Housing developers are in something of a tailspin these days, as they scramble to appeal to consumers who have less money, know more about sustainability, and care more about the provenance of the objects they own. A perfect example of this shift is the "greenwashing" of new suburban developments (walkable, but with tons of parking!). Meanwhile, peri-urban development is booming as homeowners migrate back towards the urban core.
IKEA is known for their shrewd reading of consumer behavior, so it makes sense they're investing in just such a scheme. Strand East is a 6,000-person community the corporation is building on a 27-acre industrial plot adjacent to London's 2012 Olympic Park. Already under construction, the village will open in 2013. .
The project, which is being run by the Swedish company's real estate arm, borrows hallmarks from Scandinavian urban planning. For example, Strand East will be car-free, with exceptions made for ambulances and buses. Retail activity in Strand East will be limited to non-chains companies (somewhat ironically?) and rents will be affordable to a broad range of budgets. As far as the homes themselves go, they'll play to a broad spectrum of tastes (much like IKEA's pleasantly modern furniture), with townhouses, free-standing homes, offices, shops, and apartments nestled together in a plan that seems vaguely reminiscent of Denmark's "co-housing" tradition.
But Strand East won't exactly be an "IKEA-themed" town, filled exclusively with .99 cent wine openers and gem-colored mod swivel chairs. In fact, plans for Strand East don't include an IKEA store or any IKEA merchandized shops. Instead, the village will test the repeatability of the company's urban schemes in countries suffering from housing shortages.
Company towns have a long history in Britain, where such developments have existed since the 19th century. Of course, up until now, company towns were meant to offer escape from industrial centers. Strand East invites homeowners to return to an industrial site which, at one time, repelled millions of homeowners into the suburbs.