THAMES GATEWAY VISIONS FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL AMONG MYRIAD COMMITTEES
Ravaged by industry and years of neglect, there is a passing similarity between London's Thames Gateway area and the post-industrial landscape of East Germany (landscape study, pages 25-37).
The former has been singled out as the means of providing badly needed housing, while the latter is being developed as a vast amenity area in a region with a declining population. Both are being reinvented to meet society's current needs.
The German project is characterised by a constant engagement with the natural landscape (compare this to our inability to grapple even with such a self-evident reality as the existence of the River Thames) and a reverential attitude to the relics of the area's previous incarnation as a region of open-cast lignite mines. The inventive reuse of industrial structures and the aesthetic appreciation of slag heaps contrasts with our own blithe assumption that the regeneration of the Thames Gateway is dependent on purging the evidence of its own industrial past.
The many and disparate development projects that make up the German regeneration scheme are united under the guidance of a single enabling body with an overriding vision and clearly defined role. Not that there is an absence of vision for the Thames Gateway area. Terry Farrell has put forward his proposal for 'an intellectual framework for petits projets' and Richard Rogers has called for an intensive top-down regeneration strategy along the lines of that implemented by Pasqual Maragall in the years leading up to the Barcelona Olympics. But without endorsement by the ODPM, both visions are fighting for survival among the myriad committees, authorities and statutory bodies which lay claim to the area's development plans.
There is room for multiple interests. But the absence of powerful leadership is engendering mediocrity and chaos. Is it so hard to establish a structure that provides a coherent vision but allows individual initiatives to thrive?