London, United Kingdom
Population: 8.7 Million
The largest city in western Europe and the UK’s capital, London is a global leader in various sectors from the arts and entertainment industries to education and finance. It is also a very green city, with an extensive network of parks, green space, rivers and open water. Over the centuries, London has attracted people from all over the world, making it one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.
London’s CLEVER Action Lab: Thamesmead
Located 15km from the City Centre, Thamesmead is in south-east London on the south bank of the river Thames.
Thamesmead is a neighbourhood, with a unique history and an existing community of over 45,000 people. It has a vibrant and multi-cultural population and has seen significant change in demographics in the last thirty years. Thamesmead, once a predominately white working class new town, now has 63% of its residents from black and minority ethnic groups, compared to the London average of 55%. The population in Thamesmead is expected to double in the next 50 years with new housing being built and improved transport connections underway. There is a recognition that this growth will bring further demographic changes and social integration challenges.
Thamesmead is an architecturally iconic public-housing estate, designed and built by the Greater London Council in the 1960’s. It was conceived to address the post war housing crisis and tackle some of the problems associated with tenement living. It had an ambitious plan to be a utopia of affordable housing with green spaces and lakes for residents to enjoy. As the estate is situated on the Thames floodplain, these open spaces were also designed to hold flood water in the event of extensive tidal flooding, which prior to the introduction of the Thames Barrier in 1984 was a significant risk. In many ways the estate is an early example of nature-based solutions in use.
The first swath of development created concrete towers and low-rise homes, elevated from the ground to protect from flooding, and connected by walkways and terraces to encourage mobility and community interaction. Other parts of Thamesmead, built in the 1970s and 1980s, moved away from this model and focused on building more typical suburban street layout of cul-de-sacs.
Sadly, through poor design many of the interventions did not work well for the residents and resulted in many unintended consequences. Coupled by lack of sufficient investment by previous estate management companies, most of the estate has declined over the years and is in much need of regeneration and reimagining. The layout of the estate is confusing, resulting in poor legibility and often a sense of isolation. Communal terraces have been sub-divided by residents to create defensible spaces. The elevated walkways are poorly lit and considered unsafe places to walk. Underpasses and garages have become places for anti-social behavior. Lakes and greenspaces are underused due to poor access routes and orientation. The green spaces are inactive and provide limited amenity value to many residents.
The iconic imagery of the concrete Thamesmead high-rises has provided the location for various films ranging from ‘A Clockwork Orange’ to ‘Beautiful Thing’. However, by using the Thamesmead estate as a brutalist setting these films have contributed to the idea that Thamesmead is a failed estate. This functional landscape needs to be reimagined and reactivated to restore and reinforce some of these previous design ideas and ambitions.
Peabody, London’s most established social landlord, has been responsible for the whole estate since 2014, and has embarked on a long-term £1.5 billion programme of investment; consequently, Thamesmead is not only the biggest regeneration projects in London but one of the biggest in the UK. Peabody know that the quality of a place is hugely important, and that happiness and health is intimately related to the places where people live and work, and a poor-quality environment has a huge impact on people’s lives. They recognise the value of using nature-based solutions to create quality great places where people want to live and thrive.
Thamesmead Action Lab
CLEVER Cities provides a unique opportunity, through the creation of Thamesmead Action Labs, to reveal the potential and value of the green spaces and natural assets of the area. The Action Labs are based in the neighbourhoods of South Thamesmead, specifically Southmere and Parkview, each with a distinct look and feel and a variety of attributes and challenges.
In each of the Action Labs, Peabody are implementing a series of nature-based solutions; ranging from ‘nature-based solutions on the doorstep’ with raingardens in courtyards and swales along walking routes, to the installation of a wetland project to turn an unsightly polluted lake, into a place for leisure and recreation.
CLEVER Cities interventions
CLEVER Cities will be enhancing and adding value by leading the co-design process to shape and design current and future nature-based solutions and work with schools and community networks to co-create solutions to help people better connect with nature and be more active in their daily lives.
CLEVER Cities will also support the evaluation of nature-based solutions to fully understand the social, economic impact of the solutions, in addition to the environmental outcomes.
Through CLEVER Cities, the Action Labs in Thamesmead intends to:
- provide more opportunities for the residents to connect with, and learn about their natural landscapes;
- use nature-based solutions as a means to upskill and improve economic opportunities for residents of Thamesmead;
- develop and implement new ways of community engagement, built on the principles of co-design;
- demonstrate that nature-based solutions can contribute to improving wellbeing for citizens;
- progress the research on valuing the benefits of nature-based solutions in urban regeneration projects; and
- contribute to the evidence base that supports the business case for more nature-based solutions in future regeneration and development projects.
Latest news from London
Making space for nature in Thamesmead
10 October 2019
On the sunny afternoon of 22 September 2019, residents of Maran Way (part of a CLEVER Cities Action Lab) in Thamesmead, London, celebrated ‘Car-free Sunday’ by taking over some parking spaces and using them for a community gathering. The event attracted people of all ages and involved creative, fun and inspiring activities. It was organised within the ‘Making Space for Nature’ campaign - part of the international CLEVER Cities project- which aims to connect Thamesmead residents with the nature in their area and encourage them to participate in the project.
Thamesmead is set to finally live up to its aspirational beginnings
12 June 2019
The Thamesmead Estate, in south east London, was intended to be a model city, with utopian architecture and a vast network of green spaces and waterways that took advantage of its location on the banks of the river Thames. Originally, the town was settled by families escaping from cramped and unfit housing in central London, and is now home to 45,000 residents.
The layout of the estate is confusing and often isolating. Elevated walkways are poorly lit and considered unsafe places to walk. The many green and blue spaces today are inactive and provide limited amenity value to many residents. However, that is all about to change.
Top marks for green cities
22 February 2019
How the CLEVER Cities team can tell whether our nature-based interventions are working
It is common knowledge that living near nature makes you healthier and happier. But is it possible to actually measure this? How can decision-makers make the case for investing in nature-based interventions?
The CLEVER Cities project team is working on coming up with a way to do exactly that through a combination of hard science, citizen science and flexibility. The CLEVER Monitor is designed to be robust enough to provide concrete data on the performance of the nature-based solutions, and is also adaptable enough to account for our learning over time and the differences between cities.
Co-creation - the CLEVER Cities way
14 February 2019
Between October and December 2018 the three front-runner cities of Hamburg, London and Milan took the first steps towards co-creating their CLEVER Cities Action Labs - the specific areas of these cities targeted for green regeneration within the CLEVER Cities project.
Inclusive urban development
But what does co-creation really mean? For the CLEVER Cities project it’s about opening local urban development to non-governmental organisations, foundations, civil society, research institutions and local citizens and businesses, ensuring all jointly design, implement, monitor and ultimately own the project.