Nipped up to Walthamstow between London meetings to check out the mini-Holland last week. Here’s a few thoughts that flickered around my brain as I wondered around in a semi-random way.
Firstly, do these things at scale and start with entry and exit treatments. So it’s not as if all of the area’s suburban streets are now things of beauty – with elegant blockwork and planters worthy of the Dutch masters. Many are as scruffy and scuffed as they were before. But the entry and exit to these former suburban cut throughs has been treated to damn, slow, and channel the flow of traffic. Instead of being culverts for distracting traffic the streets are now more like linked ponds for traffic. More reflective and calm. And also creating a sense of expectation for what could follow later in terms of their beautification and socialisation.
Secondly, there’s all sorts of interesting things going on out there which is changing cities (or London at least) from being predominantly a 9-5 hub and spoke, city and suburb city place into somewhere where new geographies of transport, lifestyle and economies are forming. For example in Walthamstow it was noticeable that hipsterification is starting to come to the suburbs – free book exchange boxes by the front gate, and cycle parking pods in former car parking places alongside house restorations which echo the brownstones of Brooklyn rather than the values of Metroland,
Whilst central London’s streets risk becoming a Prets / hotel / chain / luxury flats / chain store (and repeat) kind of place – is there an argument now that its the sub-centres and the hipper suburbs that are now more interesting places to hang out with their hand crafted and indie high streets? And more interesting, and carefully curated, places to work too – as fewer people work five days in the office and spend more time in their own house and hood. Indeed some are now saying that in London Wednesday is the new Monday (the day in which most people are in the office) and Thursday is the new Friday (because people don’t work, or work from home, on Friday). And it’s not only for work that people don’t have to move so far. As you can watch anything you like on your own screen and buy anything you want and have it delivered – why go out so much? And the figures show that people aren’t going out as much for shopping and leisure. But if you do go out far better orbital public transport links (like the London Overground), well connected high end malls in the sub centres (like the Westfields) and Uber also start to shift the balance away from the domination of radial travel.
All interesting stuff – and perhaps after we have finished our current research into what transport policy can do for urban towns we should turn our attention to the suburbs.