On Tuesday Evening HTA Design LLP and the NLA hosted a Pecha Kucha to explore and interrogate the concept of ‘Supurbia’ which HTA have been championing since 2008. The event was held at the NLA/Building Centre and was kindly chaired by Peter Murray. The event had a line-up of 8 fantastic presentations giving short and sweet snapshots of Supurbia through a diverse range of lenses covering the breadth of urban planning issues - from politics to planning and from self-driving cars to self-build.
The broad consensus was that “the vision is alluring but the politics will be difficult” - according to HTA Design’s chair and RIBA President Elect.
Kathryn Firth kicked off the event with a plea to re-model suburban retail parks, to shift away from single-use planning, and instead create thriving mixed-use neighbourhoods for people to live in. Her thinking spanned back to her thesis, a sign that our suburbs has been high on the agenda for a long time, little has changed.
Kat Hanna put forward an engaging account of how the suburbs are changing, driven by changing demographics. She pondered upon the future of the suburbs given the demise of the Outer London Commission, and observed we’re witnessing creation of ‘suburban cellulite’ through uneven suburban development.
Riette Oosthuizen and Melanie Forster-Nel from HTA Design examined the latent potential of the suburbs to accommodate well-designed growth around stations with PTAL ratings of 3 and above, suggesting there’s capacity for approximately 710,000 homes in our outer London boroughs across three areas of varying degrees of design intervention and densification.
Nicholas Boys Smith put beauty back on the agenda, with a series of propositions of how different areas of London could be beautified and densified concurrently. Nicholas showed how when local residents find proposals for new development beautiful they are far more likely to say Yes in My Back Yard!
Yolande Barnes examined the economic case for enabling intensification of the suburbs, suggesting that value uplifts for homeowners willing to take on the challenge could be up to £194,000. She presented the case that the financial gain alone would incentivise small scale change.
Rachel Skinner put forward the case of how people’s transport choices are already changing, with second car ownership on the decline, thanks to the rising proliferation of sharing innovations like car clubs. She suggested the future of suburbs had an opportunity to unlock potential, and decision makers should shape and drive changes before it happens.
Gus Zogolovitch presented Supurbia in action, with examples of delightful suburban developments, by Solidspace where he is a director. He suggested there was a wide-ranging spectrum between total self-build to custom-build enabling user choice in key aspects, and that there was space in the UK market for this whole spectrum to be added to.
Rory Bergin wrapped off the presentations with a look at how environmental and ecological benefits could be tapped into through Supurbia-style development, with the opportunity for homeowners to retro-fit their homes at the same time as creating new homes in their back garden.
A lively discussion followed from how suburban development would affect the hedgehogs, to how the vision could be made a reality by instigating cultural change and political acceptance. The conclusion was that the suburbs are already changing, and both industry and political leaders need to boldly lead how we shape the change.