The project started purely from my personal interest in the huge numbers of empty properties which I saw in London while living there few years ago. Friends of mine illegally lived in squats as they have been left empty for years while other locals organized illegal events in warehouses. Properties and land stand empty and yet somehow it continues to be illegal to do something about it even when one really wants to. Meanwhile, new developments keep popping up in the urban environment, though not always required. The whole urban development process is being driven by the external developers who in fact have nothing to do with the area but the need to exploit it for development profit. Meanwhile locals who actually live in the area have less and less say in the process. It’s getting harder and harder for them to actually do any interventions within their living environment. While external project permissions area being signed by the local government without consulting the inhabitants and without integrating the developments into clear long-term urban design strategy for the area. Given the future predictions of London and its residential areas like Hackney becoming substantially denser in the future, one can imagine the poor state of urban environment quality if no solid changes are implemented in the planning process.
Performed research made it clear to me that the solution does not just lie in better urban design proposals. There have to be changes made in the institutional and organizational level of planning processes. Therefore a decision has been made in the thesis process to introduce a new institution called SPACE BANK. It works in parallel to Hackney Council and takes over all land/property use and development related matters. The core concept is that all the potential parties have to use the same online system in order to proceed with any possible changes in the urban environment and the alterations made/proposed are visible also to all the parties – making the system more transparent. System ensures a more democratic planning process which includes residents as well as external investors when making decisions about local environment. The main task for the employees of the SpaceBank is to find the potential mutual benefits in projects and ensure: level of freedom for investors, efficient use of existing local assets (enhancing) and that only sustainable and sensible interventions happen within Hackney.
In parallel to the political and economic aspects of the new system I was also developing urban design/planning methodology under which SpaceBank would guide the system users that are engaging an intervention.
As a long term vision on Urban Scale (Borough of Hackney ) SpaceBank engages a Transit-Oriented development. First, the system approaches and tries to enhance the commercial-cores/town-centres. By improving their role as transit nodes for commuting and increasing the pedestrian/cyclist traffic inside the cores the system increases general activity within them. Hence, more commercial, leisure and other opportunities for residents and people visiting. The funds generated from the projects in the cores are then used to enhance the elements in the residential areas between the cores (parks , vacant structures , etc.). Finally routes that connect the cores and the elements are identified and enhanced; routes that are alternative to main car-roads and would be used for pedestrian/cyclist traffic.