Regeneration in 2011 and beyond?

I spent a really interesting day last week at the University of Nottingham School of Architecture and Built Environment.

Masterplanning a new town at Ningbo China

We are offering them a site we manage to use as a basis for a competition next year; the site is real, has lots of constraints and opportunities and should be quite a challenge – I will fill in the details later.

But one of my old colleagues – and now a client – was also there at the meeting – Nick Ebbs. He is an evangelist on regeneration and lectures on occasion at the Universtiy. We were discusiing the direction in which regenersation is heading. And in particular the change of direction needed. The old world order of razing everything to the ground and then starting again has probably gone for the time being. Or for good?

The reason is two-fold. Firstly, there isn’t the money around to wholesale replace – so a mend and make do approach is more appropriate. Re-use of buildings is de-rigeur. We can now adapt buildings in a very sustainable way and hopefully this is more affordable.

But there is a second consequence from this refurbishment / repair / re-use – and that is that we don’t lose our sense of place or history. That is quite important. One of the striking things I saw in China was that they are simply building whole new ‘places’ from scratch. They have very little reference to what was there before – and the reason that some of our Cities and towns are so interesting is that they have grown organically, they change over time – new gets cut into the old. The places have a character – like lines on a face. You can’t build that – it becomes pastiche and obviously fake – like the Duckworths House!

So there is a new way in which we can regenerate places – but it is much more difficult than a blank sheet of paper!

But we always did like a challenge?

The Seed Cathedral

I blogged some time ago about the fantastic UK Pavilion at the China Expo. It was lovingly known as the Seed Cathedral – and really was something the UK could be proud of (which cynically I thought made a change!)

This week I was trawling TED – which s much better than the TV most of the time! And I came across a talk by Thomas Heatherwick – the Architect who designed the Pavilion. The talk meanders around some of his other fascinating projects before explaining the theory behind the Seed Cathedral. If you have a spare 15 minutes and are interested in Architecture it is well worth a look. You can find the video here. Unfortunately TED don’t let me embed videos as Youtube do…

The (not so) Great Mall of China

If you regularly read my blog, you will know that I have been to China twice in the last 12 months – both times to Shanghai. I was amazed to see the level of development. When we went to Ningbo, I couldn’t quite understand how you could build a city – but my questions were simply lost on the City Planners. They didn’t understand why we were questioning the demand side of the equation.

When I was in Shanghai in March I drove past hundreds (I don’t exaggerate) of apartment blocks being built. The scale of development is eye watering.

This week, my friends at Nottingham University sent me this link on You Tube. It is worth watching it! It shows the side of China the officials don’t want you to see. In essence (if you haven’t got 15 minutes) there are estimated to be 64 million empty apartments. The Mall visited by the reporter is simply empty – although they have a nice web site.

This is all rather worrying! At the end of the report the question was whether there would be an uprising and civil unrest. On the face of it you would worry, but my experience of the Chinese people is that they are incredibly tolerant; the State rules with a rod of iron.

The video…

Shanghai – the facts

Shanghai is a difficult place to describe. It’s big, brash and noisy – it demands that you pay attention! I have had a couple of days to reflect on what I saw this time. And what I learned.

Although a couple of weeks ago was my second trip it takes you a while to adjust and comprehend the place. But to put some things in context:

* 21 million people live in Shanghai – 1.3 billion in China as a whole.
* GDP growth in China has been 11.2% on average for the period 2006-2010 – the Government target is 7% over the next 5 years.
* China is now the Worlds second largest economy (the US is still the largest)
* The UK imports £24bn each year but only exports £7bn – the UK Government want this to equalise.
* Inflation is running at 4.9%
* By 2015 half of the Worlds building will be taking place in Shanghai.
* 400 new Cities are being built and their average size will be the size of Birmingham!
* 15 million people are moving away from the Countryside to the Cities each year – by 2020 900m people will live in Cities.
* China was the largest producer of CO2 in the World in 2020

It is quite difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of what is going on here. I find it hard to explain in words – even looking at some of the brochures I brought back don’t really explain it. We just don’t see ‘development’ like this here in the UK. I’m not sure it is happening anywhere else in the World in this manner.

So is it good?

One of the speakers at the Conference I attended was quite damning – he raised the issues of corruption – there are four or five construction companies doing all of the work. Someone is getting very rich.

Then there is the ‘green’ aspect – and you can’t help but wonder if there is lip service being paid to the issues. On more than one occasion I heard stories about the ‘green features and standards being designed in, but not bult in. The latter simply because there is so much going on it cannot be all checked.

But my real issue is that when you peel back behind the veneer some of these buildings are not actually very good. Whilst we might develop buildings for 65-80 years, I am not convinced that the stuff being thrown up is at that standard. I wonder if they will last 20-25 years! I will return to this point again I think….

The Joy of email?

My mate John Lyle carried out an experiment a couple of weeks ago – where he stopped using his iphone. I do know that he has gone back to using it.
My last few weeks have featured quite a lot of travel – 22,500 miles and three different time zones. One of the trips was holiday but Cannes and Shanghai were work.

...and then you've got some more

I don’t think I am unusual in my office or profession in the amount of emails I get each day. I average somewhere between 90-110. I guess that a third are junk, another third are where I am cc’d and the rest are for me.

Email management has become a major part of the working day. And when you are away the matter becomes something of a major task. In China I had a slow internet connection which made dealing with the ‘management’ even more of a chore.

I have been reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell – ‘The Tipping Point‘ – which is really interesting. And in his final chapter he talks about an ‘immunity’ – meaning that we are becoming slightly removed from the process of communicating. Research has shown that people are more argumentative in email than in face to face meetings. They can hide behind an email. As we become inundated with email we tend to switch off. I know that I do. If I am faced with 100 emails then I need to find a quick way of filtering, so some get deleted without reading past the title – or in some cases the senders identity.
I frequently unsubscribe to sending lists but can’t help that this makes things worse. I think sometimes this just validates my address!

And my other bugbear is that the ‘reply to all’ button should be disabled. Especially from circular emails, viz. “Will you sponsor me in a cycle ride for xyz charity” – “yes” from 15 people is not funny.

And today I had an email from a Company offering me to do a mailshot to 500,000 businesses for £599. Half a million junk messages!

I read somewhere a suggestion that all staff be given an allowance – say £1 per day and were then charged 5p per email sent. So once you stepped over 20 it started to get deducted from your salary! Genius…

Shanghai – the final day

My second trip to Shanghai comes to an end today with a long flight back to the UK this morning. It is an odd flight because it takes around 12 hours, but I ‘win’ back the hours I lost travelling East. So I take off at 11.30am Shanghai time and land (hopefully) at Heathrow around 4.00pm UK time.

The Butcher of Shanghai

Yesterday I had a day to myself – what my office colleagues would call a ‘Jolly’. But it was Saturday!

My day started in the Lanes of Taikang Road – I went there last time I was in Shanghai. I think it’s a great place – lots of narrow lanes to get lost in. The place is mainly ‘art’ orientated but the coffee at Kommune was as good as my Starbucks tipple. The food market left me a little queasy – although they will kill the animals for you. Fresh isn’t the word. I had light lunch at the Liuli Museum nearby – the building is great and the food wasn’t bad either.

The metro in Shanghai is brilliant for getting around – and is very cheap – around 27p or 37p depending on how many stops you go. It got me across the River into Pudong where I wandered around the Financial District. The tallest building in China is here – The World Finance Centre – all 101 floors of it. By 2014 it will have been usurped though – by the building next door which will stretch to 128 floors and be 200m higher!

Next was probably one of the worst bits of Shanghai – The Bund Sightseeing tunnel. I can only describe this as a tunnel with fairly lights. It was truly awful. I can only describe it as a 2 minute ride into a 1970′s disco. It features now at the top (or bottom?) of my World Class Attractions (not) category.

It didn’t take long on The Bund for me to find the Rolex Dealers – and £30 for a Gold Perpetual Oyster isn’t bad? I could have had a Louis Vuitton bag too – but I was concerned about how much I could carry back.

My day finished back in Xiantiandi – to meet up with some of the Conference goers I had met this week for dinner… How quickly the time has gone!

Shanghai – Day 3

Having made the mistake of the train on the first day of the conference I am attending to reach the Ever-Rich Hotel, yesterday I grabbed a cab – just less than £10 for 26km! And door to door!

The French Concession Boutique Shop

It was my day to speak at the Conference I am attending; my subject was “Do Green Buildings attract a premium price“. It could be a short talk when you answer “No.” But I thought I had better explain… I will spare you the technicalities – but the market seems to be applying a slight discount to ‘green’ buildings at the moment. I tried to explain as best I could as to why this was happening. I am hoping it didn’t get lost in translation. I did get quizzed on my assumptions! It may have been a controversial-ish subject at a ‘green’ conference!

I enjoyed some of the other speakers too. I was really interested in some of the work Hyder are doing out in China – they ‘master-plan’ Cities. I mentioned in my last blog that 400 new Cities are being built. This must be fascinating work to start a City from scratch! But perhaps the most fascinating talk was from the Chairman of The Cross Flow Energy Company – they have designed a new wind turbine and are in the final throes of getting the development completed. It will bring a new look to wind farms!

The conference closed and I departed Jiading – back into Shanghai.

After dropping all of the brochures and business cards at my Hotel, I went in search of Starbucks (!) and then headed into the French Concession – a totally different part of Shanghai. It reminds me of the East Village in New York. As the light faded I decided this was not the place to hang around! A Taxi took me back to the sanctity of the Hotel and so ended my third day in Shanghai.

I have one more day left to explore this mad place…

Shanghai – Day 2

It’s a strage sensation being in a completely different time zone as you very easily lose track of time. It was my second day yesterday – and the first day of the conference I am attending.

The Conference Hotel (The Universal Ever Rich Hotel) is quite a hike from my Hotel in Central Shanghai, and was a challenge at 8.00am. The subway cost me 45p – but dumped me rather unceremoniously in the middle of Jiading. I was offered a ‘ride’ on a moped which I declined. I eventually found a taxi, but there were a few anxious moments!

The conference was really interesting – it does require a high level of concentration – especially for the translators. They are impressive. The morning session highlight was the talk about Jiading – it is one of the growth suburbs and the masterplan is now set – and the building has started. It is home to the Shanghai Grand Prix circuit – but will also be home to a few million Chinese residents by 2012. As I mentioned yesterday the cranes punctuate the skyline – it is reckoned that one quarter of the world’s cranes are in and around Shaghai.

Places like Jiading are required to satisfy the moving population – it is estimated that around 15m move each year from the Country to the City. Which is why 400 new Cities are being built…

The afternoon session was a lively affair – as we split into groups for workshop sessions. Although there is a green agenda here I sometimes wonder if there is a little ‘lip service’ being paid. There is a rush to get buildings up. This is Country with an average GDP growth rate of 10% pa for the last 10 years. They think nothing of putting buildings up that are 2 or 3 million square feet. (Meadowhall at Sheffield is around 1m square feet in context)

The pace of change makes long term plans almost irrelevant. One comment that came out of the day was that they would clear a Quarter in 24 hours. So they just rid an area of en entire district – such is the speed of change.

China remains the largest producer of CO2, so they do need to address this particular issue!

So today is my turn – I am speaking about the ‘black art of valuation’…

Shanghai – day one

I am glad it is a non-stop flight, but it is still a long time in the air – 11 hours. We were assisted by a 180mph tail- wind for much of the way.

Count the tower cranes game!

Sleeping on planes has never been a strong point – and last night was no exception. Three films didn’t really help either!

Our hosts in Shanghai kindly put on an airport transfer – but this deprived me of a ‘go’ on the fantastic maglev I went on last year. They also took us out to the Hotel where the conference I am attending is to be held. It is some way out of town – but this gave me an opportunity to see the vastness of this place.

One of the measures back home of the prosperity of a City is to count the number of tower cranes. Nottingham at the moment has a handful (I am desperately trying to count them in my head – but it has been a long night!) What I do know is that Shanghai wins in that particular competition – I counted 10 – in one housing development! Next to that were another 10 and so on!

The pace of development here is breathtaking.

I met up with Saffa Riffat from Nottingham University – who has now asked me to speak at the Conference I was just attending. So I shall need to write a talk in the next 36 hours! As the saying goes ‘no pressure’!

But for the meantime, I am back in my own hotel in the centre of Shanghai – unpacking and blogging (there must be a term for that?). I need to catch up on some sleep as I have been awake for nearly 23 hours…. I mustn’t overdo the sleep thing though because I need to fool my body into Shanghai time (8 hours ahead of the UK)….

Shanghai China – my second visit

Today I leave the UK again -for the third time in a month – and this time I go East… to China. It’s my second visit to Shanghai. I was last there six months ago visting the Expo and attending some University of Nottingham events.

You could go by Prius, but it takes a little too long?

I stayed in Pudong last time – East of the Huangpujiang River. But this time I am staying in the heart of Shanghai on the West Nanjing Road.

This trip is also with the University of Nottingham. It’s a shorter trip than last time – principally to attend a conference on Sustainability on Thursday and Friday in Shanghai. I am looking forward to the event – it has a mix of UK based firms and Chinese Companies – some of who are developers, others manufacturers of ‘green technology’. Although I am interested in some of the technologies I am really keen to learn about some of the design elements. I hope that we are going to see how the technology is being integrated into new buildings at the start.

But I am also working on the research I have mentioned here – I am hoping to get some time to write up some of the details of the 12 hour plane trip! This is the worse part of the trip. And that Shanghai is 8 hours ahead of the UK – so it ‘takes’ 20 hours to get there – but only 4 to get back!

I am also keeping a diary this week for the Nottingham Evening Post – for publication next week. I guess they don’t want to follow someones ‘normal’ week of “I went to a meeting” ad nauseum?

But despite all of this ‘green’ interest and learnings my carbon footprint isn’t looking too good either this year – especially having racked up 22,500 miles in the last month. I will plant a tree I think on my return – remind me!

I will try to blog from China, but sometimes my wordpress account gets blocked…