Putting people at (and around) the centre of the city


Putting people at (and around) the centre of the city

An annual public lecture given by Danny Dorling generalizing from Oxford’s current housing dilemmas for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Sustainable Urban Development Programme, 1 Parliament Square, London, October 24th.

Oxford can be seen as an example of what goes wrong when we do not plan well. In many ways it is now very like London and its problems are very much like those of a London borough, albeit one in which, at its centre are a series of very old buildings and a very old road layout that really cannot be altered very much. So how could a place like this be made better in future in a way that would help not only improve its housing, but also educational possibilities, tourism options and business?

I was born in the city of Oxford in 1968 and left in 1986. I returned, aged 45, to find a city transformed. The main shopping street had been pedestrianized. Cycle lanes had been painted on pavements. Most of the city is a 20mph zone. Many things get better – and they will get better again. It was often anarchists who suggested that such things were possible in the past and their ideas were ridiculed in the 1960s and 1970s. Later planners implemented them.

The city is also now full. It has built up to its greenbelt boundary. Compared to wages and salaries, rents and house prices have never been so high. Just as in London most people leave because they cannot afford to stay. Without wealth, or access to the depleted stock of social housing, a life in Oxford is no longer possible for someone who wants to start a family, unless at least one adult in their household is very highly paid or they inherit wealth.

Progress often takes a step back as the extreme unaffordability of cities such as Oxford and London currently demonstrates. New initiatives can also be bad initiatives, but these cities will be very different in the future, just as they were very different just a few decades ago. So what initiatives are needed if we are to protect the most valuable parts of the green belt and also provide better housing, health care and education. In this lecture the suggestion is made that the humble bike could be at the heart of what is needed, alongside better provision for walking. If people are to be put at the centre of our cities again then we need to make less space available for cars, including less pace on our roads. Read more here or listen below.