How to design streets that work: a look back at a 2004 report

My external hard drive died recently. That awful moment when clicks become ever more audible as it tries to power on though nothing appeared when the usb cable was plugged in. Sure, I’d backed things up, but everything? Nope.

And even then, files and photos are strewn across Dropbox, Google, various USB sticks and much else.

Amid the frustration comes that renewed drive to back other things up, sharpish.

So I decided to upload things from another external hard drive to online services. And whilst doing so I found photos from a fantastic exhibition I’d visited at the New London Architecture centre.

Most people will probably know the NLA as the place where there’s a large model of London except south-east London which is mostly cut off.

Greenwich Peninsula just about makes it onto the model but until very recently was well out-of-date. It’s a bit better now.

Alongside the model they regularly have brilliant exhibitions relating to design and architecture.

One such exhibition was marking 10 years of changes in approaches to street design based on Jan Gehl’s study in London streets.

At the time it was striking how some London boroughs had embraced changed and others had stayed firmly rooted in an anti-pedestrian past.

Three years on from the exhibition and fourteen since guidance offered and some councils are still resistant to change, even when evidence shows their old fashioned practices are more dangerous than modern thinking.

Anyone who has visited just about any other city in the developed world will see that many London streets were (and often still are) designed very poorly.

I recall watching a documentary where a European designer visited London and was amazed how pedestrians are penned in by numerous railings demonstrating the primacy of cars.

A lot of London has come a long way. TfL introduced a plan to improve streets and audited all their managed roads and reduced clutter unless local authorities objected.

It’s not really about flagship projects at a cost of millions but changing attitudes and practices at the coal face without council departments so routine Highways Department schemes look at what isn’t working, remove it and also carefully considers the positioning and layout of forthcoming street furniture, greenery, lighting and the rest than can make or break public spaces.

Many areas are much better now. Less obstructive street furniture increases the appeal of walking and doesn’t obscure or detract from buildings and streetscapes. Beautiful buildings aren’t hidden behind clutter.

A safer AND more beautiful city is the result. At least in places.



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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

One thought on “How to design streets that work: a look back at a 2004 report

  • Shame that Greenwich Council doesn’t seem to have got the memo. It’s streets are an obstacle course of railings and bollards, seemingly for no apparent reason. The streets of Lewisham where I now live much better and both pedestrians and drivers are more aware of each other.


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