The new, the old and building community

By Sophie Tyler,  Senior consultant for The means
My life with The means at the moment involves getting to know lots of different places in ways that can be inspiring and sometimes frustrating
This week I have been spending quite a lot of time in the London centres of Stratford and Vauxhall.  Although one is north of the river and in the east and one south (or to be precise east) of the river and towards the west, both are areas where change is in the air.
Vauxhall, part of the huge Nine Elms, Battersea area and Stratford are both vying to be the largest regeneration area in Europe.  What is clear is that millions of pounds are being invested to create new housing, commercial and retail space on land that was previously industrial. What is less clear is how all this new development will be successfully married with existing business and residential communities.
Interviewing businesses in Stratford town centre, it’s easy to see the dramatic transformation of the Olympic Park, the shiny new Westfield shopping centre and the improvements to the station.  But step away from that ‘side of the tracks’ and the picture is rather different: lots of empty flats and businesses feeling that their part of town has been neglected.  They are optimistic, but their optimism is often tempered by an uncertainty of exactly how the new residential developments in and around the Park will affect their trade.
In Vauxhall, the big new developments have yet to start, but what they will mean for existing small businesses and residents is keenly debated.  My work for Vauxhall One is focused on developing links between local employers and local people, through the many active community groups.  In the last few weeks, we have been holding a ‘Conversation’, to find out what the local communities think should the priorities for projects to bring everybody, workers & residents alike, together.
The physical transformation of both Stratford and Vauxhall is and will be impressive.  The planning the skills, the labour, the creativity involved in constructing huge buildings and public areas in the middle of a complex city is to be admired.
Our work in Stratford and Vauxhall shows that a social infrastructure, developed with levels of similar planning, skills and creativity is needed to build up communities.  Only then will it be possible to integrate the new with the old and make sure that new development benefits all, not just some.

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