VeloCity team members Kay Hughes and Sarah Featherstone explain how cycling initiated and informed the winning entry to the National Infrastructure Commission’s ‘Cambridge to Oxford Connection’ ideas competition
Can a steep hill and a bike bond a group of professional women? Team ‘VeloCity’ – which has won the National Infrastructure Commission’s Cambridge to Oxford Connection ideas competition – was formed on pedElle, the long-distance charity cycle ride for women in the property industry, and in the words of pedElle founders Jennifer Ross and Claire Treanor, “when you and others have pushed yourselves to the limits it becomes a group endeavour”, one with mutual trust.
The interdependency that originated on challenging cycle rides later led to joint working and discussion, and then to our joint entry to the competition (VeloCity is Jennifer Ross of Tibbalds Planning & Urban Design, Annalie Riches of Mikhail Riches, Sarah Featherstone of Featherstone Young, Kay Hughes of Khaa, Petra Marko of Marko & Placemakers, and Judith Sykes of Expedition Engineering). For this different sort of challenge we have joined forces around one of the big issues of the day: how to support growing populations and preserve natural resources while stimulating economic growth.
Our proposal turns traditional planning policy on its head to stimulate sustainable, finely networked places to live and work in the countryside that also connect back to main rail stations. Our approach is the antithesis of the ‘big bang’ projects that dominate political thinking, delivering within narrow remits. It is a group endeavour to find more direct, low-cost, sustainable, long-term solutions that responds directly to place. And unsurprisingly it prioritises cycling over other modes of transport!
Of course the ideas and thinking didn’t appear out of thin air. They were generated around cycling trips, keeping fit, comraderie and having fun. Initial trips to places and buildings have developed over time into cycle visits to places to explore issues around placemaking, long-term development and urban planning. As a group we visited Rotterdam and Amsterdam and examined long-term government-led planning objectives, new towns and housing extensions, fostering debate between us in the process, and we used our professional connections to draw in other women that we know. Among the ‘critical friends’ who fed into our competition discussions were Joanna Averley, Harriet Bourne, Mel Dodd, Hilary Satchwell and Jane Wernick.
Concept village in 2050: VeloCity focuses on six villages situated to the south-east of one of the new stations on the Oxford to Cambridge rail link as a test bed. It advances a place-based vision for reimagining how a group of smaller villages might evolve over a 30-year period.
The team’s proposal for a new VeloCity benefited from these discussions and visits, enabling us to take a wider view and drawing on our wide range of skills including planning, architecture, engineering, place making and urban design. It helped us explore alternative routes to achieve economic gains and make new places.
The VeloCity proposal prioritises cycling over vehicular transport, not because we are obsessed but because it is cost-effective, good for health and does not discriminate against those who cannot afford to drive. The proposal addresses issues around existing villages and rural settlements – places that have a strong sense of identity but diminished community. We wanted to restore them by setting a framework for them to become multi-generational, supported by a strong network of local shops, schools and health facilities.
To do this we have proposed making the centre of villages denser to support more diverse and renewed community life and prevent the gradual extension of villages on either side of the road making them into corridors. We have offered alternatives for deliveries and day-to-day transport and then gradually plan to displace cars by offering better alternatives. It’s an approach that values a sharing economy with collective benefits.
Our approach is incremental, carefully honed – one that genuinely delivers a circular economy with a low carbon footprint”
Our approach is incremental, carefully honed, one that genuinely delivers a circular economy with a low carbon footprint. One where life moves from the high velocity of the new train and hard infrastructure and connects to the slower pace of everyday life within reimagined village communities.
The experience for us all has been revelatory and exposes how effectively and efficiently an experienced and dynamic professional team can collectively draw on each other’s skills. We have discovered that as a group of women we are mutually supportive and pull each other to new areas of focus that widen our overall sphere of interest. When one tires the others take over, just as we did on our bikes – a sort of intellectual relay.
So what have we learnt? Firstly that informal associations of professionals can be highly effective, creative and mutually supportive. That joint challenges really do develop trust and that in association with the wider network of cycling women (and men), we hope to use this initial success to continue to generate further new ideas and thinking. However one thing we are unlikely to be discussing over dinner is what car we will be driving at the weekend!