Learning from King’s Cross, Regent Quarter and Kings Place: Looking and Listening
12 September 2013
14.30 – 17.00
Kings Place / Regent Quarter, London
The Academy of Urbanism organised a one-day event in September 2013 for residents, local workers and Academicians to understand the challenges facing the Regent Quarter development and generate ideas that would see it become Great Place. The event was supported by analysis work by the Academy’s Young Urbanists, the Urban Sketchers and Sky High Plc demonstrated Bluetooth detection technology on a sample pedestrian movement analysis.
The Regent Quarter development has succeeded in retaining the character of its 19th century industrial heritage through the adaptive reuse of existing buildings and by linking the area’s distinctive courtyards. However, character is not limited to the physical fabric: the social fabric – community and activities that bring places to life – are also essential.
The Quarter is a single estate managed by an asset management agent with an on-site security team. Three urban blocks provide a mix of commercial, retail and residential uses. The accessible, pedestrian linked courtyards are a distinctive feature of the area. The southern urban block including courtyard block is occupied by patrons of bars and restaurants. However for the two northern blocks, there is a lack of human activity: the commercial and residential buildings no longer animate the courtyard spaces.
The challenges that the Regent Quarter faces in managing a public space that is privately owned are not unique. Increasingly, many new developments create public and communal spaces that fit this mould, often with positive results.
The event produced wide-ranging observations that explored the fault lines between urban design and social networks
1. Stakeholders contribute to the responsibility of the failure to exploit and activate the available semi public open spaces:
- The developer and agent’s aim is to reduce management risks;
- Businesses do not encourage their staff to use the courtyard spaces, or are prohibited to do so by the agent;
- Commercial and residential tenants have different aims and needs;
- Residents are protective and struggle to effectively deal with commercial and residential management agent;
- Designers have created a hard and sterile landscape with insufficient greenery and oddly located seating areas.
In addition, the planning authority could have provided more precise guidance regarding the design and use of courtyards.
2. The courtyards were not originally planned to extend the public realm but to provide access to the building frontage within blocks, thereby increasing the fine grain and variety and maintaining the character of an historic area. The essential issue is not one of public or private status but of the use and activity. Where communal space is accessible to multiple user groups, each should feel invited to enjoy the space without fear of conflict and exclusion.
3. As an exception, Kings Place is connected successfully within its surrounding context. Therefore, future connections from the Regent Quarter to Kings Place are important to complete the chain of spaces.
4. There is the intention within The Academy of Urbanism to address the following actions during a subsequent event:
- Start an active dialogue with private developers and identify and debate commercial motives for the current public space management. Can a privately organised body manage space for the common good? Are the managing agents approximating the role of a public body in this regard;
- Identify good practice exemplars – What do well managed, privately owned spaces look and feel like? What are the criteria for choosing best practice examples;
- Further discussion with residents to explore our suspicions about their sensitivities;
- Suggest a platform for residents, businesses and staff to collaborate to make better use of the space;
- Investigate, in the international context of King’s Cross / St Pancras, an East-West connection from St Pancras to York Way, itself a strategic North South corridor
- Plan to visit Regent Quarter during Learning from London (LfL) – Graduate Development Programme and discuss the effect of semi private managed public spaces in urban areas.
5. Establish a toolkit that could be used as a vehicle for disseminating learning for other regeneration initiatives.
If you are an Academician that would like to be involved in the Learning from King’s Cross, Regent Quarter and Kings Place events taking place in 2014, please contact [email protected]