The lowdown on the latest Camden experiments


In which we get our heads round the ALT.CMD project, which aims to use the neighbourhood as a test lab for brilliant new ideas



Remind me, what’s this ALT.CMD thing again? It stands for Alternative Camden, a really rather exciting project with the goal to rethink the big (and smaller) challenges of urban living, and then successfully demonstrate new solutions. Our area is well place as a petri dish for such ideas, with its vibrant mix of industrial, social and residential spaces, plus strong rail links out to the rest of the country, too.

So who’s involved and what have they been doing? The first step of the process was to bring together a proper mix of local citizens for a series of blue sky brainstorming sessions. Once the blizzard of colourful post-it notes had settled, a big list of ambitious ideas emerged (it’s well worth checking them out here). Since then, the ALT.CMD team – whose members include Camden Town Unlimited, the government’s Future Cities Catapult and built environment visionary types Dark Matter Labs – have identified a few key areas to start with, henceforth to be known as ‘the experiments.’

That sounds a little intimidating, I hope they won’t be making any loud bangs? Far from it, in fact one of the trials is to explore a digital prototype for improving noise pollution issues. The idea is to be able to monitor sounds levels continuously and contextually, using sensors and phone apps. That way, current battles of cheek-by-jowl city living – such as residents seeking a good night’s sleep versus a vibrant night time cultural economy – can be more fairly adjudicated for both sides, improving on the current experience of either stifling regulation or complain-driven enforcement. If the principle works for noise, then it can also be applied more widely, to air quality and transport pinch-points too, and radically redefine how we approach policy making.

Wow, that’s impressive stuff. I told you it was an exciting project. And that’s not the half of it. Another experiment is looking into smart covenants, a principle that could completely change how we develop, build and own our neighbourhoods.

Go on then, blow my mind. Well if you think about it, any investment today in making an area nicer to live in results in the property prices going up, and the very residents the improvements were driven by and for, begin getting priced out. Smart covenants could one day mean that this increased value is channelled directly back into the community, via digital property deeds operating on the blockchain.

Ah, blockchain. Now you’re losing me. Is there anything that’s a little easier to grasp? Sure. They are looking at ways to alleviate the housing shortage by plonking eco-friendly new homes on top of some of Camden’s thousands of eminently suitable existing roofs. The challenge here is moving fast while not swamping the council with applications admin. Similarly, another of the plans will help us all tackle climate change much faster than lumbering central government can do, by allocating decarbonising budgets on a street-by-street micro level.

And how can I play a part in all this relentless innovation? Keep an eye on the alternativecamden.com website and @altcamden social channels, as all this ambition really is only just beginning to take shape. Hopefully soon enough though, today’s wild Alternative ideas will be among tomorrow’s most sensible success stories.

It sounds like a rare good news story in our otherwise troubled times. You said it.


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