Monday, 16 June 2008

Mind the Implementation Gap

River and canal sides offer valuable public space. Witness the popularity of the Regent’s Canal as it wends its way from Angel to Hackney, in Central London, for example, or the New River Footpath running through Finsbury Park, Stoke Newington and Canonbury. The former is an oasis of calm in the centre of the city where cyclists, walkers and anglers co-exist peacefully enough, while others enjoy the wider stretches near the locks as places to enjoy the sun on a summer’s day. The latter provides a quiet country walk in a World City.

The Thames Riverside is, of course, more robust and more challenging in terms of the urban and landscape design required to connect it to the surrounding built environment. A civic scale to match the scale of the river is important in places like the South Bank, but is not always easy to achieve. At Greenwich, the Millennium Dome achieved a scale that related to its curvilinear peninsular site jutting into the river, and the original drawings and publicity indicated that the development would regenerate the river edge and re-connect it with its hinterland through high quality public realm. 

Yet the river walk and cycle path that circulates the Dome (now the O2 Arena) is now fenced off from the building, leaving those using the public way trapped on a narrow piece of concrete between a high fence and the river edge. ‘Security’ for the Dome has apparently dictated this outcome, but the result is not security for the public user. The potential enjoyment and connectivity of an effective piece of public realm has given way to a stark and intimidating strip at the interface of public and private.

Is it the case that in wanting to get a deal done for the Dome the developer of O2 was allowed to “secure their territory” with little regard to the consequences that this had for the values of the original design and the inclusiveness of the space? Whatever the reason, it is surely an example of regeneration schemes that include friendly and welcoming public spaces on paper, but which fail to deliver thereafter. Mind the implementation gap.

The photograph at Greenwich today, shows a scene somewhat different from the idealised vision of the frontage offered at: 

Author: Lewis Eldridge

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