As London mayor Boris Johnson prepares to leave City Hall, pity his successor, faced with ill-planned developments and vanity projects
When Boris Johnson first ran for London mayor, in 2008, he promised not to create “Dubai-on-Thames”, the parade of riverside towers intended by his rival, Ken Livingstone. Oh no, of course not. What the city is actually getting, as he prepares to leave for possibly higher office, is a Dubai-on-Westbourne, -on-Lee, -on-Effra, -on-Bollo Brook, -on-Quaggy, and indeed on most of the obscure tributaries and secondary rivers of the capital, as well as on the Thames, and many of the spaces between them. For, as is possibly now dawning on a wider public, it is hopelessly naive to believe that Johnson believes something when he says it. You didn’t think he really meant it, did you? Ha ha ha. What a card he is.
It’s not just about tall buildings, although the number of towers higher than 20 storeys proposed for London now stands at more than 400. It’s also about bloated, bulging, light-blocking buildings of medium height, and about the limited attempts to insist on design quality, or to get new developments to create neighbourhoods that are more than a sum of their parts, or have any meaningful relationships with the areas into which they are inserted.
In the dying days of the Johnsonian empire, several proposals indicate the sort of city he is leaving behind. Some are hoping for a final signoff before he goes, in the manner of outgoing American presidents pardoning their disreputable mates, or to benefit from the inattention of the election and interregnum. Some will be in the in-tray of his dazed successor.
They include a hefty tower in Chiswick, west London, almost certainly a harbinger of other as-yet-undisclosed lumpy towers around it, which as objectors say will wreck the setting of the nearby Gunnersbury Park. As is usual in such proposals there is no indication of the collective effect of this and the other future towers that would follow, no vision of the radically altered district they would create, or suggestion of how such things as schools and transport would handle the new numbers. There is the recently approved redevelopment of New Scotland Yard, close to Westminster Abbey, with strident blocks rising to 20 storeys that significantly increase the scale of development close to the venerable monument. On the Isle of Dogs is a planned tower, which along with others contributes to a bizarre, half-accidental urban experiment whereby the district called South Quay might end up with the highest residential densities in the world.