In the city of London, 488,000 new homes are needed in order to stop the bleeding of a housing crisis that 75% of London businesses warn is a significant risk to the city’s economic growth. With less than half of the necessary homes currently being built, stakeholders are seeking innovative ideas to respond to a growing social and economic problem that has left many people struggling to live and work in the city.

Vertical Solutions

In examining a complex housing crisis wrapped in a myriad of political, environmental, infrastructural, financial and sustainability considerations, WSP researchers in the UK have determined that developing ‘air space’ above public buildings such as hospitals, schools and libraries could provide as much as 6,337 hectares of land, or enough space to build 633,700 new residential units in London. In a report titled Building Our Way Out of a Crisis, WSP researchers present the case that capitalizing on air space located directly above public facilities has the potential to address all of London’s housing needs and more, while stimulating parallel projects to upgrade the city’s public facilities.

In the report, supported by numerous stakeholders, WSP research unveils a path to success through private sector refurbishment of public facilities, with a return on investment derived from the rental or sale of apartments added above the facilities. The report puts forth a blueprint for maximizing the efficiency of existing land, while regenerating public facilities and addressing the crisis head-on by providing housing in ideal locations close to transportation networks and amenities.

“This isn’t about replacing schools and hospitals with apartment blocks, but rather about using the existing land more effectively, with the added bonus that you can regenerate community facilities at the same time,” explains WSP Director, Bill Price. “The problem isn’t the building process - the challenge is more about the perceived issues of people living above places like hospitals, because it’s not the ‘done thing’ in the UK.”

Supporting the research, a WSP survey of Londoners reveals that 57% believe that the city’s public facilities are in need of regeneration, while 61% think that building homes above public facilities is a good idea. However, as Bill Price points out, the concept raises a separate social challenge, with WSP’s survey finding that 63% of Londoners would happily move into housing located above a library, but only 23% would be equally happy living above a school or hospital.

Read our White Paper: Building our way out of a crisis

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