A very healthy crowd turned out for last night's debate: 2012 Wishlist: What Do You Want For London? An impressive and diverse list of contributors found itself dealing with some of the fundamental questions regarding the future of London's built environment.

The evening was prefaced by pollster Ben Page of MORI/IPSOS telling us what Londoners think about their city. We are conservative (we don't like tall buildings), he said, and while we all bemoan the lack of affordable housing in the capital, we don't want any more of it built in our backyard. Perhaps most importantly, he observed, London has become a fundamentally unequal city: "London is a city of Haves, Have Nots and Have Yachts," he said.

Perhaps the best bit of the evening was listening to the distinguished panel spell out its desires for the next 5 years of London life. Starchitect Zaha Hadid kicked off, in a plea for "great housing for everybody", more high-quality public spaces and a greater political focus on education. She added that we shouldn't be demolishing buildings from the 1960s willy-nilly - they have much to teach us about the future of the city.

Architect Tom Coward of the AOC followed Zaha with a more pragmatic call for London to concentrate on its existing messiness, without trying to solve it - his desire was for a strategy of "evolution rather than revolution". Arts administrator Helen Marriage wanted more magic and less cynicism, before three consecutive speakers made speeches that came to define the rest of the discussion. Camilla Batmanghelidjh, psychotherapist and child worker, called for more attention to be paid to children, linking the physiology of the brain with anti-social behaviour, and saying that less attention should be paid to buildings: "We underestimate the importance of loving care and community," she said.

Then the politicians weighed in. Mayoral candidate and Big Issue founder John Bird's self-consciously salt-of-the-earth patter was always going to wind up the liberal majority of the audience (and panel) and he didn't disappoint. "The reality is that people are dying in this city because we are not making it happy and healthy," he said, before rolling out the old chestnut that architects only care about making pretty buildings and don't give a toss about the kids.

Shaun Bailey, the conservative party's parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith, was similar, but you could feel his experience of the council estates he has always lived on. He said: "Redevelopment and regeneration mean nothing to people. It's just about changing an ugly cage to a pretty cage. If you live in a place that is small, cramped and ugly, you feel disrespected."

At least the final two speakers got past myopic political point scoring. Celine Condorelli made a mystifying speech about how we should all be a bit more relaxed about heritage, before ending on the bombshell of suggesting tearing down the House of Lords (even though when I last looked it was still being used). Fritz Haeg gave a lighter note to the final presentation, advocating the creation of an Olympic gardening team, which could turn vacant sites across the city into allotments, and slashing the food miles that are required to feed the visitors to London that will arrive in summer 2012.

The discussion, despite chair Paul Finch's excellent efforts, was dominated by a tricky discussion about social housing, and can be summed up thus:
John Bird: "Modernism is a social morass. Architects do not understand the poor."
Zaha Hadid: "I'm going to be polite because i'm in public, but that's rubbish and you have no respect."
Tom Coward: "Architects don't make any decisions anyway, so don't blame us."
Repeat ad infinitum.

Posted by: Kieran Long on 24/06/07



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Debate London is organised by The Architecture Foundation Charity Registration no.1006361
The Architecture Foundation is funded by Arts Council England www.architecturefoundation.org.uk