Ken Livingstone's development plan for London is an ill-guided attempt to impose order on the city's creative chaosby Paul Barker / May 26, 2007 / Leave a comment
London has always thrived on a gentle version of anarchy. It wasn’t created, or much shaped, by royal or imperial edicts. Nor will it be, I now trust, by mayoral ones. Apropos Ken Livingstone and London, Prospect last month asked: “Is his megalopolis out of control?” To which the best answer is: “Let’s hope so.”
To Prospect Livingstone spoke like a wheeler-dealer, who adapts to almost anything. Not quite so: he is a man with a Plan. “The spatial development strategy for greater London”—otherwise known as the London Plan—was published in 2004. Anyone living in London must pray it is never carried through. The Plan, which is very personal to Livingstone, claims it doesn’t “dictate lifestyles.” But it does.
London’s big burst of new energy—Prospect rightly noted—occurred in the years after 1986, when Livingstone’s previous stamping ground, the Greater London Council, was abolished. Boroughs did deals with central or semi-central agencies. Not the best idea—but it preserved us from a grand design.
The best book ever published on London, in 1934, was by an admiring outsider, Steen Eiler Rasmussen, a Danish architect. He entitled it London: the Unique City. The city’s uniqueness lay in its creative anarchy. London burst its medieval walls far earlier than any continental city. From very early on, it was bipolar: money and commerce in the City of London; royalty and fashion in the City of Westminster. It then grew by bolting suburb on to suburb. It abandoned the old European model; it was the prototype of a new city.
For London, plans have always been bad news. For 30 years after the second world war, thousands of acres were cleared of reusable old homes, and replaced with a Corbusian vision of the future. In much of Southwark and Lambeth, for example, modest Victorian terraces, built for craftsmen and clerks, were bulldozed in favour of “the plan.” Decks of flats arose. Later, with my young son, we went to see them blown up, often to the sound of music and little funfairs.
With his planning powers, Livingstone now hopes to force people again into tightly packed houses or high-rise flats. “Like Paris,” he tells Prospect. But what Paris? The Ville de Paris is a tiny, touristy fraction of real Paris and its multitudinous suburbs.
The London Plan wishes to dictate lifestyles, just as those postwar plans…