Polycentric cities

Rosanna Sterry, Principal Commercial Planner at Transport for London, discusses the importance of developing around transport nodes in the city unlocking new opportunities for town centres across London, supporting the 15-minute neighbourhood concept.

Up until the 17th Century London largely comprised a single square mile but has since expanded to cover 600 square miles, particularly due to the introduction of the underground in 1863 which has grown into a network of 270 station and 11 lines. As London grew it absorbed the surrounding town and villages creating areas of distinctive character, which sit alongside new centres (i.e., the Olympic Park). This has led to London being considered a polycentric city, essentially a city with multiple centres. 

Prior to the pandemic over a third of people living in outer London boroughs commuted into inner London. Whilst we are yet to see what happens to commuting patterns going forward there will likely be a noticeable shift to increased home working and increased growth in outer London boroughs as people move out of central London for more space and access to nature.

This presents an opportunity for both existing and new centres in outer London boroughs to reinforce their positions as centres. This is supported by the concept of the 15-minute neighbourhood (providing residents access to the majority of their needs within a short walk or bike ride from their home), which is increasingly gaining momentum.

The continued investment in transport infrastructure (such as Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo line extension) will continue to unlock opportunities for new centres across London. However, a number of these existing underground stations also offer the opportunity to create significant enhanced centres, focusing high density, mixed use development alongside public space and civic functions centred around key transport nodes. 

Given how much town centres have changed over the last decade it will be integral to understand what it is that people want and need from these types of centres (particularly through community engagement), alongside a focus on flexibility to ensure the town centre can weather future changes.  To assist with this understanding Transport for London has commissioned subject matter experts to prepare future looking, aspirational studies on the key subjects of streetscape, culture, health and well-being, education, social value, retail, workplace, living and sustainability. These studies focus on quality of place and long-term value and seek to support the realisation of transformational town centre regeneration schemes.

Skyline of London