Urban / town planning and development

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  • I often want to post articles on urban planning and development that don't relate to London or more general ones. The largely unregulated period of rapid expansion of Western cities, which is currently being sort-of repeated, although often in even more extreme ways, across the world in many less wealthy countries, e.g. Mexico, is one of the main factors shaping our lives, whether we live in cities or away from them.

    The railways were the first decisive factor in the modern-era explosion of cities. There had always been concentrations of power before then and people had flocked to seats of power for protection and to participate in the economic activity they invariably attracted. The largest ancient megacities, e.g. Angkor, are generally estimated to have been home to around 1 million people; I think this is probably an underestimate in most cases. It may have been true for Rome, the best-documented ancient megacity, but I think there were much larger places. Part of the problem with the archaeological record is that it tends not to document wooden construction very well, e.g. in what we could today call 'shanty towns', and more research needs to be done on this. However, the kind of economic concentration brought about by railway development was probably unprecedented.

    It can be seen particularly strikingly in Britain, whose 'industrial revolution' started before that in any other European countries, and it has arguably had more drastic consequences here than those elsewhere. Simply looking at any map of Britain shows the imbalance between its largest cities and the rest of the country, whereas other European countries have a lesser imbalance than this. Needless to say, industrial activity in Britain has declined in recent decades, and the development of automobile transportation and move away from rail have meant that it is often located away from cities, but initially most modern industries apart from mining were centred on cities.

    Before the coming of the railways, with the exception of a few powerful cities like London or York, Britain and all other European countries had an evenly-spaced network of small market towns whose economy relied largely on being marketplaces for the surrounding agricultural communities. This also meant that more specialised craftspersons than in most villages traded from market towns. It was a stable and sustainable way of living until it was thrown into disarray by the railways.

    With the sudden rapid development of cities, it became necessary to think of a regulatory response to what was happening, although this didn't really gather steam in Britain until the middle of the 20th century. Before then, much development was undertaken without any real awareness of the consequences. London's development explosion owed much to the development of, first, suburban railway lines and then underground lines. Suburban railway lines initially caused what's often called 'string of pearls' development clustered around railways stations along largely radial railway lines. When the first forms of buses (horse-drawn, later trolleybuses) or trams came along, it became possible to connect people living further away from the railway stations to those, and to the relevant town centres, and the spaces between the 'pearls' were quickly filled in, causing the now-familiar London sprawl. The Underground network, with typically more closely-spaced stations, had an even more dramatic effect on centralisation. Workers, who were often unable to afford pre-Underground train fares, no longer had to walk into the city, which thousands did every day for their commute. The Underground was cheaper and so affordable on some lines (and still was barely profitable, because it turned out you can't really run a railway for profit, but that's another story).

    This rapid pace of urban development was a mixed blessing. Rural communities were left impoverished as they suffered from rapid depopulation, with people joining the urban proletariat (and were likewise very poor). The extreme concentration of activity in cities resulted in slum-like living conditions especially close to the centre (where unscrupulous slum landlords crammed too many people into very little space and constructed dangerous buildings on the cheap). It was clear that something needed to be done to regulate the power of landowners, and so eventually the Town and Country Planning Acts (England/Wales and Scotland) were passed in 1947.


    These have, over the years, been watered down in various ways to the extent that landowners have reclaimed some of the powers they effectively lost, and while there are some very good planning departments, one only has to look at the development of the London skyline over the last two decades to see how the planning system has failed in its regulatory function.

    Anyway, I find it all very interesting, so let's have a thread.

  • Here's a very interesting article on Tokyo's rivers. London has also culverted most of its rivers, although it undoubtedly didn't have as many to start with as Tokyo.


    But it is also a legacy of the 1964 Games, which saw a rapid revision of the city’s transport infrastructure at the cost of the waterways. Multi-lane highways were built directly above rivers and canals, to avoid the cost of purchasing and clearing land. The Nihonbashi river and its beautiful Meiji-era bridge were particularly noticeable victims, but the effect on the ecology and the economy of the waterways was even more devastating.

    Already polluted by years of sewage and industrial runoff, the planting of concrete support columns into rivers caused further stagnation and pollution of the water, as well as making the waterways unusable to many commercial craft.

    With the eyes of the world trained on Tokyo, streams were considered so irredeemably polluted that they were filled in with construction rubble, then concreted over. Others were culverted to conceal the stench and sludgy flow, becoming roads instead (and arguably simply replacing one form of pollution with another).

    The one bright spot water-wise was the development of a modern sewage system. Tokyo toilets are the envy of the world, and stopped one form of pollution at least from entering the water network.

  • The biggest governmental failure (not just regulatory) for the people of London is not the tall buildings on the skyline, rather the almost complete removal of the affordable housing grant, the fact that housing need cannot be met by the private sector and the inflexibility of green belt policy/NIMBYs in the suburbs.

    The latter group of people have also been advantaged by the fact all of the above has lead to an explosion in their value of their asset, abided by politicians.

    Until Brexit came along and sucked the life out of constructive political discourse, housing needs, particularly in the south-east, was rapidly becoming the most pressing political issue. Most people in the industry would likely agree Sadiq Khan has done some good in reorienting the planning system in London but we are so far behind meeting housing need, I cant help but think the future is grim.

  • Well. As I've said in various places, I don't think that there are too few homes. The problem is the number of empty homes (not even counting second homes) and the fact that many places are seriously under-populated (e.g. in the North).

    The constant call for more house-building in my view can only have the effect of continuing to overheat the already-overheated housing market. Obviously, there needs to be some rate of renewal of housing stock, and it is deplorable that social housing has been so diminished, but homelessness and poverty (certainly in-work poverty) are caused to a very large extent by so many former council-owned homes having ended up in the private sector, with people having to pay a far too high proportion of their income in rent. Against that, 'affordable housing', while better than nothing, is a fig leaf, even if set at a more humane rate than Johnson's ridiculous 80% of market price.

    And yes, London probably still attracts more people than can sensibly be housed at the moment, a scenario replayed in every boom town in the world. At one point, a London planner told me, the rate of growth was higher than at any point in London's history, with hundreds of people arriving to live here every day. (This was before the 'Brexit' vote.) But why does everybody want to live in London (and other large cities) while other places are haemorrhaging populations? Obviously because people get a lot more information now about faraway places so that moving is easier--and indeed applying for jobs far away, what with on-line interviews, etc.--, and because there has been an increased tendency in the economy to concentrate activity in fewer places, because of automation and artificially suppressed transport costs, so that people see their local economies contracting and try to go somewhere where they think the jobs are in order not to be caught in what they perceive as an economic backwater, often leaving behind a fall in house prices where they come from.

    While I support Green Belt policies, what is certainly true is that more activity should be moved to centres other than central London, and NIMBYism doesn't help with that. However, the most pressing need is still to rebalance London's economy with that of the rest of the country.

  • I don't like the idea of building cities 'from scratch' (obviously not really 'from scratch' but from a powerful industrial base capable of creating the illusion). Humans have long done this, and there are plenty of historical examples of new city foundations, sometimes on the site of existing villages, that were built up extremely quickly by the standards of the time. These older examples weren't necessarily bad cities, although they were inevitably important power centres.


    Today's new such 'cities' of high-rises and designed-in motor traffic dependence are most definitely shit.

    Good growth takes time.

  • I'm really pissed off with all that's being announced at the moment:


    None of it makes the slightest sense, all of it is stupid and regressive, pushed by people who stand to gain from crap development. The planning system is poor and needs reform, but in precisely the other direction, and it's not 'reform' to merely dismantle hard-won gains or make it even more of a Wild West shit show.

  • my area of newham is trying out the quieter streets idea currently , lots of rat runs through the neighbourhood closed down by basically blocking off the streets to traffic, one way in, one way out to a block of streets
    lots of uproar about it as people now can't drive their precious little tarquin's and imelda's the 4 mins to school, or can drive them but they are being inconvenienced

    main roads busier side streets quieter

    any discussions as to whether this is a good or bad idea, just want to hear a few pros and cons so i'm better equipped to argue about it

  • As I've said in various other places, filtering itself is a good idea, but for the most part it's badly implemented. I rode through your area earlier this week and saw all the usual mistakes made--filtering at the edges of cells, cells too large, etc. It's all well-intentioned and I hope it succeeds, but it could be done much better.

    One of the worst things is obviously the democratic deficit in imposing these measures. I don't say that because I particularly want a noisy minority to sink them, but because schemes like this inevitably become better if you access local knowledge through an engagement process, which then also has a chance to help people understand why this is being done and ideally to adopt it.

    Anyway, there will be action around these things for a few years. Some will undoubtedly be removed again, but I hope the majority stay or are improved, certainly before they're made permanent when the Experimental Orders under which they're installed expire. That can happen either after six or 18 months, and most councils will undoubtedly seek to make the measures permanent after six.

    If you can, give them your input, be supportive, but don't hesitate to suggest different filtering locations if you think this, that, or the other is particularly problematic. And always remember that some complaints will be justified, e.g. concerning the particularly nonsensical filtering location at the junction of Leytonstone Road and Chobham Road. That's a typical example of an edge filter that should be moved further back inside the cell. Same filtering effect but fewer drivers driving fast through the cell from the other side because the distance they have to drive inside it is increased completely unnecessarily. Obviously, at the moment the filters are 'nudge' filters and not hard ones, and not camera-enforced yet for the most part, but when they're finished fast speeds inside the cell will certainly be a problem.

    One thing that's useful is that OpenStreetMap volunteers already appear to have mapped most, if not all (haven't checked) the experimental filters in London.

  • One of the worst things is obviously the democratic deficit in imposing these measures. I don't say that because I particularly want a noisy minority to sink them,

    Yeah, but, upfront consultation would mean they wouldn't get off the ground, the only way to get anything implemented of this form is to do it and let people see the benefits, all else is just wishful thinking that's got nowhere for 20 years.

  • my road was a bit of a rat run cutting the corner between leytonstone road and forest lane, avoiding the works on that corner currently and then the future junction being built by maryland station, it's much quieter now, less 50mph dashes down my road, agree with the chobham road thing, it's just silly it's gonna cause a log jam when it gets busy, cars stuck halfway through that thing, nowhere to reverse or go forward. that is one of the major roads through that area, keep cars on that one i say

    i've been positive on this but lots of locals are complaining especially about school time where lots of roads are getting blocked by the parents driving their kids 4 mins to school, hopefully they'll be dissuaded from driving and things will ease up

    thumbs up from me so far

  • If you've got an hour to spare and you have an interest in infra, this is a good film. Nice cinematography too https://vimeo.com/pathmark/review/428222­393/f69754e83a

  • Leytonstone Road and Chobham Road

    Out of interest, where would be the better location for this filter? I can understand why they want to close Chobham Road as it’s a terrible rat run.

  • it's a wide major road ( leading to major road ) and going into the olympic park and the back road to both stratford amd leyton , i wouldn't classify that as a rat run, i'd direct traffic onto that road not block it,

    i guess there you have it, what is classified as a rat run and what is a major arterial route

  • dicki has the local knowledge; I know the area reasonably well, but I wouldn't trust myself to design a complete filtering scheme; I'll suggest something below, but that may not be the best option. As ever, there are public buildings in the area and other places that will have particular access requirements that may well not work with this suggestion.

    The first thing to say, though, is that I can't answer your question directly, because you need to start not with 'this street should be filtered', but by designating a cell and cell boundary streets, and then filtering every through route in it for general motor traffic. If you start by thinking about individual streets, you usually end up with a partial and inferior scheme.

    Some of the cell boundary streets here are easy (A112 Major Road/Chobham Road/Leyton Road/Angel Lane, A118 Great Eastern Road, (the old A11) The Grove/Maryland Point/Leytonstone Road), but the question is whether there should be two cells or one, i.e. whether one should designate Chobham Road (the non-A-road bit) a cell boundary street alongside Crownfield Road. Both options have advantages. If you make cells very large, that can mean worse driving with higher speeds throughout the cell. I think that, given the cell would be quite elongated here, that would probably be a lesser problem, but I also think that filtering gradually, closing minor cell boundary streets when the rest of the cell has proven its worth, is a good thing. As I say, I don't know the area that well.

    it's a wide major road ( leading to major road )

    Well, it's a residential street that happens to be able to accommodate two rows of car parking with narrow traffic lanes in either direction, as usual at the expense of narrow footways and too little space for the existing mature trees. I certainly wouldn't call it a major road. I mean, you've got Major Road for that. :) I wouldn't have any objection to filtering Chobham Road, and my scheme does both options, but of course I understand your view, and, as above, I don't have a 'feel' for the area.

    All that said, I'd probably place the following filters in a cell bounded by Crownfield Road, the A112 Major Road/Chobham Road/Leyton Road/Angel Lane, A118 Great Eastern Road, and (the old A11) The Grove/Maryland Point/Leytonstone Road (roughly north-south):

    • Some kind of filter at the junction of Edith Road and Colegrave Road. The main problem in designing it here are the access requirements to the Community Centre, which would prohibit a 'Culford filter', my favourite way of filtering (after the four-way filter at the junction of Culford Road, Lawford Road, Northchurch Road, and Northchurch Terrace, in N1). It's quite likely that Edith Road and Colegrave Road would have to remain a loop inside the cell for that reason, annoyingly leaving open a rat-run for when Crownfield Road is stuffed up, but there should at least be a filter on the eastern arm of Colegrave Road. It might also be possible to place a filter in the western arm of Colegrave Road at this junction, which might not attract quite so much rat-running (but would also attract it). It's a bit of a toss-up unless something can be changed in the access requirements of the Community Centre.

    • A filter in Walnut Gardens, probably not at one of the junctions but in the link.


    Two options--(1) if Chobham Road was to be filtered ...

    • A 'Culford filter' at the junction of Chobham Road and Brydges Road, filtering all four arms of the junction. This would create a public space and would be the most important filter in the area. (It's also the filter that gets closest to answering @Eejit 's question.)

    • A 'Culford filter' filtering all three arms of the junction of Newton Road and Hughan Road.

    (2) if Chobham Road was not filtered ...

    • A filter in Hughan Road (not at the junctions).

    • A 'Culford filter' at the junction of Chandos Road and Brydges Road, filtering all three arms of the junction.

    • A filter in Henniker Road (in the link, not at a junction).


    • A 'Culford filter' filtering all three arms of the junction of Henniker Road and Community Road. Henniker Road should be returned to two-way operation.

    • A 'Culford filter' filtering all three arms of the junction of Maryland Road (NB not Maryland Street) and Falmouth Street. Maryland Road and Maryland Street should be returned to two-way operation.

    • Two filters filtering the northern and eastern arms of the junction of Waddington Road and Waddington Street.

    • A filter in Francis Street (in the link, not at a junction).

    • A filter in Windmill Lane just east of Millstone Close, with the carriageway in Windmill Lane widened again and two-way operation re-introduced.

    • A filter in Grove Crescent Road.

    This is all easier if shown in maps (one for each option), which are attached.

    2 Attachments

    • Maryland_filtering_Chobham_Road_not_filtered.png
    • Maryland_filtering_Chobham_Road_filtered.png
  • Thanks Oliver, very comprehensive reply. I think that option number 1 looks really sensible and is v helpful in understanding how you can achieve the same impacts by having filters located away from the edge of the cell.

    I'm also pretty local, and am guilty of previously using Chobham Road as a convenient run through to Stratford. It forms (or did form) part of a larger rat run that span across to the east of Leytonstone Road. I think it's more sensible to route that traffic down Major Road and Crownfield Road. It's a minor detour and the roads are much more suitable to the level of traffic. It also frees up Chobham Road as a more direct cycle route - up to this point it was a pretty horrible road to ride down.

    Although you stole the joke I was going to make about Major Road, so now I'm not happy.

  • In terms of rat-running I do wonder what difference google maps, Waze, etc has made to it.

    I tend to stick google maps on even when I'm driving routes I know just to keep an eye out for traffic and because I'm already using the phone for music.

    The majority of the time I'll get it directing me off an A road to a B road to avoid traffic (routes are almost identical length or the diversion can be longer). For those who know it the most obvious one is that you get directed off Green Lanes/Seven Sisters onto Wightman Road/Tollington Park almost every journey. You can see that a lot of traffic is also following the same diversion as people will all turn at the same points, etc

  • In terms of rat-running I do wonder what difference google maps, Waze, etc has made to it.

    I suspect that they have made it much much worse,

  • made it much much worse

    This. Previously rat runs will have been local knowledge, and if you were out of your area then you would be reliant on signposting and a map to get where you wanted to be, which would largely make staying on signposted main roads the most convenient means of navigation. Unless you had a highly adept map reader in the car to navigate you. Which is exactly what everyone now has.

  • Oliver, your local knowledge of my area astounds me. Very impressive!

    Edith Road and Colegrave Road would have to remain a loop inside the cell for that reason, annoyingly leaving open a rat-run for when Crownfield Road is stuffed up

    Lots of cars are already using Colegrave/Edith as a way of bypassing the long queue heading W on Crownfield. They did before this, and now more so. It is moderately entertaining as they are often met by people heading the opposite way trying to skip the queue from Major Road to Crownfield. As Colegrave is a single lane road but still 2-way it can get quite heated at times, but there's usually just enough empty spaces that everyone gets through.

    I wondered about a filter both on Edith and eastern arm of Colegrave so at least it could be used as a turning space for bin lorries and delivery trucks.

    I am happy they are having a go, but I was surprised that Chobham was closed off and miffed that the net result of that is an increase in angry traffic on Colegrave.

  • I now know what you mean by a Culford filter. Yes to them.

  • I hadn't paid much attention to the implementation of the western section of the LTN (I live over on the Eastern side of area 2 and am fiercely parochial in my interests, down with the Marylanders etc etc) , but there does appear to be a glaring omission when it comes to the northern edge of area 1. Can't understand the lack of intervention there. (Edit: now that I’ve had a chance to reread Oliver’s post without attempting to also do work I can see the issue here)

  • Thanks, guys. I promptly managed to forget that I've only just started a thread about modal filtering:


    Let's perhaps continue the discussion there? I'll quote there from your posts here.

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Urban / town planning and development

Posted by Avatar for Oliver Schick @Oliver Schick