Act now to show design can improve urban life

Culture Secretary Chris Smith has once again signalled his support for design,

urging designers, as part of the creative industries, to get involved in improving London’s lot (see news, page 4). One area he highlights as ripe for involvement is the impending Greater London Assembly under the leadership of a new London mayor.

Who will be mayor remains in contention, but the fact that the assembly’s headquarters is to be a stunning piece of architecture, created in Southwark by Sir Norman Foster, suggests a commitment to design will underpin the GLA’s activities. Smith’s encouragement – unstructured though it was – adds to that notion.

Smith’s audience last week comprised key design industry and architectural players – the right people to take his message on board. But had he rephrased it slightly, he could have easily pushed the sentiment on his host for the evening, Central London Partnership.

The business group set up to make the capital a better place to work, live and play claims to hold design closely to its heart. But a presentation by CLP chairman Sir John Egan, also chairman of airports authority BAA, left the design audience none the wiser as to what initiatives it had in mind in soliciting their help. Some felt his unfortunate confusion over the scheme for a new Thames bridge by Sir Norman Foster, attributing it instead to Lord Rogers, didn’t suggest a keen interest in design.

CLP director Patricia Brown stressed the event was intended as an introduction to the organisation’s mission, rather than a workshop session to establish how design might progress the plan. That will follow, she promises.

Even without a framework, it’s obvious the creative industries have a big role to play in London’s future, through the GLA or the CLP, if only to help those organisations communicate their objectives to others. But it is clear that design will have to make the running at this stage, until advisory panels and “design champions” are officially in place. And initiatives that work for the capital might be just as valid for other UK cities and towns.

What are your thoughts on the subject? What elements – however big or small – would enhance the quality of life in London or other urban environments, and how might design help make that happen? We’d welcome your input by e-mail to or fax on 0171-970 6730 with a view to publishing your opinions. We’ll also pass on your ideas to the relevant bodies to help them set an agenda for action. It’s too good an opportunity to miss.

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