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Physical infrastructure is a barrier to liveable cities

Words: Laura Edgar
Burgess Park can be a barrier at night without lighting / iStock-675430078

The physical infrastructure in cities can become a barrier to the way people live, affecting health and economic well-being, according to a Future of London report.

This is despite it being vital for connecting communities with each other, jobs and amenities.

The Future of London report, Overcoming London’s Barriers, cites Burgess Park in Southwark as an example: it is well used during the daytime by locals and commuters, but it is not lit up at night and may put people off using it then.

Other routes involve travelling along busy roads. Likewise, waterways lack light, space to manoeuvre, and in some cases bridges – preventing access to amenities.

Future of London is an independent network for regeneration, housing, infrastructure and economic development practitioners. Its report also considers administrative and organisational barriers, with zones and organisations overlapping one another, and roles and responsibilities sitting within or between one authority or another.

Working across these structure “often reveals frustrating and costly conflicts”. Different priorities and practices can slow down or stop projects and policies.

The study features the results of a year-long programme that included field trips, seminars and workshops, with the public, private and community sectors sharing good and bad experiences.

In response, it sets out a number of recommendations for planning, regeneration and infrastructure professionals. It states that they should:

  • Increase their understanding of how barriers compound one another and how different people will be affected in different ways.
  • Acknowledge that administrative borders exert an active influence on things like service delivery and how people engage with multiple administrative bodies.
  • Engage with local groups trying to fix barriers, for example, by bringing derelict spaces back into community use.
  • Talk to a wide range of people from different demographics to learn their experiences of physical and administrative barriers, and use it to inform scheme and develop impact metrics.
  • Hold special planning committees – in which dedicated projects officers and elected members oversee a project throughout its lifetime – to ensure both public and private stakeholders have in-depth understanding of the scheme and consistent points of contact, helping to secure buy-in.
  • Work with neighbourhood forums seeking to develop cross-borough neighbourhood plans.

Lisa Taylor, chief executive at Future of London, said: “We’ve always wanted to assess the impact of – and the response to – these physical and service or planning barriers; ironically, they’re so pervasive that it’s been hard to bring them forward as a distinct topic. Once we got started, the stories of divided communities, and of ways to reconnect them, flooded in. That’s what we’ve captured here.

“Often the solutions – from punching through closed railway arches or building a footbridge to lobbying for air-quality interventions – are obvious, and often there is funding. What gets in the way are the organisational or cultural barriers between sectors and professions. That sort of ‘silo-busting’ is what Future of London exists to do, and on that front in particular, this project has been really heartening.”

The report can be found here on the Future of London website (pdf).

Image credit | iStock