Urban Update 18 April 2016 - Designing the Underworld

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Time to design the underworld?

UDG Director Robert Huxford, speaking at a recent Energy Utilities Industry Conference, has called for a better design and management of the space underneath our streets.   He raised the wastefulness of the current practice of taking a sophisticated and complex array of high pressure gas pipes, high tension cables, coaxial cables, copper wire; optical fibre, water mains and distribution pipes, and numerous connections to properties; burying them in soil, then sealing them in with a surface that is supposed to bear the weight of a 40 tonne heavy goods vehicle, and then when something goes wrong just digging everything up again.   The consequence is that streets are being permanently dug up, making high quality street surfaces difficult and expensive to achieve. Things were better two centuries ago in the Georgian era where town-houses and streets were designed as one, with utilities (in that instance drainage and under-street cellarage for coal etc) designed-in.

The future is bringing pressure to introduce more functions into the street, including sustainable drainage features, such as rain gardens, or surface water storage tanks, tree planting, water sensitive urban design, including water recycling (so called purple pipes), underground waste management systems, heat pipes, and ground source heating systems.  There is also the need to replace existing utilities, and we may be approaching a situation where it becomes impossible to replace high pressure water and gas mains in congested city streets owing to the spaghetti like mass of data and communication cables that lie on top of them.  There are alternatives, such as combined utilities ducts and tunnels, along with the precise measurement and recording of the position of utilities.  The way forward is integrated design and management.   The present free-for-all is not sustainable in any sense of the word.


Grassroots: how to close the placemaking loop


Laura Alvarez reports at an event at New Art Exchange, Nottingham

I had the pleasure to participate as a panellist in an exhibition and event curated to compare historic and current grassroots placemaking experiences in Nottingham. Guest speakers and the audience touched on a number of issues and debated obstacles that persisted through time when bottom-up placemaking approaches developed in the city. Engagement methodologies, leadership and civic organisational tactics practised by Hyson Green Tenants Developments Association in the 1970s were compared to those applied by Sneinton Alchemy forty years later; various correlations emerged through a rich and lively conversation.

It was concluded that the dynamics, language and interests of the agencies involved seem to be in a state of constant asynchrony. Grassroots placemaking processes can only emerge if a certain level of trust is achieved within a community; they depend on strong leadership and, fundamentally, they require a nexus between the community and the authorities. In both cases, the 1970s and the 2010s movements, the nexus was established primarily through the charitable actions and determination of Nottingham Trent University lecturers. It appears that local academic institutions, non-profit organisations and other skilled institutions can play an essential part within the placemaking jigsaw, possibly becoming key to closing the bottom-up placemaking loop.

My thanks to Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad (www.bh-n.com) and the New Art Exchange for putting this inspiring event together and for allowing me to be part of it.

Laura Alvarez

alkiki Co-founding Director

UDG East Midlands Convenor