Revisiting Post-Olympics Regeneration in London: Is Chobham Manor the New Pruitt-Igoe?

 

In preparing a report for my university’s Office of Internationalization on last winter’s trip to research Post-Olympics regeneration in London (some preliminary notes are here), I came across this review in The Guardian by Oliver Wainwright.  His piece is pretty critical of what’s been built so far.  But Wainwright also assigns credit where it’s due to those designers and architects endeavoring to create neighborhoods and buildings that preserve a sense of place.  Reader comments nicely update the range of prevailing public sentiment about the regeneration schemes.  They include this one by a critic (“Gray 62”) of some rising residential architecture:

Looking at the Chobham Manor photo, I believe I see the slums of tomorrow! What is the difference between these uniform, huge heaps of concrete and the equally ugly social housing projects of the 70s, pray tell?

I was similarly struck by the photo and the answer to Gray 62’s question seems to be not much, at least on the surface:

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Chobham Manor (left); Pruitt-Igoe, St. Louis (right)

Gray 62 continues:

Where is there any progress in urban planning and design? Is anybody eager to be an ant in this megalomaniac fascist dream of anti-social architects?

To which “NorthLondonNick” offers this response:

Time will tell…but I was at Stratford on Sunday and, whilst I agree about the slightly ludicrous heights of the tower blocks, was struck by a completely different feeling.  The one I felt was hope and optimism. A waste land has become a hub of transport, business and housing. A child growing up here is three tube stops from The City, seven or so from the West End. It is vibrant and it is energising to feel the vibrancy there.  So long as the new schools [and residences?]  are of a good quality then I think this will become one of  the best places to live in London. What life opportunities this presents!

The Guardian‘s Wainwright channels a broadly similar but much more guarded sentiment in his closing paragraph, along with a couple of other righteous observations of more general interest and relevance for urbanists:

Despite all the blunders around the edge of the site, there are reasons to be optimistic. The communities within could yet be successful. But an uneasy fact remains: that building on the site of a global event—making workable streets from tarmac wastes and weaving housing around velodromes—is a difficult and expensive way of producing a good city. When it comes to building careful, generous places, do we really need the Olympics as an excuse?

 

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