Staying Afloat? Making Home and Creating Place on London's Canals and Rivers

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Geography


The past 30 years have seen dramatic changes to London's residential landscapes and neighbourhoods as economic restructuring, programmes of regeneration, and processes of gentrification have transformed once run-down parts of the city into vibrant and desirable places to live in (see, for example, Hamnett 2003, Butler and Robson 2003, Camplin 2013). Yet as the population of the globalising metropolis has grown, household structures have changed, and its housing stock has increasingly become the focus of investment and speculation. High levels of migration to London have added to the city's social complexity and have increased pressures on housing leading to increasingly mobile and precarious experiences of domestic life, especially for lower income groups (Vertovec 2007, Jordan et al 2017, DeVerteuil 2017). This has led to a questioning of the sustainability of London and its ability to promote socially just ways of living amidst growing social and spatial inequality (Imrie and Lees 2013). This coincides with a remarkable transformation of London's waterways in the last decade, the most visible manifestation of which has been the growth in the number of boats moored along the city's canals and navigable rivers. According to the Canal & River Trust (CRT) - the main partner in this research project - who are responsible for sustainably managing 100 miles of London's waterways, the number of moored boats has doubled since 2010 to over 4,000 vessels and in a recent survey 58% of respondents were using their boats as their primary home (CRT 2016; 2017). It is estimated that as many as 10,000 people live on London's waterways (London Assembly 2013). But as well as becoming an important place to live for Londoners struggling to pay the high costs of 'on land' accommodation or choosing an alternative lifestyle and home, metropolitan canals and rivers are also the focus of new economic activity and emerging sites of leisure and recreation, with 'blue space' and their adjoining green spaces being highly valued as contributing to the well-being of the city's inhabitants. Towpaths are important to the city's connectivity and have become key to strategies for enabling sustainable transport through their promotion as cycling and walking routes and as strategic routes for services and utilities (gas/electricity/fibre). These linear, connected blue spaces also provide vital migratory routes for wildlife and act as important refugia for biota in urban centres. However, the rapid change in the use of the city's waterways has also led to conflicts between different users, such as boaters and their on-land neighbours. In 2013 the London Assembly commissioned a report into mooring on London's waterways making several key recommendations including increasing capacity for mooring, and improving access and facilities (London Assembly 2013). This research will assist the CRT in better understanding the needs of those who make their homes on London's canals and rivers and inform CRT's work with all users to develop waterway environments as sustainable and high-quality places for living, working and enjoying a range of leisure activities. The findings of this timely study will support realisation of the CRT's London Waterways Partnership Ten Year Strategic Plan (2014) and its recently launched Draft London Mooring Strategy (2017). The project will develop intellectual and theoretical frameworks for understanding contemporary home and place-making strategies along London's waterways. It will generate new evidence to inform the Trust's work and assess ways of measuring its impact.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2115440 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2018 31/12/2022 Laura Roberts