As cities develop, we evolve how public realm works. In many places now across the UK and internationally, we are reassessing what it takes to create a successful public realm. We are remaking and restoring streets.
When planning the redevelopment of Wornington Green Estate, the restoration of a strong and historic street pattern was at the core of the thinking on public space. The 1970s estate represented a move to a more closed environment, an island where pedestrians and community activity was separated from the wider neighbourhood and city movement. It broke with the previous life on the streets and the community behaviours that engendered. But now the character will change again in the new development with a restored hierarchy of street types, along with upgraded public realm in the form of an extended park, higher-quality paving and other features, and more local shops. This, along with overall higher density and mixed tenure, will once again evolve the community.
Public interaction — a base for community-building, security and opportunity — is encouraged by the shared and open street at its heart, and in turn has a self-supporting benefit on the good management of the street. For example, the importance of ‘eyes on the street’ for security, as identified by urban theorist Jane Jacobs, is a key part of creating a more naturally supporting ecosystem of the public realm.
The quality of the streetscape is also fundamental. York-stone paving, granite kerbs, trees pitted in gravel so that water can penetrate and roots can develop… these are modest but important examples of upgraded practices that are increasingly standard and are in evidence at Portobello Square. Different neighbourhoods may vary the characteristics — it is part of what gives a sense of place — but overall quality in material, design and maintenance is vital.
In an age where ‘place-making’ is a popular and vital concept, we increasingly realise that the modest street, and the details that make it work, is at the heart of creating attractive liveable areas.
This modest terrace of ‘affordable’ homes in Walworth, from c. 1907, display many positive elements for successful city streets that have come back into fashion. Doorways open on to the street, decorative brickwork breaks up the facade and individualises each unit, and residents easily interact with each other and passers-by, supporting both security and community. Photo: Grant Smith/VIEW
Churchill Gardens, Pimlico, built between 1946 and 1962 to designs by Powell and Moya, replaced terraced housing, much of which had been badly damaged in the war. From the outset it sought a social mix. The housing includes seven blocks rising up to 11 storeys interspersed with low-rise. In all 1600 homes are provided in 32 blocks, with well-planned and maintained communal landscaping. A then innovative district heating plan continues to operate. Photo: George Rex
World’s End Estate, 1977, by Eric Lyons and Cadbury Brown. This dense social housing estate in Chelsea has been depicted as Brutalist and connected with outworn design approaches. But its high regard for the quality of communal spaces, including a maintained shared garden, and the use of warm brick cladding, gives it a standard of public realm that many estates lack. Photo: Dennis Gilbert/ VIEW
The New York-based Project For Public Spaces developed this diagram to show the ingredients that need to be considered in order to make a successful public space. It assembles attributes, intangible factors and the measurable elements in a tool that can be used for judging an environment or plan as good, bad or in-between. Source: www.pps.org
West End Public Realm
The transformational effect of improving public realm is being demonstrated close to home as The Building Centre is located in a district that will benefit from a £32m scheme of radical changes to upgrade or create numerous new public spaces. The London Borough of Camden commissioned architects DSDHA to lead a team of landscape designers, traffic engineers and lighting specialists to remake the quality of street experience in this area, as shown in this film.