"Innovation and conservation" in my corner of London


I live in Brockley, a leafy part of SE London that almost no one has heard of, despite our ever-increasing assortment of eateries and local shops, well-known street art, a microbrewery – and an annual festival, the Brockley Max, held last week. As well as the usual array of concerts and a family day in the park, this year the festival included a day-long conference, put together by the Brockley Society, on our urban environment: ‘Innovation and conservation’. It was glorious weather outside, and it is testament to how interesting it was that at least 40 of us stayed all day, despite the sunshine… (It was an excuse to admire the wonderful 1930s murals in Prendergast Hilly Fields College, which are pictured above.)

I knew precisely nothing about conservation areas, other than that I live in one – but this was rectified by Laura Sandys (whom I know through her work with the Food Foundation – it’s a small world) and Duncan McCallum of Historic England. Conservation areas were first established 50 years ago in the Civil Amenities Act – there are over 10,000 in England, over 1,000 in London, and 26 in Lewisham. But ‘is society changing conservation areas or are conservation areas changing society?’ – how far is gentrification changing local demographics, and how is the pressure for new housing encroaching into conservation areas?

Although I’d raised ‘health’ in a question earlier in the day, it wasn’t an explicit concern for most of the speakers, so it was pleasing when Nicholas Boys-Smith of Create Streets teased out the impact of urban environments on our health. I’m particularly intrigued by a new ‘Streetscore’ to be launched later in the year, which will scrape data off the internet in 11 categories of wellbeing. Given that no human judgement will be involved, it will be very interesting (and possibly disconcerting?) to see what the algorithm comes up with!

Interspersed with the longer presentations were architects talking about various local new-build or renovation projects, and I’ve wandered past several of them this week (photos posted on my Twitter account using hashtag #Brockley365 if you want to check them out). 4 Ashby Mews is the most famous, featuring on Channel 4’s Building the Dream (photo here).

I feel slightly disingenuous in quibbling at all, but it was a pity that of the 19 speakers only four were women. Are there really so few women involved in this field? But bravo to the Brockley Society for organising, thank you!

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