Urban Scrawl Issue 1

Page 1

Issue 1


Editorial Credits

Editor: Sarah Jarvis Assistant Editor: David Rudlin Art Editor & Design: John Sampson Front Image: Jamie Anderson

URBED urbanism environment design Fith Floor 10 Little Lever Street Manchester M1 1HR

t. 0161 200 5500 email: scrawl@urbed.com web: www.urbed.coop



The urban environment is something that affects all of us. The environments in which we live, where we go to work, meet friends and spend time with family affect who we are. Do we really want to live in some far-flung suburban cul-de-sac where we will meet no one except people like ourselves? Do we want to drive two hours in traffic to a soulless business park on a motorway junction? Do we want to shop in some fantasy of a shopping mall or a vast hypermarket where our every need can be met in a sanitised safe environment? We must want this stuff because until recently it was pretty much all we built. Well not everyone wants to live like this! Some of us want to live and work in lively mixed-use, multi-cultural cities, bustling with life, full of independent businesses and creative people. Somewhere that has an authenticity that comes from its history rather than from the brush of a set designer. Somewhere that isn’t always spotlessly clean and locked outside shopping hours. Somewhere where you can meet people from every corner of the world and walk of life but where you can be anonymous if you wish.

This is called urbanism.

It is something that was assumed for much of the 20th century to be alien to the English. The last decade has shown this not to be the case. Of course not everyone wants to live in cities and we must never make the mistake of forcing our personal utopia on others as the planners did for much of the last century. However, the revival of the UK’s cities means that there is now an alternative to the cul-de-sac, business park and mall. The revival of Britain’s cities means that urbanism can now be found outside London, something that was last true in the 1930s. This is an urban renaissance born out of often heated argument and debate. The concept is simple but its realisation is complicated and involves jettisoning many of the principles that we have come to accept as given. Urban Scrawl is devoted to continuing this discussion and debate.

Welcome to the first edition of Urban Scrawl urban scrawl


Editorial What is this? URBED (Urbanism Environment Design) was established 18 months ago as an employee-owned cooperative. We work as urban designers and consultants to a range of public and private sector clients. In doing this we are involved daily in discussions with communities, developers, local authorities and businesses about urbanism.

We are launching Urban Scrawl to explore some of the ideas and issues we come across in this everyday practice as urbanists: not things that we are being paid to look at, but things that we think are worth questioning and exploring further.

In Urban Scrawl we will resist the temptation to talk about our work or promote our services – we do that on our website, www.urbed.coop, which is being developed as an on-line archive of our work. However, as Urban Scrawl is owned and controlled by URBED it is driven by our world-view and the principles that guide us. We hope that these articles that interest us will also interest you.



What’s inside? Sustainable Communities: In the 1990s URBED ran the Sustainable Urban Neighbourhood (SUN) Initiative which looked at environmental, social and economic sustainability. Now everyone is talking about sustainability, but David Rudlin asks what it really means, and how we can learn from the past to create truly sustainable communities.

Branding Bullshit and the Built Environment: Urban Scrawl is being launched in conjunction with CUBE in Manchester at an event on 21st November that will explore the way that marketing has been used in Manchester’s renaissance. Peter Saville, Alex Murray and David Rudlin will provide perspectives on urban branding (to be published as a supplement to this edition). By way of briefing Andrew Kelham and David Rudlin each turn a critical eye on branding, together with images of Manchester by Jamie Anderson.

Socially responsible development: Sarah Jarvis talks to a property developer who is bucking the trend - Chris Brown of Igloo, who sets out a different way of creating new neighbourhoods that are well designed, sustainable and environmentally responsible.

Letter from Dublin: In the first of a series of international perspectives Frank McDonald, Environment Editor of the Irish Times paints a picture of the urban renaissance in Ireland.

What’s next? The second edition of Urban Scrawl will put the illuminating Manchester neighbourhood of Hulme under the microscope. Members of the URBED Coop are uniquely qualified to do this, having lived and worked in the various incarnations of this “mundane and radical” place from the 1970s to the present day.

We hope you will feel inspired to join in the debate, or to let us know about other issues that you would like to see discussed in future editions. We plan to cover topics that range across all of URBED’s interests - urban design, regeneration, sustainability and community involvement – and also our own interests outside of the office. Please email me at scrawl@urbed.com.

Sarah Jarvis Editor www.urbed.coop

urban scrawl

We would like to thank Rob Cowan and Streetwise Press Ltd for permission to quote from The Dictionary of Urbanism.


Draining the sink Planning for sustainable communities Sustainable communities, a phrase that has become so overused that we hardly register what it means, must surely be the ultimate goal of all of our work. But if the communities we plan don’t stand the most basic test – that of time – what is the point? David Rudlin urges a better understanding of the lessons from the past when we design the future

For its first 20 years URBED was an urban regeneration consultancy, indeed we could lay claim to being one of the first. We worked with local authorities and public bodies as urban firefighters, dousing the flames of derelict land, empty buildings, troublesome council estates, run-down inner city neighbourhoods and anachronistic industrial areas. However despite all our efforts the fires had grown by the early 90s to engulf whole town and city centres, and still no one asked what was causing the blaze. The assumption was, to change metaphors mid-stream, that the UK’s urban fabric was essentially sound if we could just sew-up and patch the occasional tear and frayed edge.

As the 1990s progressed it became clear that something more fundamental was wrong. These problems were all symptoms of forces that were eating away at urban areas: the suburban sprawl that was sucking population out of the inner cities; the out of town shopping that was robbing town centres of their trade, and the industrial restructuring that was causing offices to flee to the bypass and industry to decant to places like China. At the same time urban areas were being strangled by the highway engineer and abandoned to people without choice over where they lived. These issues affected all urban areas, from the northern towns and cities to the heart of the stockbroker belt.


Grainger Town, Newcastle

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Whalley Range, Manchester

How did we get here? URBED spent a lot of the late 1990s grappling with these issues.

not foolproof and in some neighbourhoods like Kentish Town and

This culminated in our book published in 1999

in which we

Somers Town the owners lost their nerve and the neighbourhoods

took the long view of these issues, tracing many of them back to

descended into slums. However where these schemes worked

the Industrial Revolution. There was a time in Britain, as on the

they were successful in creating aspirational middle-class urban

Continent, when cities were places of civilisation and safety. This

neighbourhoods here in England. One of the last of these to be

changed in the 19th century as industrial growth sucked millions

developed was Grainger Town in Newcastle, best known for the

into urban areas that became dirty, squalid and dangerous. This

sweeping curve of Grey Street. This was built in the early 1830s

is when the sustainability of urban areas first became an issue.

at the same time that the world’s first true suburb, Whalley Range2

Manchester was probably the worst of the industrial cities and it is

was being created in Manchester. The latter was to create the more

no coincidence that Marx based himself there when working on Das

powerful model for subsequent middle-class development – not

Kapital. However one only needs to read Dickens or Zola to realise

within urban areas but in the leafy suburbs.


that London and Paris were little better. In Paris the problem of urban squalor was addressed in an altogether The initial response to these conditions was to create civilised

bolder way. Baron Haussmann working for Napoleon III essentially

urban quarters. Britain has some of the best and earliest examples

demolished 60% of the medieval city, cutting boulevards through

of this including Edinburgh New Town, Hope Street in Liverpool,

the tight medieval streets and carving out squares and parks. This

and the great neighbourhoods of Bloomsbury, Mayfair and

required a huge amount of new building of a quality that could

Fitzrovia in London. These were all developed in the same way. The

only really mean middle-class housing. Tax breaks were therefore

landowner commissioned a masterplan, structural infrastructure

introduced which meant that as the English middle classes were in

(including roads and squares) was created and plots were sold off

full flight to the suburbs in the 1860s, their French equivalents were

to small developers who would typically build five to ten houses.

clamouring to buy property in the heart of the city. The model was

These houses were regulated by conditions in the ground leases,

repeated across the Continent, generally not as the remodelling of

with the freeholds being retained by the owner. The process was

existing cities but as extensions. Most European cities have new

urban scrawl


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England 1981 and 2001

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France 2005

towns, grafted onto their historic cores and typified by their regular

modernist optimism until you realise that they house poor people on

blocks, boulevards and étoiles – Barcelona and Milan are possibly

the cold windswept hills of the city miles from the civilized centre.

the best examples. These were socially mixed neighbourhoods. A

Most European cities have these estates, including Easterhouse

typical building had apartments over shops or professional offices,

in Glasgow and Ballymun in Dublin. In England peripheral council

with the grandest on the piano nobile, and the value declining as

estates have tended to be suburban in form like Wythenshawe

you climbed the stairs (in a pre-lift era there was no premium on a

in Manchester, Scotswood in Newcastle or even the much more


recently built Blackbird Leys in Oxford that saw riots in the 1990s.

Thus were established two very different urban dynamics – the

The design of these areas is, of course, a factor in their unsustainabilty,

Continental system with its aspirational city centre housing in lively

but it is not the whole story. No neighbourhood is immune to these

urban quarters, and the English with its idyllic villa suburbs and

problems, and their vulnerability is greater when the neighbourhood

nightmare city centres. It is easy to conclude, as many urbanists

is isolated and stigmatised by its location. In August 2002 URBED

have done, that the French got it right and that they provide a model

produced a report for the Mayor of London3 on the sustainability of

for the reformation of the Anglo-American city. This is, however, over

the city’s suburbs. We concluded that London’s rate of growth meant

simplistic, as demonstrated by the 2005 riots in Paris. These took

that there were no suburbs in decline at the moment. However, if it

place in the suburbs of Paris where of course all the poor people

were to enter a period of decline it is the remote suburbs with poorly

ended up. It is arguable that if you have to be poor in a city it is

built semis that are likely to be hit hardest.

better to be within a stone’s throw of the city centre, as has been the case in many English cities, than stuck in some far-flung suburb at the end of an expensive and intermittent bus ride. Arguably if you

The unsustainable neighbourhood

want to appear to be a civilized urbane city and attract tourists it

The process by which neighbourhoods become unsustainable

is better to put your poor people well out of sight in the suburbs. If

has affected cities since the first cities were built. Sooner or later

anything the potential for social sustainability is greater in England

a neighbourhood becomes unfashionable and people who have

than it is on the Continent.

the means to do so start to move away. As these neighbourhoods struggle to retain talented people they gain concentrations of the

This point is made even more forcibly if you visit some of these

poor and those without a choice over where to live. Aspirational

peripheral estates. A few years ago I was taken on a tour of

parents take their children out of local schools and neighbourhood

Stockholm’s satellite estates, which are awe-inspiring examples of

shops suffer from the loss of local spending power. The address

urban scrawl

Housing market decline

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The Cresents, Hulme, Manchester

becomes stigmatised as people are judged by their postcode.

private sector and filled to the brim with vulnerable people and their

The community loses pride in the neighbourhood, and crime, anti-

children. The problems were documented in a landmark piece of

social behaviour and graffiti go unchallenged. The area gets a bad

research by David Page for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation 4 who

reputation. It becomes a ghetto.

showed that ‘the process of rapid decline of large social housing estates, which some had thought peculiar to council housing, can

In Hulme a deal was done with the local brewery in the 1980s to

also apply to the stock of housing associations’. What is more,

allow them to expand by knocking down a block of flats. In return

while council estates had taken years to decline, in some housing

the council asked that all of the jobs created go to local people. This

association estates decline had taken place in as little as four years.

happened, but a couple of years later surveys showed that none of

One of the lessons of social sustainability that Page drew was the

the brewery’s staff lived locally. The reason was not the unreliability

importance of ‘child density’. In the general population there is

of local people, but rather that, having got a decent job the local

approximately one child to every four adults, whereas in new social

employees had taken the opportunity to leave the area. This is the

housing estates there were often fewer adults than children. Even in

sink estate process at work.

an affluent middle-class neighbourhood this would cause problems. In a vulnerable social housing estate it was a disaster.

In the 1990s this was a huge issue with social housing. At the time social housing budgets had been cut and housing associations got

The turn around in social housing since the 1990s has been

credit for building more homes with less grant, rather than building

extraordinary. Good management combined with the demolition

communities. There was little social housing being built at a time

of many of the worst estates has averted the collapse of social

when much of the best stock was being lost to the Right-to-Buy

housing. However one of the ways that this has been achieved is by

programme. As a result only the poorest households, with the largest

getting tough on the most disruptive tenants. Many social landlords

numbers of children had any hope of being allocated social housing

adopted a zero tolerance approach and evicted anti-social tenants.

and the tenure became a badge of disadvantage. This made sense

But these people didn’t just disappear: they ended up on housing

in the allocation of a scarce resource to those in greatest need but

benefit in the private rented sector. It was therefore no surprise

it was a disaster for new social housing estates. These were being

that the problem in the 2000s has been the collapse of Victorian

built with the cheapest first time buyer homes borrowed from the

terraced neighbourhood and that the major policy initiative has been

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Holding on, Liverpool

Housing Market Renewal. This process was described in a report

The problem is that this process has become stalled in many

by Anne Power 5. A terraced house would be bought by a private

of today’s ghettos. One problem is the way in which society

landlord and let, perhaps unwittingly, to a problem family. Without

has changed. Social housing estates and Victorian terraced

the protection of a management system the family would wreak

neighbourhoods were once home to large and relatively stable

havoc in the street causing values to fall and other houses to come

working class communities. These neighbourhoods were built on

onto the market. Landlords could take advantage of this by buying

social structures and community ties that sustained the community

up other properties and moving more housing benefit tenants in.

and exerted a degree of control over behaviour. They were not

Even if a small proportion of the benefit tenants caused problems,

without problems but they were self-sustaining. Since that time

the process could transform a sustainable street into a burnt-out

there has been a huge decline in large-scale manufacturing, while

shell in as little as six months with houses once worth ÂŁ30-50,000

government targets seek to get 50% of young people into university.

changing hands for less than a thousand pounds in the local pub. Of

The majority of the working class has been recruited to the middle

course there are other aspects to the problems of terraced housing,

class leaving a small underclass without qualifications, training or

not least the polarisation of white and Muslim communities in many

employment. Increasingly the problem of unsustainable communities

northern towns. That however is a subject for another time.

is the problem of housing this underclass. I am not sure that anyone has yet come up with a convincing answer to this problem.

There is an argument that this process is an extreme example of a natural process within cities. When neighbourhoods fall out of favour and property becomes cheap and easily available an opportunity is created for people seeking to gain a foothold in the city – whether they are new immigrants or creative people looking for space to work. The energy that these groups bring is an impetus for regeneration of the neighbourhood and a spur to the rejuvenation of the city as a whole. In this argument, ghetto neighbourhoods are indeed a vital part of the system and are part of a long cycle of decline and renewal affecting all urban areas.

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////////////////////////////////Article ////////////////////////



Building sustainable communities How do we learn the lessons from the experience of the last 20

to locate the social housing at the unattractive end of the site or in

years and build socially sustainable communities? In one respect

the north-aspect flats facing the ring road. This is not creating mixed

this is easy. All that you need to do is ship out all of the poor people,

communities, it is storing up problems for the future.

knock the housing down, build some nice new private housing, employ some slick marketing, price it competitively (using grant),

We need to relearn the art of building such mixed communities.

invite the minister to open the scheme and... ‘job’s a good-un’! We

There is a great deal of debate about pepper-potting and tenure-

shouldn’t knock this, after all the developers involved in this type of

blind design, but just as important is the design of the public realm.

urban renewal were building cul-de-sacs on green fields only a few

Urban areas have always allowed different activities to mix in a

years ago.

way that controls conflicts. This is achieved with a clear separation between public and private spaces and with a public realm that

However we should be clear which problem we are solving. What

is supervised and activated by surrounding buildings. It is also

happens to the people who used to live in the area? Are they able

achieved in accessible neighbourhoods with easy access to shops,

to buy into the new housing, or are they pushed into other areas?

facilities and employment as well as good quality public transport.

If it is the latter what will stop the problems re-emerging in these

It requires housing types that achieve reasonable densities without

areas? This is the approach taken by most Housing Market Renewal

compromising space standards or creating unsupervised space

Pathfinders and it remains to be seen whether their approach will

such as long internal corridors. Finally it implies neighbourhoods

bring about fundamental change in the local housing markets or just

with a local management presence to deal with problems early

shuffle the incidence of deprivation.

and to maintain the neighbourhood’s fragile balance. This last requirement is the one where we have made least progress and

Creating a socially mixed sustainable community where homeowners

there is great potential in ideas like Community Land Trusts to

live alongside the very poorest in society is more difficult. Yet this

provide this locally controlled management presence.

is what we must do if we are not to condemn the poorest 10% of society to their own ghettos. There was a time when Manchester

At no time in the last fifty years have these issues been so little

used to house all of its problem tenants on the Cardroom Estate

debated. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s the housing of the poor

(now New Islington) based on just this premise but there are not

was a central concern of politicians, professionals and designers

many people who would find this acceptable today.

(admittedly with disappointing and often disastrous results). Today

The premise behind a socially mixed community is based partly

these issues are being dealt with by planning conditions and Section

on the idea of dilution – mixing potential ‘problem’ tenants with a

106 agreement and left to private house builders. As housing once

sufficient number of people to neutralise their effect. However the

more finds its way onto the political agenda, with large increases in

potential of a mixed community is far greater than this. It is true that

house building both private and social announced in the Queen’s

research has shown people living side by side in private and social

Speech, it is important that these issues are better understood.

housing do not mix, but that is not the point. A mixed community

Otherwise we will repeat some very unfortunate mistakes. us

will not be stigmatised, and therefore people will not be judged by their postcode. Local schools will include children from a range of David Rudlin and Nicholas Falk (1999) Building The 21st Century Home: The Sustainable Urban

backgrounds, encouraging aspiration, communities will develop


an internal cohesion helping to control anti-social behaviour; local

Neighbourhood, Architectural Press, Oxford

shops and facilities will benefit from greater local spending power.


Robert Fishman (1987) Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia, Basic Books


David Rudlin, Nicholas Falk, Nicholas Dodd and Sarah Jarvis (2002)

Is this nirvana possible? It is true that not many examples of it

A City of Villages: Promoting a sustainable future for London’s suburbs, Greater London Authority

have been built in recent years. However with the social housing


requirement on private house builders now as high as 50% in the

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

southeast and 20% in most other places, it is a pressing problem that


all developers are going to have to address. It is not good enough

Urban Renaissance, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

urban scrawl

David Page (1993) Building for Communities: a Study of New Housing Estates,

Anne Power, Katharine Mumford (1999) The Slow Death of Great Cities? Urban Abandonment or


////////////////////////////////The Way I See It

The Power of the


The fate of a Manchester icon shows Andrew Kelham what powerful promises the ‘brands’ of our neighbourhoods and cities can make to those who live there. It’s time for us as urban designers to face up to that responsibility

The Hacienda was not rebuilt. No one came home. The brand was completely and utterly bastardised.

It was knocked down and in its place a

When done well, branding is a powerful tool

tawdry block of flats (not apartments,

that places buildings and neighbourhoods

there is a difference) with low ceilings,

in a wider story, filling them with

economical room sizes and ground floor

compassion, ethic and personality whilst

car parking was created. An entirely

acting as a magnet to draw people into a

average development trading on a history

narrative they can articulate and actualise

it had no part in creating and will take no

once within. When done badly, branding is

share in perpetuating is just one example

a developer using an anti-capitalist motif

of how developers and designers are

to market a product aiming at maximising

mythologizing the urban renaissance with

financial yield and nothing more than

a false sense of scale and importance that

the crude amalgamation of ideas into an

threatens to undermine the work of the

embarrassingly gaudy pastiche.

entire profession.

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We came to rely on brands to give us meaning in the modern era

Branding and cities have had a vaguely

became increasingly imbued with emotional

Our work as designers is to brand as part

reciprocal history; industrialisation focused

and relational value to further draw the

of our processes and to realise that we are

the world around its cities and with rapid

consumer into a relationship offered only by

facilitators of a relationship between the

growth came production on a scale never

that brand. Eventually we came to rely on

people and the products of the modern

before witnessed. Goods once created in

brands to give us meaning in the modern

city. This requires an honesty that has

local communities now had to compete

era the way we used to rely on cities to give

perhaps been lacking in recent years, too

with mass replicated products born

us work in the industrial era.

often and too easily does a scheme get

in factories and shipped far and wide.

designed, detailed and then badged with a

These goods were initially branded in a

Where once the growth of the city created

brochure that encourages people to ‘live,

physical manner as the company mark was

the brand, now the power of the brand

work and play’ or ‘eat, sleep and relax’

scorched into barrels and containers but

is recreating and redefining the city that

when the reality of life in that development

later they were packaged and presented

birthed it.

will more resemble ‘work, work and binge

in a standardised form to attract the

drink’ or ‘work, stress and slowly die’.

consumer. This packaging formed an

How do we respond to this situation?

offer that was expanded and expounded

Should we design our masterplans, our

alongside communication infrastructure and

buildings and our wider cities then brand

with print, radio and television the products

them to enhance their market value and

contd. p.18

We are facilitators of a

public perception? No. Because then we end up with empty slogans such as ‘Leeds,

relationship between the

Live It, Love It’ and buildings tainted by association with values it has no sympathy

people and the products of

for and no ability to engage with.

the modern city

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Insert Supplement*

* The supplement will be published following the event ‘Branding, Bullshit and the Built Environment’ to be held at Cube Gallery on 21st November 2007. For more information on the event go to www.urbed.coop

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////////////////////////////////The Way I See It

If a masterplan is a promise then a lot of us have told lies. This needs to change

We need to address our responsibilities

monolithic residential blocks sandwiched

What we design is a reflection of

and realise masterplanning is becoming

between a large train station, an 18,000

ourselves, a refraction of client will and

so much more than a spatial framework

plus seat arena and a sizeable distributor

a re-imagination of a future unknown;

for the development of our urban

road being called a green quarter, an

the combination of these elements is

neighbourhoods and quarters: it is the

oasis or a true urban village. But we do

the metaphysical fabric woven into the

foundation of an identity with principles,

laugh (and sometimes cry), because

essence of the end product. We need to be

priorities and psychological implications

these attempts to qualify, justify and

alive to the story that we may have been

for those that choose to engage in the

post-rationalise with prolix just sound like

unwittingly creating whilst responding to

consumption of the residential, social or

bollocks. It is entirely possible to confuse

the brief; we brand as we work and we

fiscal opportunities created by it.

‘placemaking’ with pisstaking, and when

need to become much more active in the

we apply branding without circumspect,

definition of the drawing to ensure the

truth and self-awareness in the aftermath

ideas and ethics contained abstrusely can

It is a statement of intent.

of design we firmly engage in the latter

be affirmed by the thousand touches that

A social contract.

rather than the former.

will lead to its eventual realisation.

A promise.

Perhaps we were scared because we

Buildings need branding in the modern city

confused branding with commodifying,

and branding has rebuilt the need for the

If a masterplan is a promise then a lot of us

perhaps we had a genuine desire for the

modern city. We live in this tension, we play

have told lies within our building lines. This

scheme to be value neutral until people

in this tension, and we work in this tension.

needs to change. We need to change.

could define values of the place or perhaps

We do everything in this tension, it’s time

we were just too busy; either way we have

we realised it and addressed it. us

We need to understand that branding is not something another consultant does once we have finished the design work and handed the drawings over to the client. If that were true you would not laugh at the idea of a set of thinly veiled

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missed the point.


Pride Jamie Anderson asks the question – is ‘Manchester’ a brand?

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////////////////////////////////The Way I See It

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Is it possible to capture the energy, flamboyance, the irregularity of Manchester’s gay community in new places and their branding?

urban scrawl


////////////////////////////////The Way I See It

Can branding ever be honest?

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Branding, Bullshit & the Built Environment

The way that developments are described is all about what young buyers want to hear, such as notions of a green lifestyle or living in an urban quarter. The gulf between these concepts and the reality of the

David Rudlin asks how we were made to

development can be huge but somehow it can be bridged with the right words.

reconsider our attitudes to urban areas

The same is true of urban areas in general. Talk something down, slag it off in the press, emphasise the negatives, the crime, the pollution, poverty and dirt and people

As poets, politicians and advertising

come to see this as reality. Conversely tell

copywriters all know, if you want to change

people that ‘things can only get better’ – in

hearts and minds there is nothing more powerful than language. The right word

The gulf between concept and

or carefully crafted phrase can make the unpalatable acceptable, convert the

reality can be bridged with the

sceptic and change the way that people feel. This applies as much to the built

right words

environment as it does to toothpaste or corporate image.

the words of the song by Manchester’s M People – and, in the hands of a skilled

The power of words can influence how

communicator like the Labour Party circa

people feel about urban areas, about

1996 or Manchester City Council after the

particular places or indeed about an

IRA bomb the same year, it becomes a

apartment they are considering buying.

promise people will start to believe.

These words can sometimes have little to do with notions of truth and reality – words can turn snake oil into medicine or indeed a fourteen-storey slab block into a ‘Green Quarter’.

urban scrawl


////////////////////////////////The Way I See It

extended focus groups across the country to understand how people really felt about urban areas 1 . The research showed how there were conflicting messages about the city. On the one hand there was a set of positive images in the media about cool urban lifestyles. Tom Bloxham recalls the impact of the building society advert of the late 1980s in which some cool dude lounges on a warehouse apartment

newspaper or tune into a local news

balcony to the strains of ‘easy like Sunday

programme and every other story is

morning’. The irony, he points out, is that

about murder, rape, theft, and anti-social

the same building society was refusing to

behaviour together with a healthy mix of

The ten years since 1996 have shown that

mortgage apartments in Urban Splash’s

public sector incompetence. The reason

attitudes can change, both in general – the

first scheme in Manchester. However

for this is largely economic – it is cheaper

way people feel about living and working

the developers of the early city centre

to send a reporter to the local courts than

in urban areas, and specifically – the

apartments were quick to pick up on this

to go out looking for news, however it

transformation in the image of cities like

cool image. What they were selling was

also taps into the fear and prejudices of

Manchester and Liverpool. In both cases

not the location, or indeed the apartment,

the reader. As a result fear of crime has

language and marketing have played a

but a lifestyle – the ‘Friends’ lifestyle as the

risen during a period when actual crime

major part in this transformation, not just in

focus groups put it. They were appealing

has fallen.

communicating the improvements that have taken place, but also in creating confidence

Fear of crime has risen during a period

and a perception of success as a vital component in making change happen.

when crime has actually fallen

Because of this we have devoted much of

to the ego and self-image of the potential

this first issue of Urban Scrawl to language

buyer who was pictured as someone

and the built environment. Those of us

with ‘discerning taste, cosmopolitan and

trying to regenerate urban areas need to

urbane… seeking to step out from the herd

learn from the snake oil salesmen and

as represented by suburbia’.

turn their tricks to our advantage. Back in

Set against this is the picture of the city

1999 URBED’s small contribution to the

painted in the media. Pick up any local

work of the Urban Task Force focussed on just this issue. Together with MORI and Bristol University we ran a series of 1

But would you live there? Shaping attitudes to urban living - MORI, URBED and the

School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, published by the Urban Task Force, February 1999, available on the URBED web site http://www.urbed.coop/

24 //ISSUE 1


In our focus groups for the ‘But would you live there?’ research, people’s aspirations and anxieties about urban areas were also expressed through language. Despite the

‘Urban is smog, it is traffic, it is

picture painted by local newspapers, people were surprisingly positive about urban areas

noise, constant noise, it is malls, I

but they very rarely used the words ‘urban’, ‘mixed use’, ‘brownfield’ or ‘density’ in a

don’t know, purgatory, hell’

positive way… ‘Urban is smog, it is traffic, it is noise, constant noise, it is malls, it is Woolworth, Boots, I don’t know, purgatory hell…’ Yet the words that were cited as

This is particularly damaging in cities where

The local newspaper is very important

‘positive’, including ‘city’, ‘lifestyle’, ‘vibrant’,

crime is seen to be concentrated and

in this respect. This is partly because of

‘central’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ strangely enough

which many people in our focus groups

its influence on its readership but also

mean the same thing. While we urbanists

perceived to be threatening and dangerous

because the national media trawls the

continue to use the unpopular words, there

despite not having personal experience of

local media for stories. The jaundiced view

are no prizes for guessing which words

urban crime.

that the people of Birmingham had of the

appear on advertising hoardings for new

Some of the students in the Manchester

city in the 1990s was due in part to the

apartment blocks across the country, an

focus group suggested that their parents

relentlessly negative reporting of the city

increasing number of which are neither

had not wanted them to move to the city

and the council by the then Birmingham

vibrant and central nor cosmopolitan. The

because of the picture painted by series

Evening Mail. In the 1990s there were

huge increase in urban living and the revival

like Cracker.

discussions between Manchester City

of Britain’s cities in the last ten years is

Council and the city’s Evening News about

testament to the power of these words. The

the prominence given to crime in the paper.

challenge of urbanists is to reduce the gulf

There was apparently an agreement not to

between the words and reality. us

splash every shooting over the front page because of a recognition that this was fuelling the violence. The result was that the city seemed less dangerous and stories of gangland shootings no longer appeared quite so regularly in the national media – unlike Liverpool and Birmingham. It is not clear whether actual violent crime in Manchester fell as a result of this, but it may well have been another example of words creating their own reality.

urban scrawl



Setting the pace Sarah Jarvis meets a developer with a refreshing approach to the places he is making Chris Brown, Chief Executive of Igloo

including Atwood Green in Birmingham

He concedes that this may sound

Regeneration Fund, does triathlons. He

which has had its name changed to Park

patronising, but thinks that the mass

says that running is the best way to see

Central, and the ‘extension’ of Castlefield

market must be buying into what we might

a city (“walking is OK but you see more

in Manchester across the Mancunian Way.

see as crass brands – otherwise why do it?

when you run”) and a few weeks ago it was

Brown struggles to understand why this

the new developments around Bristol’s

strategy is so popular, particularly with

“There will inevitably be a difference

Floating Harbour that were getting this

volume house builders.

between placemakers without

expert runner’s once-over. It would be

preconceptions aiming to create vibrant,

fair to say that he wasn’t encouraged by

“Why do they do it? I don’t know. We

authentic places and manufacturers of

everything he saw:

don’t do it. Almost every other developer

a standard, volume product that doesn’t

wants to come up with new names. I think

respond to the place - and so the

“Single use, no through routes, blank

the difference is that the Igloo market

marketing of it doesn’t respond to the

frontages, dead at weekends – we don’t

is generally sophisticated, creative,

place either.”

seem to have learned anything about

interested in things being authentic


and real. How many places called ‘The Quadrant’’ do we need?”

Another area that caused concern was Harbourside, formerly known as Canon’s Marsh. “The masterplanned scheme is a lot better than it was”, Brown suggests

adding “but then it was let down by some truly rubbish architecture”.

While poor commercial architecture is certainly not unique to Bristol, neither is this desire to change a name in order to change the perception of a scheme or neighbourhood. There are examples all over the country and Brown cites several,

26 //ISSUE 1

> >

diplomatically, but then thinks better of it,

Leeds Round Foundry


We are meeting in Bermondsey Street

“The site was already known as

left empty for other artists. A 70-seat

London SE1 at The Garrison, an elegantly

Bermondsey Square in the AtoZ. It is the

community cinema and bar will be let

pale gastropub of the artfully mismatched

site of one of the most famous antiques

initially at 60% of the going commercial

chairs and optimistic prices variety.

markets in London. Why on earth would

market rate to a local filmmaker who has

Opposite stands the Cockfighter of

we want to change it?” Brown asks.

been teaching film-making skills to young people on local estates for years. Three

Bermondsey boutique and on the next corner is the striking orange and pink

Instead Igloo has spent 12 months

films have already been commissioned on

ftm – the Fashion and Textile Museum

promoting not only Bermondsey Square

the neighbourhood – about the street, the

founded by Zandra Rhodes, though this is

but also its surrounding neighbourhood.

market traders and community reactions

currently closed. With his laptop open on a

This includes sponsorship of a local

to the development – and were shown at

table in the window Brown has a ringside

football team and an investment of £1500

the festival. Brown insists that there was no

seat to keep an eye on the main artery of

to support a festival. Graffiti artists have

editorial control.

the London neighbourhood where Igloo

been employed to illustrate hoardings

is currently developing the 14,000 sq m

around the site, but they have also been

mixed use Bermondsey Square.

commissioned with curating the spaces

> >

Bermondsey Square

urban scrawl



The mixed-use design has been guided

One crucial difference between Igloo and

There is an incentive therefore that once

by the Socially Responsible Investment

other developers is that rather than sell off

completed the place should work well.

principles, the Igloo Footprint, developed

the scheme as the investor they have a

Igloo has employed Creative Space

for all of Igloo’s investments (see box

long-term interest in the development.

Management, originally from the Round

below). A second core inserted into the

Foundry in Leeds and winners of the RICS

5000 sq ft floorplates allows workspace

“This might all sound great, but I also have

Property Facility Manager of the Year

units to be subdivided to a more affordable

to be able to justify not maximising short

Award, beating the established market

600 sq ft, thus attracting start-up

term commercial returns to my investors

leaders. Their strength, Brown believes,

businesses in the creative industries. An

– the people who have their pensions

lies in their background in customer

independent hotel operator has signed, but

invested in Morley’s funds. But I genuinely

service rather than property. They set

more difficult was letting the food outlet –

believe that in creating an awareness

up and manage locally and have their

of, and a value in these places, other

own budget. Whereas the service charge

“initially we wanted an independent

people will invest and want to be here too.

for a development usually only covers

organic food company. Food is in our

Bermondsey Square is the brand here and

maintenance, cleaning etc, in an Igloo

SRI policy, but either the unit wasn’t big

I don’t mind whether people associate that

scheme there is an additional pot of money

enough or smaller companies weren’t

with Igloo or not. We are always looking to

for the local community. This community

ready to expand yet”.

reinforce local identities, not change them”.

fund has a wider definition than the development itself and can make small

They have now let it to Sainsbury’s. Brown

grants to local groups, like the festival and

also stresses the need to identify and work

the local football team. And running is a

with established community groups already

good way to see a city.

doing good work in a neighbourhood – in this scheme the Bermondsey Street Area Partnership, run entirely by volunteers and with a proven commitment to the area.

28 //ISSUE 1



URBED’s work with Igloo Igloo Regeneration Partnership commissioned URBED to develop and audit its Footprint – a bespoke assessment tool by which the fund implements its Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) policy. This policy is designed to deliver benefits by generating social, economic, environmental and financial value in edge of city-centre locations and has led to the United Nations describing Igloo as the world’s frst sustainable property fund. Igloo is a partnership of pension and life funds managed by

Schemes are assessed at key stages in the development

Morley Fund Management, which invests in and develops urban

process, including site acquisition, outline and detailed planning,

regeneration sites across the UK. Igloo currently has 23 projects

construction and post-occupancy. SRI policy implementation is

with a completed development value of £2.5bn creating 8,500

steered by the Socially Responsible Investment Committee which

homes and 10,000 jobs on around 250 acres of brownfield


land. Igloo continues to market for further equity and is actively assessing new development opportunities on the fringes of the UK’s top twenty city centres.

• Sir Jonathan Porritt, Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission and Founder Director of Forum for the Future • Professor Anne Power, Professor of Social Policy, London

The aim of the SRI policy is to screen and assess urban

School of Economics

regeneration schemes for their SRI characteristics. URBED

• Paul King, Chief Executive of the Green Buildings Council

assesses the performance of each Igloo scheme against 17

• George Fergusson, Past President of the RIBA

policies under three SRI themes: Footprint is unique in a sector where there is no shortage of • Regeneration – Investing in the regeneration of the social,

sustainable development guidance, but a lack of clear strategic

physical and economic fabric of urban neighbourhoods;

framework. Footprint encourages developers and project teams

• Environmental Sustainability – Investing in urban

to think more strategically, while emphasising the need to respond

development and patterns of resource use that are more

to the opportunities of each specific site and its context, including

environmentally sustainable;

engagement with stakeholders.

• Urban Design – Investing in an urban renaissance through the design of buildings and public realm that are distinctive, vibrant and urban in character.

For more information on sustainability appraisals, contact Nick Dodd at URBED

These themes are based on the belief that Igloo’s investments will


perform better if they contribute to the regeneration of the area they are in (and therefore benefit from that regeneration) if they are environmentally sustainable (and therefore future-proofed against higher energy costs for example), and if they are well designed (and therefore more attractive to occupiers). urban scrawl


////////////////////////////////A letter from.......

Why we must make it more attractive for people to live in apartments The economic resurgence of the Irish Economy has had many positive effects. However the impact on Ireland’s built environment has not always been so positive, throwing into stark focus many of the issues of sprawl and urban renaissance experienced across Europe. In the first in a series of occasional letters from Dublin, Irish Times Environment Editor Frank McDonald argues that while we can’t undo the damage done in the past decade by the growth of far flung commuter suburbs, we can still create sustainable non car-dependent communities in viable mixed-use urban areas. Dublin Lord Mayor Paddy Burke told a recent conference on urban

So people voted with their wheels. They went to places like

sprawl, organised by the City Council and the Institute of Public

Wicklow, Arklow, Gorey, Carlow, Portarlington, Portlaoise,

Administration, that there was something in the Irish psyche that

Mullingar, Tullamore, Longford, Cavan, Virginia and

made it impossible to imagine raising a family in an apartment.

Carrickmacross, to name but a dozen of the towns in Dublin’s

What people want, the Lord Mayor told everyone, was a house

commuter belt that now stretches to 100km. Houses were more

of their own with a front and back garden where kids could play

affordable in these places, so Dublin leapfrogged all over Leinster

safely. Even tenants in inner city Corporation flat complexes, many

and even into Ulster. This was completely contrary to stated

of whom had raised children there, aspired to having a house in the

public policy, in the 1999 Greater Dublin Area Strategic Planning

suburbs, he said.

Guidelines, about the need to consolidate the metropolitan area.

Given that the conference was focused on successful apartment

The explosion of Dublin was being facilitated by the Government’s

living as a way of combating sprawl, his remarks were off message

motorway programme, with new roads cutting journey times for

– certainly for the architects, planners and city officials who seek

long-distance commuting – even though many living in the outer

to promote higher density housing as an alternative to endless

commuter belt spend four hours a day driving to and from work.

expansion. But the Lord Mayor had a point. Unlike our continental

It goes without saying that this almost wholly car-dependent

European cousins, we have cultural attachment to being kings

pattern of development is environmentally unsustainable, with

in our own castles; how else can one explain the proliferation of

carbon dioxide emissions from transport up by 150% since 1990.

one-off houses in the countryside, removed from basic services in

The social costs of long-distance commuters losing valuable time

towns and villages?

are incalculable.

This cultural issue was compounded from the mid-1990s onwards

We cannot undo the facts created on the ground since the mid-

by the lack of availability of affordable housing of any kind in Dublin

1990s. What we can do is to ensure that future population growth

to accommodate our rapidly expanding population. Prices went up

is used as an engine to drive sustainable development, putting the

year after year, driven by the crude laws of supply and demand.

emphasis on creating walkable communities in viable, mixed-use

30 //ISSUE 1

> >


Temple Bar, Dublin

urban areas. We need to create the conditions that would make it

than in exceptional cases such as student accommodation. All

more attractive for people, including families, to live in apartment

apartments with two or more bedrooms should be designed with

buildings. And that doesn’t just mean making apartments more

the needs of children in mind, the new guidelines say, adding that

commodious than the huge number of shoebox flats that were

the recreational needs of children need to be planned for from the

built in the early 1990s.

outset as experience had shown that children will play everywhere.

As the city of Vancouver in Canada recognised as long ago

These guidelines have since been supplemented by new DoE

as 1992 in its pioneering guidelines, High Density Housing

planning guidelines on sustainable urban housing, which

for Families with Children, the external environment is equally

incorporate a revision of the 1999 residential density guidelines,

important if family living in the city is to be translated from planning

as well as what’s billed as a best practice handbook on urban

lip-service into an everyday reality.

design and housing layouts. Dublin City Council has gone a step further by adopting even higher standards for the spatial quality

The Vancouver guidelines specify that family housing, usually in

of apartments, insisting – against strong opposition from property

condominium towers, should be located within 800 metres walking

developers and estate agents – that they must be significantly

distance of an elementary school, daycare centre and grocery

larger than the shoebox flats of the past.

shopping, and within 400 metres of a playground and public transport stop. The guidelines also go into detail about the facilities

But we should not forget that apartment living and even the very

that family units should have, including bedrooms with sufficient

concept of mixed-use areas involves a degree of live and let live.

floor space for playing, generous hallways with room for toys and

As I know from living in Temple Bar for the past 12 years, one’s

equipment, secure indoor storage for bicycles, and private or

quality of life can quite easily deteriorate because of excessive

semi-private outdoor spaces. There should be a sufficient number

levels of noise. Last year, the Green Party tabled a Private

of family units in a project to give children peers to play with, to

Members’ Bill on neighbourhood noise, which would have given

encourage a sense of community and to support the provision

powers to local authorities to deal effectively with this form of

of adequate amenities for families with children – designed to

pollution. It was defeated at the time, but hopefully will now

maximise sunlight, especially in winter.

be revived in some form. It is also very important that owneroccupation of apartments in town is encouraged to the greatest

There are signs that this message is finally getting through. In

possible extent.

its review of the 1995 apartment design guidelines, published last January, the Department of the Environment laid down new

A community cannot be built on transient or short-let flats – it

minimum standards aimed at providing better living spaces for

needs the building blocks provided by people with a real stake in

flat-dwellers. To make apartment living more family-friendly, the

the future of an area. us

guidelines specify that no more than 10-15% of any scheme of 20 or more apartments should be of the one-bedroom type, other

urban scrawl

© 2007 The Irish Times


do this, having lived and worked in the various incarnations of this “mundane and radical” place from the 1970s to the present day.

What’s next?////The second edition of Urban Scrawl will put the illuminating Manchester neighbourhood of Hulme under the microscope. Members of the URBED Coop are uniquely qualified to

A few quotes from the Dictionary of Urbanism


A derisive term for the sort of suburban landscape where

residents have plaster gnomes in their front gardens.


The word means towns in the language of the fictional Vril-ya

Country, as described by Lord Lytton in The Coming Race (1871). Vril-ya Country, which seems to lie beneath Newcastle-upon-Tyne, is inhabited by large winged creatures that live according to the maxim: “No happiness without order, no order without authority, no authority without unity”.


A surface that has been wiped almost clear and is ready

to be used again. The term, traditionally describing manuscripts that are to be reused, also describes the way in which continuous rebuilding in cities rarely quite obliterates the evidence of previous generations (despite some strenuous recent efforts). The word is from the Greek palimpsestos, meaning ‘rubbed smooth again’.

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