I recently read an interesting Guardian article ‘The slow death of Silicon Roundabout’ by journalist Cory Doctorow. http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/mar/10/slow-death-of-silicon-roundabout

The article and some follow-on comments, neatly highlight some issues tech start-ups and wannabe start-ups face in large urban cities. In spite of central government desire for tech SME’s to proliferate, create jobs, boost overseas earnings and boost the tax receipts flowing back to government, at the local government level (below city level), the priorities are different.

Local government (below city level) might argue that, as its funding from central government diminishes, it’s forced to turn to large property developers to build new, high-density property, to replace near derelict properties in its jurisdiction.  Urban renewal, particularly if on brownfield sites, is desirable and helps cities rejuvenate. Likewise increasing the supply of inner city space helps to offset rental price rises (eventually). However, in my view, there’s an important role for local government to ensure that replacement property plans allow flexible use and include park space to offset higher-density effects.

On the park space point, Central Park in New York is a good example of consolidated park space co-existing with high rise, in (relatively) close proximity. London’s approach on park space has been to scatter large parks all around the city, which also works well. In the London of the future, is there scope to create elongated ‘strip’ parks in Eastern London, to offset future high-rise while incorporating cycleways, to separate cycle lanes from existing road users?

Returning to the Silicon Roundabout/Tech City article, a final thought. If the local government institution (Hackney Council in this case), want long-term occupants (workers, property renters and live-in property owners) occupying as much of its jurisdiction as possible, to contribute Council taxes and reduce the social costs (crime, fly tipping etc) associated with derelict areas, then why encourage purpose-built student accommodation development at the expense of tech city accommodation? As the journalist quite rightly points out, tech city is a diverse community of start-up services and organisations. Encourage a critical mass and it will spawn ongoing replacement (successful start ups move on and are replace by new ones starting out), in a similar way to market traders. In contrast, in allowing developers to build (overseas) student accommodation en masse in the inner city, the Council risks putting too many eggs in one basket, if the educational institution occupants aren’t themselves of top quality and since education institutions don’t appear to benefit from clustering together physically* (Eton & Harrow, Oxford & Cambridge, the US Ivy Leagues, excepting MIT & Harvard).

Best case, if elite higher education institutions move in and then attract successful companies to relocate alongside them, the Council plan will pay off handsomely. However, worst case, the Council will find itself surrounded by empty new build space, purpose-built for the education sector, vacated by non viable education institutions. And therefore reliant on other educational institutions to move to the area.

*In contrast, there are mutual advantages for commercial organisations locating physically next to research-led higher education institutions.

Advertisements