One of the greatest challenges facing future urban planning is the very real prospect of running out of land. In addition to urban sprawl encroaching on neighboring farmlands, the concentration of people at the core eventually creates a situation where open spaces become incredibly scarce. Luckily, the city of London – one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world – is coming up with some innovative solutions.
For starters, the city is developing the area around some former dockyards in East London to accommodate a floating neighborhood. Borrowing from similar projects that were initiated in the Netherlands to prepare for rising sea levels, London’s new river-based housing program is designed to place housing in the one spot that hasn’t been converted to high-rise apartments or suburban dwellings.
Experts from the Netherlands are helping to plan the new “floating village,” which will include 50 floating homes around a neighborhood square that comes complete with floating restaurants, offices, and shops, and possibly a floating swimming pool (more on that below). A floating walkway will lead back to land, where the city plans a much larger development with tens of thousands of new homes.
Earlier in its history, the area, known as the Royal Docks, served hundreds of cargo and passenger ships each day. The three docks were the largest enclosed docks in the world – 250 acres of water and over 1000 acres of land – and got more use than any other port in London. But they haven’t been in use for the last several decades, and that’s why the city wants to transform the area.
As Richard Blakeway, the city’s deputy mayor for housing, land and property
With demand for new homes in London soaring, we need to put every scrap of available land to the best possible use. Tens of thousands of new homes, workspace, leisure, and cultural facilities are being developed . . . The ‘Floating Village’ will be yet another draw, restoring London’s docklands to their former glory as a centre of enterprise and bringing jobs, growth, homes and visitors.
On the same front, the city of London is also contemplating turning its river waters into a massive public pools project. Known as the Thames Bath Project, this idea was inspired by similar ideas where swimming pools have been created out of waterways. For example, New York has a project called +Pool, which has raised more than $300,000 in crowd-funding, and looks set for a 2016 launch.
The Thames Baths Project is similar, aiming to create a freshwater lagoon amid the meandering old waterway. The consortium responsible consists of Studio Octopi, Civic Engineers and Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects, all of whom won the competition last year to come up with new river uses. Initially, they hoped to create a pool using water from the Thames that would be filtered and treated.
However, that plan has since been updated and improved to something a little more sanitary. Now, they plan to pump in freshwater, rejected the New York City idea of filtering the water as it enters the pool space because of the concern of sewage. And though London has a major sewage system upgrade planned, the designers are worried it won’t be ready in time to ensure sufficient water quality.
We’re using freshwater because of the sewage overflows from the aging [Sir Joseph William] Bazalgette sewers. They dump millions of tons of sewage into the river after even the shortest rain storm. A filtration system could work. We’ve been looking at natural swimming pools and the filtering systems they use. But the +Pool filtering system is as yet unproven.
The design calls for floating pontoons with space for three pools – one large, one medium, and one for paddling. A thick layer of vegetation will mark the edges and a ramp leading off the side will connect swimmers back to firm ground. The $8.5 million plans are still awaiting approval from the city, but, if all goes well, the baths could be completed sometime early in the next decade.
We need these baths to reconnect Londoners with their largest public space. The river is used extensively for transporting building materials, passengers and the like but is increasingly becoming something that Londoners look over and don’t engage with.
Meanwhile, Berlin also has a proposal for an open river pool, as does Copenhagen, which actually already has swimming in its harbor. No doubt, it won’t be long before others follow. In fact, the idea of re-purposing public spaces that have fallen into disuse is becoming increasingly popular – not just as a response to sprawl, but as an innovative solution of what to do with infrastructure that has fallen into disuse.
Cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Hamilton, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec – just to name a few – all might want to consider getting on board with this…