Consultations and responses

Street Scene

RIBA London’s Street Scene looks at the quality of our everyday streets and public spaces and its delivery. Co-ordinated out of the region’s Design, Planning and Policy Group (DPPG), it is a campaign for a clearer set of design standards for London’s streets that brings together space makers and crucially traffic engineers.

Summary response to draft London Plan 2010

Street Scene welcomes the recognition by the Mayor and the GLA that many of London’s open spaces are shared spaces without a single dominant user and applauds significant investment in the public realm through Design for London.

The statement in the recent proposed replacement London plan 2010 that “London’s public spaces should be secure, accessible, easy to understand and maintain, and incorporate the highest quality landscaping, planting, furniture and surfaces” is welcomed as an inspirational goal for all streets.

However, the emphasis upon ‘great spaces’ rather than the ‘everyday’ may have contributed to wider disparities of quality in the capital and raises issues of legibility. From CABE’s Ordinary Spaces pamphlet 2010;

“Ordinary places are where more than 80 per cent of people live. They are found in every city, town and village, but they miss out in comparison to more glamorous locations.”

Street Scene seeks a ‘better standard of ordinary’ for London.

Challenges

Despite the publication in 2007 of Manual for Streets produced by the Department for Transport, and Communities and Local Government with a widely drawn steering group including CABE and the Urban Design Alliance, each borough in London frequently produces its own guidance. It cannot be logical that there are 32 potential design guides.

Some boroughs have demonstrated a highly enlightened approach, commissioning their own schemes that go beyond the manual- in the case of High Street Kensington it came long before. However, in many more cases the design manual is ineffectual or ignored altogether.

Possible causes

  • Streets being seen as the traditional responsibility of highway engineers and not urban designers
  • Lack of inter-borough co-ordination setting shared standards in the absence of a body such as the GLC
  • Safety audits leading to an excess of street furniture and a lack of trust in human behaviour
  • Inadequate lessons being learnt from European experience and best practice in UK 

The dominance of traffic engineering, vehicle circulation over that of pedestrian and the aversion to risk means that traditional clutter remains or is reinstated and road junctions continue in a bewildering variety of styles.

For more on this or to get involved contact: Mike.althorpe@inst.riba.org

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