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Joe Morris

An Urban Design Scholar on shopping, canoeing and how to ponder 'specificity, culture and ethnicity'

The Lea Valley is London's largest park, running 26 miles in length from East India Docks to Ware in Hertfordshire. It is characterised by a rich variety of habitat and landscape; a meandering seam cutting through swathes of industry and housing tightly packed along its edges. The resulting threshold conditions (where park meets city) are as varied as the street names which skim along its edges.

The park itself is no singular blanket of rolling green pasture, but is instead a patchwork defined by events and uses ranging from grazing land for livestock, areas set aside for nature conservation, and a range of leisure uses. Additionally there are areas where industry slips into the park, such as at the water refinery on Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow.

As one moves through the park, a network of transport infrastructure (including embankments, rail arches and bridges) divides the park into pockets of land, with some areas remaining inaccessible and wild. An example of this can be found in the Walthamstow Marshes, where elevated train routes collude with canals and rivers to hold the park in check.

Over time an amazing yet peculiar range of juxtapositions have emerged; warehouse on canal on nature reserve, or school on culvert on refinery. In many ways, the geographic opportunities and obstacles have created a space which is wondrous and expansive, yet concealed and inaccessible.

The question thus arises; "does the park need repairing or altering", "is a greater degree of accessibility likely to be detrimental to the legacy of the park", and "if greater access is to be afforded into the park, where should it be and what should it look like?” In many respects what is urban scale stitching and threading, how is it manifest and what activities are best suited upon these new threshold conditions.

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