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EXHIBITION

REVIEW

Public City At The Building Centre, Store Street, London WC1, until 3 March

The heroines and heroes of this exhibition are listed as Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl and Lars Gemzøe; Stuart Lipton at Broadgate; Richard Rogers and his Urban Task Force; and Ken Livingstone and his policy to make London 'the world's most walking-friendly city by 2015'. It also marks the replacement of Design Bulletin 32 by a new Manual for Streets in March.

The lessons of Barcelona and Copenhagen have been absorbed and now London aims to undo a century of domination by the car. Where there was asphalt highway there will be granite paving (no doubt imported from China). Cleanliness, safety and maintenance, and 'places to enjoy' is the summary prescription. But that is to oversimplify Jan Gehl's analysis.

A few models and small panels showing snapshots of over 60 urban design schemes are supplemented by a plan of London's strategic Green Space policies, panels of Gehl Architects' study of Mayfair and Belgravia for Grosvenor Estates, and an attractive but obscurely captioned map of Bill Hillier's Space Syntax analysis of the capital's streets.

It is when you look closely at the case studies that you begin to wonder. They range from the built (Broadgate) to the unbuilt (T P Bennett's proposals for London Bridge station) to the semi-demolished and currently little-used (Patel Taylor's Royal Victoria Square). There's the decorative cover-up which is Heatherwick Studios' re-facing of the boiler house at Guys Hospital, while one wonders why Southwark Council's redevelopment of Bermondsey Square market merits space here? The market was dynamic and ourishing - so why is Southwark building over much of it and reducing the number of stalls?

A show which relishes the fact that 'Borough Market's success has encouraged highprofile companies including Paul Smith to locate on its periphery' suggests this is a capitalist's view of London street life. Borough's success is based on it being run by the market charity and on affordable rents.

The problem with this exhibition is the cursoriness of the overview. Is East Acton's town square really as grimly grey and unused as the photo?

Is the study of Harrow town centre as simplistic as the yellow 'V' sign shown in the aerial view? Is Atkins' panel of a Covent Garden street with two identical pictures for real?

(No, it is actually a cock-up. ) Is John Rich's Victoria Square really so empty of people? Is Erith town centre always unpopulated?

One merit of Gehl's study is to show urban scenes made convincingly people-friendly - which most of these presentations don't do. (It's a shame that London's traditional street markets aren't celebrated. ) This exhibition is the viewof property and design professionals. It's a good way to realize that London's streets are full of opportunity for architects and urban designers.

But more important is to see the opportunities for Londoners.

Robert Holden teaches at the University of Greenwich

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