As the public we are private motorists and public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians. Sometimes, individually, we are all of these.Urban spaces need to accommodate all modes, yet in trying to improve such spaces there is a temptation to switch from one extreme to the other, from dominant traffic to pedestrianisation. But, realistically, pedestrianisation can be only a rare palliative.
When the Corporation of London Planning Department ran a competition to improve a key route - King Street/Queen Street, which runs from the Guildhall down to Southwark Bridge across the Thames - it was looking both for specific ameliorations and for an approach of more general application.While the two other shortlisted schemes did indeed focus on pedestrianisation, the winner, Gross Max, was less extreme, more subtle, emphasising and building on the inherent qualities of the route.
Gross Max argued that the whole of King Street/Queen Street, like many other urban streets, was not thronged enough with people and was too interconnected with neighbouring streets to take the exceptional measure of pedestrianisation. Instead, it set out an approach to making the route more pleasurably inhabitable - refining a space here, emphasising another there, often upgrading materials, so shifting the focus and pace of the journey, at least for the eye.
The strategic approach taken by Gross Max is to:
articulate the city - make distinct interventions, jewels in the crown; make use of existing road closures;
reshape - remove clutter, use materials to give spatial cohesion, accept separation of roads and pavements;
reveal the city - its topography, historic street pattern, juxtapositions of elements;
curate the city - manage installation of public art, address the evening, when the city is often quiet;
network - contribute to transport options and interconnection through pedestrian and cycle routes, river taxis, etc; and lrewire - future-proofing, hoping also to reduce future roadworks damage.
After careful analysis of the immediate area, including drawing all elevations along the route, Gross Max has won approval for a scheme involving six main interventions along or adjacent to King Street/Queen Street. Costed at about £5 million, such a programme of works would need contributory funding from building owners if it were to be rolled out on many sites. This is being explored; such streetscape initiatives need to begin with commitment from the Corporation and building owners.
This scheme will not create the continuous transformation that end-to-end pedestrianisation would have done - at a higher cost of maybe £12 million, greater disruption and the displacement of traffic to other streets.
Rather, it provides a model for more placespecific interventions that do articulate, reshape and reveal the city, upgrading its grain, adding to our quality of life.
1, GUILDHALL YARD ENTRANCE The 'launchpad' to King Street, dominated by bollards.Hydraulic bollards must remain, others could go.Changes include high-quality paving in a distinct pattern of dark stone; lighting, including Jewry church facade; seating; and boxwood planters.Work starts shortly.
2, ST PANCRAS LANE CHURCHYARD East off Queen Street, a small neglected space with mature trees, capable of becoming a secluded pocket park. Includes water feature, planting groundcover, hedges and trellis, and marking traces of former nave with raised paving. (For this and other interventions: traffic engineering by Arup;
lighting by Dpa Lighting Design; art procurement by Art Project Management. ) 3, ST MARY ALDEMARY, WATLING STREET Narrow, congested side street west off Queen Street with glimpses of St Paul's.Take over some on-road parking space with the church as backdrop - a place to pause; maybe gate the road.
Includes repaving and Cordwainer statue, raised plant bed, a tree and sculptural light feature.
4, UPPER PLAZA - QUEEN VICTORIA STREET TO CANNON STREET Pedestrianisation, except for controlled service access. Promote street life with seating for cafes and pub. Includes trees and lamp columns.
5, LOWER PLAZA - CANNON STREET TO CLOAK LANE Plazas create a visual bridge across busy Cannon Street, which is already gated; majestic tree, fine 18th-century houses. Includes extending existing courtyard gardens; integration of a dual cycle lane.
6, QUEEN STREET GATEWAY - COLLEGE STREET TO UPPER THAMES STREET Already paved. Includes improving pedestrian and cycle routes; a landmark column showing tidal water level; two water features; low wall at road edge; trees, seats and paving.