One of the key tasks for developers, politicians and residents is to understand what makes a town’s identity unique and recognizable. Since identity is directly related to the ‘character’ of an area, which matures over time, this is certainly not an easy task to achieve instantaneously...
Now the Eden Walk Regeneration planning application is in and we can see the project in its entirety for the first time, it soon becomes obvious that, although the entire development is very tall, there is no single building emerging from this plan as a ‘landmark’ worth noting. Three large clusters of residential blocks piled up high on top of a brand new shopping zone is what is on offer. Contrary to what we have been told, a landmark does not have to be 21-storey ugly tower block . Landmarks help identify the place and in newly developed urban areas, new symbols or focal points are often used as new landmarks. They could be a statue or a stone! Despite all its redeeming features, what is on offers lacks that clear signature. We can forgive the developers for forgetting one of the objectives of the Eden Quarter Development brief, but to us this omission also signifies a lack of something more serious.
The Eden Walk regeneration is the largest single development in the borough for decades. What does this proposed development say about Kingston’s future character, aspirations and identity. “A destination for more shops?” Is that all there is?
A regeneration project as big as Eden Walk should have addressed what kind of urban identity British Land and Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) is offering to Kingston’s residents, not just to visiting shoppers. For Kingston residents, Eden Walk is a kind of high street. It is their community space. Locals go there and ‘spend time,’ not just ‘shop’. Why is there no room for music, art, a children’s play area or even a little a space for Kingston University graduates to showcase their skills, etc. Nothing holistic is on offer. Just better shopping facilities, together with a massive housing development with no homes made affordable for local residents. Not even a shelter for the town centre homeless..
As Londoners, we have come to accept that most, if not all, new housing developments will lack locally appropriate architecture and connectivity with the local people. Eden Walk does not have to be one them. It is fine and good if they want to improve the shopping experience and bring more trade (and revenue) to the town, but this is also once in a lifetime opportunity for developers, policy makers and residents to add a new layer of meaning to the rich tapestry of Kingston as a place to live for future generations. Otherwise in five years all we will have is a New Mecca for shoppers.
Going back to the identity and character point, this was part of the brief to developers:
“Kingston Town Centre has a unique heritage and character and it is important that any new development enhances and reinforces this sense of place.” EQDB, p15