Creating successful places in a post-pandemic world

John Lewis, Executive Director for Thamesmead at Peabody, looks forward to industry involvement in the Thamesmead Waterfront competition, and considers what makes successful places….

Launching the international masterplanning competition for Thamesmead Waterfront, we knew there would be significant interest. For anyone with a professional interest in what makes successful places, this a wonderful opportunity to examine some really fascinating questions about how we will want and need to live in the future.

One headline that caught my eye said that the Waterfront project “will remake London for a post‑pandemic world”. This could easily be dismissed as hyperbole, but given the scale and the long-term approach of the joint venture, there is space to consider some of the big issues facing us in the changed world.

  • Looking west across the Thamesmead Waterfront site, towards Canary Wharf

How can the built environment foster social inclusion, diversity, and mobility? If “building back better” is to mean anything at all, I feel it must. What could changing commuter patterns and different ways of working & living now and in the future look like? I’m not predicting the end of the office or of cities, but things will remain different in some ways.

How can masterplanning embed new connectivity – physical and digital? How will older people want and need to live 15, 20, 30 years from now? What health and inter-generational opportunities might there be? Sometimes I feel there is a preconception that people want to do less as they get older, but I’m not sure that’s correct. One of the great pleasures of our cultural curation in Thamesmead is how it unites young and older people together.

  • 'Beautiful Thing' part of the Thamesmead 50th Anniversary Cultural Programme 2018

Then there are issues of risk, deliverability and site specific considerations. What pitfalls might lie in embedding emerging technology in place plans for example. What innovation and creativity will be needed to enhance the retail, commercial, leisure and educational offer of the Waterfront? The success of a place must surely depend on these things in part.

How will the new place complement and enhance existing communities and networks? Thamesmead is home to 45,000 people already, and the site is close to Plumstead and Woolwich of course. It’s also around 600 metres away from Newham on the other side of the river. A little over a quarter of a mile which isn’t far at all.

  • Thamesmead Festival 2017

Thinking about the river, what opportunities are afforded by the unique setting for industry, work, leisure & travel? It is in some ways the gateway to the Thames Estuary with all of the industry and growth that entails. Also, how can the amazing natural environment in and around the town contribute to health, wealth and wellbeing, or economic success come to that? These are great things to be able to think about and plan around as part of a shared vision.

It will be really interesting to see what creativity and innovation the competition draws out. This is a chance to help shape a significant new town for London and the South-East. A chance to be in at the beginning of a carefully planned and thoughtful city neighbourhood that makes the most of its abundant natural environment and location by the Thames.

Please do get involved.