While past eras of rapid construction and urban growth have been characterized as building booms, in today's development-saturated London, those booms might only register as a whimper. The British capital currently has more than 250 buildings in the works that are more than 20 stories tall, a pace and scale that has caused critics to decry the changes to the ever-shifting skyline and housing activists to organize and protest against the resulting rent increases and displacement of long-time residents. With affordability and new development at the forefront of the urban debate, Concrete Action, a website that allows architects, planners and anybody involved in the building process to anonymously submit plans and proposals to help inform and catalyze the activist community, launched earlier this month. A response to the housing crises, one that many involved in creating new buildings aren't happy about, the site provides the ability to send files over an encrypted network, offering whistleblowers the cover of the dark web to encourage submissions and, as the founders hope, spark action against rampant development. Curbed spoke with one of the organizers, who wished to remain anonymous, about the site and the current housing situation in London.
What kind of reaction have you gotten so far from Concrete Action? How many, and what kind of leaks, have you been sent?
"We have had an overwhelmingly positive response so far, and also a lot of requests for help, but we haven't received many leaks. This could be because it's early days yet, we are expecting leaks to start happening slowly as word gets out about the site."
What led you and inspired you to create Concrete Action?
"There are a number of local campaigns in London who inspired us to start the site. FocusE15 Mothers in Stratford are one. There seemed to be an obvious gap in providing information to grassroots campaigns which they wouldn't usually have access to. London is changing so much that it seemed imperative to do something to attempt to sustain the diversity of the city."
Is something like this relatively easy to set up? How many people are involved in the organization?
"The site was quite easy to set up, but we did spend a few months researching and learning about net security as well! Currently we have a core of four people and a wider network of over a hundred."
Once an architect or planner submits a document to the site, is there any outreach to community groups to developed planned resistance to the proposal? How does a leak get translated into action?
"We hope to publish leaks that we receive, and notify community groups in the area, if they aren't aware already. We can't help communities organize, so it's up to the people local to an area to plan any actions. We do provide workshops and ideas to groups looking to put pressure on the system."
Concrete Action is based on the idea that the planning process isn't working for London citizens. I'm wondering if there are any particular examples you'd hold up as evidence the system isn't working?
"There are countless examples of housing being regenerated with no regard for the existing residents: Heygate Estate regeneration in Elephant and Castle, Woodberry Down Estate in Finsbury Park, Carpenters Estate in Stratford -- you can have a look on the map. Many regeneration schemes take place without proper consultation of the local residents. The planning system only contains provisions for token consultations."
What does a system that works look like? What needs to be changed in the planning process?
"The planning system needs to be more transparent, and there needs to be proper avenues for real local input. Any community-led design proposals should be taken seriously, and people shouldn't be forced out of the areas where they live in order to make way for unwanted development. It means that redevelopment will take longer and be more costly, but the city will benefit from people who feel engaged and listened to in the process."