A fascinating morning at the NLA earlier in the week at their 'Valuing the Public Realm' conference. Particularly good slots from:
Mark Brearley from Design for London - never a more engagingly weird chap have I heard speak - but obviously a fascinating man with an equally fascinating role. I've often thought that the people engaging with the writing and administering of central government policy have a much greater chance of making a difference than those of us battling to implement it.
Martyn Evans, creative director of developer Cathedral Group chatted in detail about their 'early wins' approach to developing the listed carriage ramp site by Deptford tube station - they put up the cash for cafe and outdoor cinema The Deptford Project, designed by Morag Myerscough et al. It's a part of the world I've had a long involvement with and it's great to see this kind of forward thinking and genuine community engagement from a developer. Inadvertently I found myself in the middle of his slideshow sipping warm lager at the Deptford Project opening party with some colleagues and a client - should have asked for some of my conference fee back.
We also heard from John Alschuler, chair of Friends of the Highline, New York. You don't need me to tell you more about that, it's everywhere on the blogs at the moment, but suffice it to say that he was every inch the confident New Yorker. Some great anecdotes about his dealings with Messrs. Giuliani and Bloomberg. He even found time to thank Robert Moses for inadvertently giving the heart back to the neighbourhoods he had expected to tear apart. Another notch for Jane Jacobs in the battle for New York which, in truth, I think she won a long time ago.
Because I can never help myself, I asked the panel their thoughts on the current cause celebre of the issue of privatisation of public space in the capital. For those who don't know, several commentators, notably new TV star Kieron Long, have been holding up to scrutiny the practice of local authorities delivering most of their public space via planning demands placed on private developers. This places the capital cost burden, and more importantly the maintenance costs on the developer. However, it is argued, this can lead to these places being excessively controlled by both tacit and patent measures to prevent the public using the space as they please - for instance as a place of protest. Take this account of the harranguing of librarians protesting against cuts, this was at Westfield from the last year or so.
Interestingly, none of the panel saw this as a big issue. Very few developments actually have gates at the end of the street in this country, places are constructed and maintained to a high standard, tourists eat their sandwiches in the shadow of the Tower of London at no cost to the tax payer, what's the problem?
However, I was reminded of a section of Iain Sinclair's Hackney tome 'That Rose Red Empire' (don't read it, it's like wading through treacle and you also have to put up with being regularly condescended and disapproved of by the author for even wanting to read it). He offered his disappointment that the newly redeveloped Gillett Square in Dalston had robbed the rough sleepers, street drinkers and heroin injectors of their natural habitat, this one time backstreet car park. Being an employee of the architects of this demise at the time, Hawkins\Brown, I took offence. Who, after all, really wants these things on their doorstep. But that said, thinking back, I cant help thinking maybe somewhere in between is important. There doesn't have to be a gate on the street to keep people out, or even a security guard. Ever turned back out of a cafe because it doesn't feel like your sort of place? Ever chosen a pub to go in based whether your in your work clothes or not? Not everywhere should have granite sets and stainless steel streetlights.
Not everywhere, put simply, should be nice.