Perspectives: Placemaking beyond King’s Cross

If you’re talking placemaking in London, the conversation will inevitably turn to King’s Cross, one of Europe’s largest, longest-running and most widely acclaimed regeneration schemes.

Future of London kick-started the field trip element of our 2017 placemaking programme with a visit to King’s Cross in April. The trip had more than 150 applicants for 25 places, and one participant tweeted that it was “a masterclass in placemaking”. Guided by delivery-level speakers from Argent, LB Camden and Global Generation, which runs the community-led Skip Garden, the visit focused on the strategies that have guided the area’s development.

As a cross-sector network which helps practitioners deliver quality regeneration, housing, socio-economic and infrastructure projects in challenging times, FoL tends to call on speakers who’ve delivered change and can answer practical questions.

As a team, and to inform our work, we also like to learn from outliers – people with challenging proposals, innovative projects that may not fly, useful groups that don’t get much airtime – which is why I went on a different King’s Cross field trip in July, with Empathy Walks. Graduates of UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning started this grassroots series of tours – based on Jane Jacobs walks – “because nobody else was really doing it.”

The July walk was called “There is nothing here” because an estate agent had told one of the group that north of the King’s Cross ‘red line’, that’s all there was: nothing. Given the area’s rich industrial and community life, visit organisers Sonia Baralic, Sofia Crosso Mazzuco and Julie Plichon disagreed and decided to learn – and share – more.

The trip consisted of a 45-minute tour and subsequent discussion of the Elm Village neighbourhood and the Camley Street/Cedar Way Industrial Estate, core of the proposed Camley Street Sustainability Zone (CSSZ) and tied to the Camley Street Neighbourhood Forum.

Host Christian Spencer-Davies, Managing Director of AModels and an estate tenant, is a member of the tenants and residents action group which developed the proposal, with architect Paul Karakusevic, UCL’s Elena Besussi, Tibbalds Planning & Urban Design, Minerva Smart Cities and many others. Supporting community voices with committed professional expertise has helped projects like Bristol’s Carriageworks, and could make a difference here.

CSSZ goals are to maintain the estate’s 650 jobs, add new workspace and affordable housing, and directly involve the community throughout. Current jobs are in food production, plumbing supplies, specialist photography, cleaning, council services, [adjacent] vehicle repair and more – not the glam tech/creative stuff that’s in the limelight, but decent-paying, steady, skilled work that serves London and is tied to the central location of these businesses.

LB Camden, which owns the freehold under the industrial estate, is reviewing area options. The proposal is also timely given the sharpening focus on mixing affordable workspace, light industry and housing in the run-up to the next London Plan iteration. If it stacks up, the CSSZ could be an early case study for combining housing and industrial uses.

Thanks to Empathy Walks for a fascinating afternoon; we look forward to their next venture! If there’s a project or area you think would help FoL’s network get the job done, drop us a line at

Check here for the latest on Future of London’s 2017 Placemaking programme of public events, field trips, write-ups and the Alan Cherry Placemaking Award (including the new ‘One to Watch’ category for next-wave leaders!).