How to Make Cities

London has some exceptional examples of how the art of placemaking has been used to overcome very significant economic and physical barriers and allowed major development schemes to repair damaged or unattractive parts of the urban fabric. If these projects show anything it’s this, just spending money to overcome constraints isn’t enough. It’s much more sophisticated than that.

Placemaking is the art of creating distinctive and rich identities for new developments that make them attractive and successful places to work and live.  After the event, successful developments often look like foregone conclusions, so obvious that the idea they might once have needed to be carefully curated and shaped seems redundant. It’s easy to forget that even the biggest schemes   like Canary Wharf and Kings Cross had uncertain beginnings and started from a blank piece of paper and some challenging, often legacy or heritage constraints that had to be turned to advantage if the projects were to become successful.

Successful placemaking is a tool that optimises value, and drives sales and lettings through amplifying the unique qualities of the setting. A good development, of any scale, contributes to the wider area without duplicating existing amenities and facilities. Looking beyond the boundary of a site can reveal these opportunities, as well as ensuring spatial and social connectivity rather than insular environments that lack character.  Acknowledging what makes an area distinctive and then cultivating and connecting those special characteristics can help integrate new proposals into their surroundings.

In our work with major occupiers taking space at Canary Wharf or Kings Cross, and now at Stratford which is at an earlier stage of evolution, a common feature has been the strong appeal of the long term vision for larger regeneration projects. Occupiers are attracted to the idea of being early adopters, buying or leasing before the crowds arrive and popularity drives the prices up.

For developers, creating that vision, being able to back it up with an attractive masterplan and having deep enough pockets to fund the often expensive enabling and infrastructure works are the basic ingredients of success. Beyond this, customers want conviction and confidence about delivery.  Phasing plans lie at the heart of this. Creating a narrative to show how development will happen over time and doing enough to ensure that first phase uses are supported by complementary uses is fundamental.   Doing all of this, maintaining momentum, and responding at the same time to the ebb and flow of market cycles means it’s not a job for the faint hearted.  When it works well however, it’s capable of making some of the most attractive and distinctive new places in our cities.



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