Situated on historically problematic drained marshlands with thousands of years of populated history—seafaring, military and industrial—it is now home to 75,000 people. It has the highest population of British Black African in London or Britain. With no banks, no cinemas, one independent food shop, one café and a dominating industrial food landscape, the urban identity of the contemporary cosmopolitan is questionable. ‘Trust Thamesmead’ are the established and active community support group (now merged with ‘Peabody Trust’) who run popular local projects. Together with good to outstanding school OFSTED results it is clear that the story of a neglected place is not the comprehensive story of Thamesmead.
Global cities are centripetal in that they draw everything to the centre, yet centrifugal in that they dispel dissident elements or outsource low-grade functions such as housing for the modest or low waged (Millington, 2012, 13). The London commuting workforce of an average 3 million per day (Gordon, 2013, ) make up more than one-third of the total London population. Figures which Millington quoting Lefebreve explains with “the super-centrality embodied by the global city produces or requires “another centre, a periphery, an elsewhere […] this movement produced by the urban, in turn produces the urban” (Millington, 2012, 21). Many of London’s commuting workforce cannot afford the gentrified city housing prices and so the exurb urban identity is increasingly one of living a liminal existence. It is as Datta et al describe a life beset with a “loneliness and a sense of displacement” (Datta et al, 2009, 864), compounded by experiencing spatial separation from the hub of the city on a daily basis.
My study of Thamesmead, London identified this concern of powerlessness for a low income commuting workforce with little access to healthy, non-processed and culturally appropriate food. I referred to my master planning design framework tool Urban Communitas which interconnects six themes and their design determinants; Food and Water, Movement (of people and things), Harmony (with each other and nature), Health, Technology, and Labour and Leisure.
Food and Water Determinants
Places which give opportunities for healthy and sustainable diets
Health Centre cafe for patients and their families to eat at and a place for cooking classes and family meals. Fresh fruit and vegetable stalls at train stations and bus terminus. Pop-up marquees/ temporary beach huts selling healthy snacks-run by locals.
Lime trees (‘magnetic’ pollution catchers), fruit and nut trees instead of ornamental planting, reed beds on the waterfront as filters and wildlife habitats, bee and hoverfly friendly plants, places for hedgehogs.
Short food chains
Schools, workplaces, wild hedgerows for foraging, food outlets and pubs having kitchen gardens and a paid gardener, local and seasonal fish at take-away/street food and at weekly stall/mobile van.
Incorporation of community food projects
Community shop/supermarket to sell local produce (fruit, cob nuts, honey, apples, jams, juices, beer and cider), riverside festivals of food and music.
Promotion of sustainable food or farming knowledge and skills
Bread project with micro-bakeries every 100 residents using wheat grown in Essex and a Thamesmead windmill, hubs for community jam and preserve making and to swap food skills and an aquaponics farm.
Support for food enterprises
Pop up shops (seasonal options to fit in with festivals and school holidays), market square stalls outside work places, culturally varied food.
Closed loop solutions for food and water waste
Bio-digester, anaerobic digester, waste water for toilets and gardens, water butts with siphoning technology.
A future of sustained food supplies
Locally grown and produced foods, ruban farm/land, reducing or reusing waste, seaweed farm, introduction of salt marshes and encouraging small scale food outlets.
Rain and grey water harvesting
At schools, offices and shops with water reuse technology fitted in all residential and commercial sites.