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The Thames Gateway needs you to help tackle social inequalities through design

After spending nearly 15 years building wriggly tin sheds all over the UK and Europe, I am an unlikely choice to lead the regeneration of large swathes of East London. Having spent so much time in the development world, I was warned that the public sector would be ‘like swimming across the floor of a cowshed’.

I’m glad to say my experience has been very different. There is complexity and the real opportunity to directly influence the life of London and promote profound change.

The London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (LTGDC) was set up to deliver a step change in the number of homes built and to create jobs. With only a 10-year life-span, the LTGDC has to be much more about revolution than evolution. But we have also set ourselves the task of raising the quality threshold beyond what could be considered reasonable.

George Bernard Shaw said: ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’ It’s not often that a favourite quote is so applicable. We all need to be a bit more ‘unreasonable’.

But where are the architects, planners and developers who can match our ambition with their imagination? During my time at the LTGDC I must have seen more than 200 masterplans from the UK, Europe and beyond. Far too many confuse regeneration with redevelopment. Architecture, in the widest and deepest sense, is what regeneration is about. The physical must embrace the social, cultural, economic and political life.

Our first masterplan is emerging. A year ago we commissioned Erick van Egeraat Architects (EEA) to undertake one of our most important interventions, Canning Town in the London Borough of Newham.
Canning Town comes bottom of the league in most social indices. Here you will die six years younger than you would if you lived in Westminster and, if you are a teenage girl, you are more likely to become pregnant than in any other place in Europe.

The LTGDC is to tackle directly, albeit in a small way, the social inequalities in Canning Town by creating a temporary home, on site, for some of the main agencies (including the Metropolitan Police) to work as a team. This is the preparatory work for the £1.5 billion regeneration of the whole area.
The LTDGC is wedded to this ‘softer’ side of regeneration, with other initiatives, such
as the Aluna tidal-powered moon clock, proposed for a riverside site in East London, and AOC’s touring Lift theatre, both of which focus on the existing communities.

I’m looking to engaging with those architects who get it, who see beyond the physical and have the courage to include memory, affection, local ownership, etc. as important criteria. So if you think you have what it takes – form a disorderly queue.
Jim Sneddon is director of development at the LTGDC


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