thoughts on our urban future

Homerton (UK) – Transit Oriented Development

This past week I was running errands around London and I happened to use the Homerton Overground Station which is not all that far from my house.  Not only is not that far from my house, but it sits between my house and the 2012 Olympics site.  There has been a lot of development in East London that has been pushed forward by the Olympics and I have been lucky to have been able to see a lot of it first hand over the past 8 years.

Homerton is a place that is not particularly outstanding today, although it has an interesting history that includes being the birthplace of Homerton College at University of Cambridge which I am now affiliated with.  It has a hospital which has also benefited greatly from Olympic investment as it will be the designated hospital during the Olympic games.  Another local amenity that I have also, perhaps unfortunately, benefited from.  But Homerton itself has been, and is still mostly, a bit run down, a bit impoverished, and a bit shabby.  But this is changing.

One of the major investments related to the Olympics has been upgrading the existing transportation lines in and out of Stratford which includes the ‘London Overground’, previously known as ‘The Silverlink’, and before that ‘The North London Line’.  I have used this particular line since I moved to London.  Originally it would come 3 times an hour if you were lucky, as it was horribly unreliable.  Then later it would come 4 times an hour, although it was still not the most reliable line.  Now it comes 5 or 6 times an hour and has all new trains that are air conditioned, and seems to be reasonably reliable.

The lack of good and reliable train service in East London, along with greedy land bankers holding plots and not developing them awaiting ‘possible future investment’ have led to an overall degradation of much of East London.  But a lot of that is changing now, and mostly that is due to the Olympic generated investment.  Homerton benefits from being with Zone 2 in London which is generally considered ‘in the city’ whereas many Londoners consider anything outside of Zone 2 more ‘out of the city’ (although as with many cities, this is not always an accurate description and the cause of much bickering between Londoners, similar to those ‘north’ and ‘south’ of the river!).  Homerton is only 2 stops and 5 minutes from Stratford, the heart of the London Olympics development.  Because of the years of lack of investment, there were many opportunities for investment to occur.  I have noted development around Homerton station although much of it has been under construction and not that visible from the train.

This is what I saw when I came up on to the Homerton platform last week:

Highrise buildings are not always popular in London and even less popular in areas where they do not already exist.  In the UK high rise development is often associated with failed attempts at social housing and social problems- even if it’s new and shiny and for sale, there can often be great resistance to them.

So how pleased was I to see this development around the station?  I think this is a perfect example of transit oriented development and also good regeneration.  It is likely that most of the homes in both of these towers are ‘zero car’.  There may be a few spaces associated with disabled units, or ground floor alternative uses, but London often allows ‘zero car’ development, particularly when housing is well situated to public transportation, which this housing most certainly is.

The use of high-rise near rail lines helps to remove most of the units from the noise issue associated with rail and also offers them excellent views of the surrounding city.  Because Homerton is an ‘up and coming area’, prices are also more affordable than other new developments in London (although this is rapidly shifting along with the renewal of the area).  There are massive benefits to developing this previously less than desirable land in this way.  It benefits the local area by bringing in new investment and new people (though gentrification is often also seen as a negative driving force, but that is perhaps for another post), it provides a better visual appearance to what was previously fairly degraded cityscape, and it makes excellent use of the improved transportation network by locating new housing right on top of it.

Although one could argue against all of the reasons that led to this area of London being deprived to begin with, it’s positive to see a good example of transit oriented development, and urban regeneration, done well.  I look forward to watching how this area continues to grow and change, particularly once the Olympics is gone.  Will this be a long lasting catalyst for change, or will this be it?

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1 Comment

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