On Sunday, I went for a long walk. It was a lovely warm day and I wanted to look at a couple of sites on the edge of the City in advance of a design review.
I also wanted to look at what was happening in Victoria Street where I spent about 8 years working at City Hall, including the redesign of the Cathedral Piazza, a favourite project as the City Council client working with Luke Engleback.
I wanted to have another look at the Tate Britain and the Caruso St John work there. I wanted to take the river boat to Tate Modern. When I got there I set out on my meandering walk to the 2 sites.
You can see what is happening to the City from the air, from models at the Building Centre, from websites and blogs, from the architectural and urban design press, from riverside walks and the river bus, but you have to experience it at ground level to appreciate the transformation that this City is going through.
On that quiet Sunday the city was generally pretty empty. The parks and gardens around St Paul’s generally packed. The South Bank thronged with people including some paddling in the Thames.
Traffic was virtually non existent, yet no roads were closed. As soon as I reached Liverpool Street station all that changed. It was packed, the roads were busy, the pollution noticeable, the hustle and bustle of street markets and the pull of a major transport interchange. Away from the main streets all was much quieter, no crowds of office workers and so the spaces were revealed for their positive and negative qualities.
The sites were close by, very much as I expected, largely derelict, unloved and ripe for development of some kind. Little if anything of quality. The replacements will be transformational. They could potentially undo much of the solid incremental work of repair and conservation that the area is undergoing. They will have an immediate impact on the surrounding streets and the value of what remains there.
It is just inconceivable that this form of development could be repeated today. Take a recent example, Mount Pleasant. Whether the proposed and approved design is good or poor is only a small part of the problem. The local community felt pressed by the lack of local involvement and the Mayor’s overruling local feelings to commission an alternative design. Maybe it’s not much better, but that is not the issue. What is clear is that the privatised Royal Mail in conjunction with the Mayor have little concern for the views of local people and their elected representatives for the place being created. A similar tale is being told across the Capital, although much is disputed by the local authorities involved.
In the City fringes where new and increasingly high value residential, mixed use and hotel developments abound, a move away from a mono-cultural office environment is welcome. But, are the places created, enhancements to the bustle and complexity of these, thriving, neighbourhoods?