The East London Green Grid (ELGG) is the kind of creative, coherent and large-scale urban proposal that we see precious few of in the UK. It is a truism to say that the UK lacks a planning culture – the last generation of planners with a genuine design education is today approaching retirement, and younger practices are rarely equipped to attempt or compete for large-scale masterplans. Design for London’s (DfL’s) work is a marker for a thoughtful and ambitious contemporary urbanism.
But it is also a sign of what urban design has become today. In many ways the ELGG is just a way of branding a series of disparate and hitherto unassociated projects into the semblance of a strategy. It is also a polemical attempt to ensure that due attention is paid to green spaces in the rush to densify and develop the area east of London. The ELGG, DfL hopes, will become a powerful brand, helping to secure funding for individual projects and also to defend public open spaces. It exemplifies DfL’s ‘catch and steer’ approach, rather than defining a top-down plan for East London.
The graphic approach of the six different area frameworks is beautiful and clear, in stark contrast to much of what passes for strategic drawing in this country. I spoke at a symposium this week where I showed a drawing by English Partnerships entitled ‘Station Quarter Masterplan’ (for a town that shall remain nameless). The drawing consisted of an OS map with a big red line around two city blocks. And that was it.
You probably will have noticed that the AJ has been tackling urbanism in a serious way in recent weeks, with stories about Barking, Hull and Milton Keynes among others. But time and again while researching these features we have come up against the same problem – no-one has a drawing that can adequately sum up a strategic approach to a place. For this alone, DfL should be congratulated. The ELGG documents show how to communicate a large-scale vision characterfully, clearly and with depth.
Click here to take a look at critical appraisal of the ELGG documents by Jaffer Kolb, our features editor and himself an urban design graduate from the London School of Economics.