Thames Gateway is focus of Case Studies conference

March 24, 2007

The second annual Case Studies in Urban Development conference opened with sweeping vistas of the River Thames looking east. “London: The Thames Gateway Initiative: Promoting Sustainable Development at the Water’s Edge” was the title of the March 9-10 event, made possible by the generous support of Matthew L. Witte (B.Arch. ’79). Witte, a graduate of the Program in Real Estate, conceived of the interdisciplinary forum as a way to foster collaboration among urban planners, architects, and real estate developers.

This year’s topic brought together key practitioners and advisers involved in the planning of London’s newest potential growth spurt. With the prospect of the 2012 Olympic Games and the arrival of the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link at Stratford in East London, new development is rampant along the eastern trajectory of the river. The questions on everyone’s mind are how to plan for this explosion, how to ensure that the river frontage remains open to public access, and how to achieve sufficient density for sustainable development.  

The lineup of distinguished speakers included Ricky Burdett, professor of architecture and urbanism at the London School of Economics and principal design advisor to the Olympic Delivery Authority; Frank Duffy, founder of DEGW, a leading international strategic design consultancy; Susan Fainstein, professor of urban planning at Harvard and author of such influential books as The City Builders: Property, Politics, and Planning in London and New York; Fred Koetter, founding partner of Koetter Kim & Associates, urban planners and architects of the Canary Wharf riverside development; Marvin Suomi, CEO of developers KUD International and master developer for Silvertown Quays; and Andre Bideau, visiting critic in the Department of Architecture. 

The opening discussions were initiated by Ricky Burdett and Frank Duffy, whose combined expertise in the history of London, its socioeconomic development, and current planning issues ensured an inspiring and provocative start to the conference. Both speakers made a strong case for what they described as the “mess” of London. Unlike many other major cities, London has never responded to master planning. Its growth has been piecemeal and organic, dependent on the economic, political, and social pressures of the day -- which, argued Burdett, has made for a more resilient and sustainable growth.  

The second day of the conference focused on more specific areas of the Thames Gateway Initiative. The Gateway is an area approximately 40 x 70 miles wide, along the Thames estuary. It is home to 1.6 million people, with 120,000 new homes and 180,000 new jobs projected by 2016. Postindustrial decline has made this area Europe’s largest regeneration project.  

Susan Fainstein spoke about the potential and the pitfalls of development on this scale. Andre Bideau gave a critical appraisal of the role played by the lively figure of the Mayor of London, and Marvin Suomi discussed plans for Silvertown Quays. Fred Koetter spoke on Canary Wharf, Ricky Burdett on the 2012 Olympics, and Frank Duffy on Stratford.

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