“As London builds its future, why are its residents so cynical about what and whom all of these cranes represent? ”
Describing itself as “an organisation of citizens committed to providing a public platform for the discussion of London’s future”, the London Society recently relaunched itself to much fanfare. The organisation, supported by its newly launched publication, aims to bring Londoners together to join in the debate about how their city should be planned, a debate which is particularly crucial at this time of growth and expansion.
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First launched in 1912 (pre-dating even the Royal Town Planning Institute), the London Society aims to brings Londoners together to engage with the key issues facing their city. The initial founders included Edwin Lutyens, Aston Webb, and Raymond Unwin and topics on the agenda over a century ago echo many concerns of Londoners today: housing, railways, river crossings and airports.
The organisation’s motto, “protect the best of the past; strive for quality today; plan properly for the future” (the original reads “Antiqua tedenda, pulchra petenda, future colenda“), reflects the Society’s concern not only with the city’s existing built fabric, but also with future growth and development. To this end, the group produced its own Development Plan for London, calling for green spaces in outer London which would eventually lead the way for existing greenbelt legislation. The Society also worked through the interwar period to promote spatial planning in an era in which it received little political interest.
After a recent dormant period, the London Society has been invigorated and given new life by Peter Murray (Chair of New London Architecture and a strong advocate for better cycling infrastructure in London). Speaking of it’s revival, Murray says: “In recent years The London Society had lost some of its momentum. At this time, when a wide discussion about the future of London and its planning is essential, we are breathing new life into the organisation so that it can once again play a significant role in the civil society of the capital.”
Murray continues: “The London Society was founded 100 years ago, when London was growing at an unprecedented rate, and faced issues about housing, airports, roads and public space — all the issues we face today. We want the widest possible cross-section of Londoners to have their say about the shape of London in the future, which is something that doesn’t happen enough at the moment.”
The Society’s relaunch has also been marked with a new Journal of the London Society. The journal dates back to 1913 and the latest edition boasts contributions from a range of urban scholars and experts, including Adam Greenfield, Leo Hollis, and Dan Hill, all accompanied by a ‘call to arms’ from Margaret Newman, the new Executive Director of the Municipal Arts Society New York (MASNYC) the Society’s kindred organisation in the US.
Speaking of the publication, editor David Michon notes: “The theme of the first, new-look issue is the ways in which we document the city: the image we have captured and are capturing, and what that all has to do with how London is or should be planned. What you’ll find inside is provoking commentary by the thinkers and doers behind city-building. Its format is more bookish, collectible, and weighty than ever before – and its content more approachable, while still being intelligent and dense.”
Writing on the relaunch in a recent piece for the Architectural Review, Michon says: “As London builds its future, why are its residents so cynical about what and whom all of these cranes represent? There is now a surfeit of institutions, think-tanks, consultancies, conferences, festivals and publications dedicated to the advocacy and exploration of the ‘human city’ – but the concept is not new.”
Despite this, the numerous challenges around housing provision, transport accessibility, public amenity provision and inclusiveness facing the city provide the the London Society with a clear mandate. If the relaunch proves successful, the organisation provide a crucial space for Londoners to speak up and engage with their city. A welcome addition to London’s civic sense indeed.