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challenge for


and local


is to create a

‘sense of place’

in otherwise



ghettos or

clone high



he OED describes culture as,

‘the ideas, customs, and social

behaviour of a particular people or

society.’ This feels suitably broad

and inoffensive. However, in an

increasingly homogenous world,

how do we identify distinct societies,

and how can we manifest ideas and

customs into physical places?

A contemporary challenge for

developers and local authorities is to

create a ‘sense of place’ in otherwise

generic residential ghettos or clone

high streets. Sense of place, leads

to human attraction. Attraction

leads to footfall, and footfall leads

to value. Cultural associations have

proven themselves to be effective in

establishing this sense of place.

Good examples of this are found

in locations strongly associated with

a distinct ethnic community; for

instance Chinatown, or Brick Lane.

In these cases the locations, largely

through retail or leisure activities, are

imbued with an identifiably different

culture from other locations.

A second set of examples can be

found in locations where there are

physical artefacts drawing strong

allusions to historic activities; for

instance: Battersea Power Station,

or areas of the Docklands. Although

the associated cultures may have died

many years previously, there is enough

evidence of their having happened

to create a degree of cognitive

recognition, which canny developers

have celebrated in their schemes.

But what happens when one

doesn’t have the luxury of either of

these? Most regeneration projects

are not so fortunate, and in these

cases one has to search harder for a

formula. Buying in culture is certainly

an option. Many large scale projects

also contain a planning requirement

to provide a cultural element, but

this is often not well defined, and

not considered well enough from

the perspective of value creation.

Regardless of this, developers are

increasingly aware of the value that

is to be gained through sacrificing

immediate receipts in favour of

longer term cultural plays.

This is a model that has been

running for decades in the world of

shopping centres, where department

store operators are offered deep

discounts to take space, so as to

create the environment to attract

rent paying shops. However, this

model has translated more recently

to London’s wider urban grain, with

Central St Martins’ impact on Kings

Cross being the frequently cited case.

Conventional business strategy

teaches us to create clear brand

propositions, with which customers

can easily idenitfy. It also teaches us to

minimise the prospect for incompatible

trade-offs, and inconsistencies in our

companies’ value chains – if you try

to be all things to all men you will fail.

There is no reason that a different

discipline should be applied to

regeneration schemes.

This starts through identifying

a specific underserved or growing

segment of the market, and creating

a proposition (not just a product) that

resonates well with that segment and

is suitably differentiated. This should

include a consistent set of ideas

and customs (a culture) that forms

the DNA of this proposition, and

touches every element of the scheme,

from building design, to tenant mix,

to events, to public realm, and to

services. Disney are masters at such

orchestration, capable of creating

instantly relatable environments that

transcend bricks and mortar and

move into storytelling. It is perhaps

therefore no coincidence that

shopping centre design is increasingly

compared to theme parks, and

perhaps not too long before urban

quarters of London are subject to

similar treatment.

That being the case it would be

wrong to dismiss the cultural element

of placemaking as fluffy. There are

significant commercial rewards for

those who take a more strategic

approach to the essence of place.


With evidence of its ancient origins

scattered throughout the Square

Mile – the oldest coffee house

opened in the City 365 years ago,

while many of the pubs date back

from the 17th century – the area is

recognised as a world-leading centre

of heritage, imbued with character

and authenticity. Historically maligned

as a nine-to-five destination, the City

is reinventing itself to attract a wider

range of visitors and business sectors.

The City of London Corporation has

created an alliance with the Barbican

Centre, the Guildhall School of Music

& Drama, the Museum of London and

the London Symphony Orchestra

to deliver a long-term strategy for

improving the cultural hub of the

City. Focused on the northern section

of the Square Mile, this new cultural

hub aims to become the creative

heart of the City, with a series of

developments such as a new home

for the Museum of London and a

new Centre for Music. Alongside

this, the streetscapes are changing,

with independent coffee shops and

retailers creating a more vibrant

local environment, while the recently

opened Ned Hotel is introducing

the City to a completely different


City Core




By Elaine Rossall,

Head of Central London