A vision of living within nature and highly sustainable design

Charette held on July 16 on the Murphy's Yard development

Charette held on July 16 on the Murphy's Yard development - Credit: Maya de Souza

This is the first summer I can remember when hot weather is a source of anxiety. The warnings trigger memories of the heatwave in Paris when more than 15,000, mainly older, people died. 

It’s not only the old that are at risk. People in top floor flats exposed to the sun and with little cross-ventilation struggle to sleep. Working is less productive and commuting exhausting. Air conditioning is expensive and increases emissions and heat. 

I was pleased last weekend that community groups explored a vision of a liveable development in response to the climate emergency and other pressures, through a community-led workshop (charette) on the Murphy’s Yard development organised by Camden Community Makers, Dartmouth Park Neighbourhood Forum, and others. Here are some highlights of priorities relating to extreme weather.  

Maya de Souza shows the connection between investment and climate change.

Maya de Souza is pleased community groups are exploring a vision of liveable development - Credit: Archant

First, appropriate orientation and massing of buildings: a line of high rises, exposed to the sun, unshaded by trees is poor in terms of energy usage and comfort. Small single aspect apartments, lacking cross-ventilation, will be hard to keep cool. 

Secondly, new materials were favoured: making the area a store of carbon using timber and hempcrete, which will also insulate us from the heat and cold, rather than high carbon steel and concrete.

Thirdly, an integrated approach to transport is vital - investing in rail and bus links, and pleasant shaded walkways like a Mile End nature bridge across Gordon House Road as well as genuine vehicle free development (with provision for people with disabilities and other needs). Ensuring permeability so it is easy to walk and cycle through the area, but without tensions, was supported. 

Fourthly, bringing nature into urban areas is highly valued: trees that offer shade and reduce the heat island effect plus deep balconies and terraces for plants and local food growing.  Some would like the Fleet surfaced helping attenuate flood risk. “Possibilism” was a theme of the day – the city of Seoul turned a freeway into a river with a public park! 

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This approach requires beginning with a vision of living within nature and highly sustainable design. Adding in minimal measures at the end will not work. These views will be collated for Camden and Murphy’s to try trigger a collaborative process of co-creation. I am optimistic about Murphy’s taking this up to leave a historic legacy demonstrating commitment to the area and showing off their construction expertise in building a development fit for the challenges of the 21st century. 

Maya de Souza is an environmental campaigner and chair of the Dartmouth Park Neighbourhood Forum.