Green aspirations

Opinion: The chief executive of Open-City Rory Olcayto explains why sustainability is so important for London

London thrives on reinvention. It’s why you can find it at the centre of things, some two millennia after it was founded. But we need to approach sustainability in a new way if London is to retain its appeal. We need to think of sustainability – and the city – in terms of people, what they do day-to-day, and design places that make their lives easier to live.

For me, making the city more sustainable would be to increase the opportunity for more Londoners to have a decent lifestyle. Every neighbourhood should have access to a swimming pool, library, a park and easy-to-use sports facilities. I think this is what cities are for: by concentrating people together, you can share resources more effectively.

Open spaces and green spaces are really important. I think you’d be surprised at the simple things that people want in their neighbourhood. We have a manifesto for young Londoners, called ‘My City Too’, and they said they wanted wider pavements and better street lighting, to make them feel safer.

I think sustainability has been very successful, but part of its problem is that it’s been a very techno-centric movement: a bit lifeless and nerdy. People don’t tend to get excited about it, unless they’re sustainability professionals. I think that’s a shame. It’s seen as a mixture of modernism and high-tech reborn, in a slightly boring way. It could be much more than that.

“I like thinking of London as an enormous park or forest that’s dotted with the built environment: it’s an incredibly green place.

I also think it’s important that we don’t just build for the client: we also need to build for London. The Cheesegrater at 122 Leadenhall Street is an example on a really large scale. British Land has elevated the ground floor and created a privately owned public square underneath the building. I think it’s an interesting and positive way of dealing with the city. Who knows what may develop out of that?

I like thinking of London as an enormous park or forest that’s dotted with the built environment: it’s an incredibly green place. I think the seeds of a new London are there. Lots of people do try and be healthy and there are lots of cyclists. Green areas, such as Walthamstow marshes, are being made more accessible, and things such as the Queen Elizabeth Park are fantastic.

So, we’re making moves in the right direction. But so much of this is beyond the construction industry’s ability to control. Politics is very important. Look at plastic bags. A charge of 5p per plastic bag has seen an 85 per cent reduction in their usage. That’s phenomenal.

Open is a word that’s very important right now. Here at Open-City, we’re very much on the side of open. We believe in diversity, opportunities, access for all, and participation. We support that view of London. We’re very happy that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has adopted the phrase ‘London is open’, because we’ve been saying that for the last 25 years.   

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Last updated: 25/07/2017