know and experience on a daily basis in London. And there is space on the roads but we need, something needs changed, putting even all the traffic underground is one thing and that could certainly work in the middle of London, but on the roads that service London, that service the streets of London, the things that bring you in from the outside, we need to look at a way in which traffic disappear, I don’t think you can, or we look for another way in which people on mass, can get to work by bike.

So, what I just want to do is play you a quick movie which we’ve had done with Foster and Partners, just to explain the vision. This is when we first studied it. Network Rail gave us a first bit of track to look at, from Stratford into Liverpool Street. So that kind of is an easier way of explaining the vision. And in terms of the visual that probably everyone has seen, because it’s the only one we’ve ever had done, is this is a view which we superimpose across a photograph that Huw Thomas took from Foster’s. And in terms of why we’re reluctant to show lots of images of it is because we only have one, is that we don’t want this to be necessarily the built solution, we want it to be a discussion and a conversation about a way in which we can reunderstand space and what’s available in London in terms of the available space that we currently have. This is a conversation starter and obviously, there are many things about getting on and off and how much it costs but in terms of cost, we had the first stretch of Stratford to Liverpool Street, six and a half kilometres, valued at 220 million [Pound Sterling], that then, if we rolled it out across a whole network we would be talking about 7 to 8 billion, you know, it’s a big number, but, if you take CrossRail 2, that’s going to be about 15 billion and it caters for the same amount of people. So, you know, this is a network that is going to be getting people around all of London, not just in a singular fashion North to South or East to West.

So, what we just want to then look at here is Space Syntax with the network that we’ve developed so far is to look at a quick snapshot of time saved in terms of current cycle journey. This isn’t tube, or rail, or car, this is current cycle journey time, and this is again, getting people to the middle of London so that once you get off at one of the main line stations where the terminals are, you would then get off the SkyCycle and go down to the streets of London which would belong to people on foot and on bike. Less about traffic, more about people.

And what I just wanted to finish with is, in 1862, these brave souls took a brave decision and decided to go on a train underground. And who would have thought that you would actually hop on a train and go underground. That was what the tube was and what it represented, a huge leap of faith. And, I guess what I’m suggesting is that this is another opportunity to reconsider the future and how we could reconsider space in London and maybe, we don’t have to dress in that fashion, maybe we don’t have to sit on a wooden contraption, but we could then take a slight leap and look at another way in which we get around our city and how we build the future. So, thank you!

Sam Martin

Sam Martin

Director and Principle Landscape Architect at Exterior Architecture, Sam is an extremely talented landscape architect at both the strategic and detailed levels. Sam is spearheading the SkyCycle project, a private transport infrastructure initiative in London that consists of a 219 kilometres long network of elevated cycle paths above train tracks.

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