When I take my son into London, one of the things he always comments on is the number of cranes. It’s a changing city with a lot of money around, and there’s always something being torn down and rebuilt. One of the areas with lots of cranes at the moment is Victoria, where there are some ambitious new ideas.
Victoria is an odd part of London. It has some high end restaurants and boutiques, and some luxury residential streets. The Queen herself lives there, after all. But there’s also the big train station and coach station, and the streets in between the two are dusty and drab, the roads noisy and congested between the tall and characterless office blocks. I worked in an office there myself, on what was apparently the second most polluted street in London.
That may be changing. Over the next decade, a £4 billion investment programme aims to turn Victoria into a greener, cleaner, healthier and more biodiverse part of the city. It’s mostly based around the construction of new and shiny high-end offices and apartments of course, like most developments in London. But what the Victoria Business Investment District has done differently is to audit its green spaces and think creatively about them.
The green space audit looked at all the existing green space, from private gardens to parks to rail corridors, to see how they could be improved. They noted that the area had lower than average green space, and that “the whole area is currently deficient in wildlife.” The audit then investigated where more could be added – not just around buildings, but on roofs and walls as well. Key locations were identified, and feasibility studies carried out. A whole third of the land area of Victoria is flat roofs, which presented an interesting opportunity.
The resulting masterplan includes the installation of 25 hectares of green roof space, along with several living walls. Rain gardens will be fitted along wide pavements, traffic islands will be turned into planters, trees will be planted along streets, and parks and existing grassy patches will be improved to coax back wildlife. This new ‘green infrastructure’ will cool the streets, muffle noise, clean the air, store CO2, and create new habitats. It should also be great to look at, and to live and work around.
The first green wall, the largest in London, was installed last year. It covers the side of a hotel with a variety of 18 plants including ivy, ferns, strawberry and violets. They’ve been chosen as good pollinators, and to give year-round variation and interest.
Another ingenious feature of Victoria’s roof and wall gardens is that they are designed to capture rainwater for irrigation. This will feed the green walls, but it is also intended to slow run-off when it rains. The drains in Victoria can be overwhelmed in heavy rain, something I have witnessed a few times myself in the streets and in the station itself. As climate change makes extreme weather more likely, rainwater management is going to become more important. Victoria is thinking ahead, and building in green infrastructure that will retain rainwater and disperse it slowly.