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29 Mar 2018

Peter Murray on London: Neighbourhood watcher

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Liveable Neighbourhoods give the streets back to the Londoners who live there, writes Peter Murray

I was reminded of Abercrombie’s wonderful amoebic map showing London’s communities when I read recently that British Land had bought the Woolwich Estate in east London. A purchase in line with its strategy of creating what the company has branded “campuses” which covers its core estates of Broadgate and Regents Place, Paddington Central and Canada Water.

It is a strategy that fits well with London’s historic development as a patchwork of the planned and unplanned. The first “campuses“ were the historic estates - Bedford, Grosvenor, de Walden, Portman, Cadogan et al. The aristocratic owners developed mixed-use estates within de ned areas. The capital’s growth was created by a mix of the gridded layouts and the ad hoc infill that happened as towns and villages grew to create a united metropolis.

The concept of “estates” was borrowed in the post-war period to describe the large areas of monocultural council housing – these less posh “housing estates” changed perceptions of the word, which has been dropped following their redevelopment: the Ferrier Estate in Blackheath becomes Kidbrooke Village, and Southwark’s Heygate Estate is Elephant Park.

Last year Sadiq Khan introduced his Liveable Neighbourhoods programme with multi-million- pound funding for the creation of green spaces, cycling infrastructure and walking routes to deliver healthy and safe neighbourhoods for people rather than vehicles.

It’s not a new idea. In the 1970s the Netherlands introduced “woonerfs” (liveable places) that blurred the distinction between pedestrian and vehicular space, limiting speeds to “walking speed” (4mph), with through traffic diverted to the periphery.

 PeterMurray Neighbourhood Watcher marta pantaleoIllustration: Marta Pantaleo

Similarly, in Barcelona superilles (superblocks) are being carved out of the Cerdà grid, freeing up “citizen spaces”. A superblock consists of nine existing blocks with through traffic restricted to roads on the perimeter. Only residents’ or local businesses’ vehicles are allowed access, restricted to 10km/h. And in the UK home zones have been enabled since 2000, with about 100 around the country, but few in London.

Changing the way traffic moves around the city can de ne and reinforce the identity of areas of the city. The hierarchy of busy major roads and quieter residential streets is ubiquitous but rarely well enough de ned, with rat-run- ning and speeding vehicles reducing the free use of streets (our most important public spaces) in the way that home zones can.

I live in Bedford Park in west London. Described as “the rst garden suburb” by John Betjeman, it has busier roads around its edges and one cutting though its centre. It has a 20mph speed limit (not enforced). Although traf- c is sparse (except when motorists look for alternative routes) the streets are daunting for inexperienced cyclists and could not be used for children’s play. It could be so much improved with liveable neighbourhood policies.

As Patrik Schumacher suggested in his recent exhibition on Walkable London at NLA, central areas of the city could also benefit from such ideas. Soho would be wonderful if traf c speeds were reduced and priority given to pedestrians. The City, with its medieval plan, was literally made to be a walking neighbourhood.

Ealing, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey,Havering, Lewisham and Waltham Forest have all won part of the £114m that the mayor has allocated for his Liveable Neighbourhood project. There will be another round of funding later this year and I look forward to more boroughs taking up this transformational initiative. In the light of concerns about pollution and safety as well as mayoral policies supporting active travel, perhaps we will at last see woonerfs spreading across the capital.

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