Street Talks, 22nd January – The quick, the cheap and the temporary

The quick, the cheap and the temporary: Speeding up the transformation of London’s streets and public spaces 

6.30pmWednesday 22nd January at The Gallery, 70 Cowcross Street, EC1M 6EJ – in partnership with Sustrans London

Is it time London learnt to loosen up and lighten up in its approach to the design and delivery of cycle infrastructure and other public realm improvements?

Over the last few years New York has been rapidly reclaiming street space for pedestrians and cyclists using little more than ‘paint and planters.’ Temporary and pilot projects are now being refined, adapted and made permanent. Should London be doing the same?

We hope you can join us for the first Street Talks of 2014 when our panel of speakers will explore the potential for quick, cheap and temporary projects to speed up the transformation of London’s streets and public spaces:

  • Hannah Padgett from Sustrans will explain how the Pocket Places project in Peckham is using temporary and semi-permanent interventions to transform unused spaces along Rye Lane and stimulate debate about the future of this important local high street;
  • Brian Deegan, who pioneered ‘light segregation’ for cycle lanes on Royal College Street, Camden and is one of the authors of Transport for London’s new Cycle Design Standards will consider the importance of adaptability when delivering cycle infrastructure; and
  • Hackney Council’s Ben Kennedy will present a series of case studies at a range of scales – from on-street cycle lockers to a pilot project to test the potential for pedestrianising the Narrow Way on Mare Street.

Street Talks with Cllr Vincent Stops and Trevor Parsons, 4th June

Street Talks with Cllr Vincent Stops, Hackney Council and Trevor Parsons, London Cycling Campaign in HackneyHackney: Lessons from London’s most liveable borough

Many different factors – topographical, historical, economic, social, demographic and political – have contributed to the borough of Hackney becoming arguably the most liveable in London. We hope you can join us for Street Talks in June when Trevor Parsons and Vincent Stops will explore these factors, outline the many problems and constraints which still remain, and discuss strategies for overcoming them.

Upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8PN at 7pm on Tuesday 4th June 2013 (bar open from 6pm).

Vincent Stops has been a councillor in Hackney for 11 years. For two he was the lead member responsible for transport, streets and environment issues. For the last seven he has been the Chair of Planning. During all that time Vincent has promoted the benefits of a great public realm, great built environment and the importance of bus, cycle and walking. Vincent has worked in transport policy for several years.

Trevor Parsons lives in Hoxton and tinkers with computers. He became involved in his local London Cycling Campaign group when it appealed for help in the struggle against the building of the M11 Link Road. He has remained active at the borough level ever since, and claims the first use of the word ‘permeability’ in relation to planning for cycling.

Playing Out in Hackney

Photo: Hackney Council

Photo: Hackney Council

A guest article by Jono Kenyon.

People are constantly amazed when I mention I live on the same road I grew up on. Something about London seems alien to the concept. Either you grew up here, then promptly upped sticks the moment you had a family, or you moved here at some point in life. For me, fate and luck brought me back to the same street I played on as a boy. Many of the local roads adjacent to Seven Sisters Road were closed off to through traffic in the early eighties to curb prostitution. This was an incredibly successful strategy, and it also led to a better street environment.  My brother and I played in the street regularly, despite there being the huge Finsbury Park less than 100 metres away.

So here we are, 20 years later, and things have changed. It’s rare to see children playing in front of their houses with other kids from the street. Children are spending more time indoors or being shepherded from one structured activity to the next.  In many parts of London, people don’t know their next door neighbours, let alone any other families on their street. I often wondered whether we could ever rekindle the old sense of community and see children out playing as I used to.  Then two things happened.  We had a street party, instigated by some neighbours we had never met, and I read a piece in the Guardian about a scheme called ‘Playing Out’, started in Bristol, aimed at encouraging street play. It struck a chord with me. We want our children to trust the space outside our home. We want them to get to know the people we live near, not just next door to.  We would like to generate a sense of community, rather than waiting for one to magically come about.  At the street party, we found many people that we live amongst, but had never met, who felt the same way.

So what stops us from just opening our doors and letting the kids roam free? Cars. Despite the gates, vehicles continue to travel in a fashion unlikely to encourage kids to play naturally in the street. Drivers just don’t expect to encounter anyone or anything on the 200-metre zip up the road.  Playing Out offered a way to begin to take back some ownership of the space outside our homes.

Essentially the idea is to formally close a street to through traffic to allow children to play.  Giving children the freedom to play in the street allows them to form relationships with kids they don’t go to school with.  Younger children can bond with older ones too. Unstructured playtime allows children the opportunity to gain independence from their parents.  Kids make up their own games with their own rules and ultimately resolve their own conflicts without adult interference.  In addition, Playing Out helps to develop a sense of community in the street. We had a lot of support, not just from the parents of children playing, but also from childless and elderly neighbours.  Our experience of other sessions elsewhere in Hackney was that many people simply came out to have a cup of tea and a chat with others.

So how did we organise the first of our 12 playing out sessions this year? I attended an evening workshop given by Alice Ferguson, who co-created the Playing Out concept. The workshop outlined why Playing Out was a good idea, and ran through the procedures required to get it going. Our road had a great head start as two other neighbours came to the workshop. The three of us got together and began the process. A great deal of the groundwork had been done by others including local resident Claudia Le Sueur Draper who had organised with Hackney council to facilitate the sessions. The council were encouraged to start a 12 month trial to allow the granting of temporary road closures for street play, or TPSO.

We leafleted the whole street to introduce the idea and find more support. We then had to go through a formal consultation process, notifying all residents of our intended 2-hour road closures. Once that was completed, Hackney supplied us with formal notices and some ‘Road Closed’ signage. Volunteers strung up bunting across each end of the street and stewarded these entry-points, slowly escorting through any residents’ cars and turning away all other traffic.

Our first session was for 2 hours last Sunday, and was great, albeit cold! What struck me was how little encouragement the kids need. We didn’t need to worry about them being bored at all. As soon as the barriers went out, it was ‘game on’. Neighbours came out to offer cups of tea and home-baked treats.

Ultimately, I would like the formal side of Playing Out to fade away in our street, as well as neighbouring ones. I would like the 6 roads that make up our network here, to become a safe zone for street play. It would be nice for cars entering residential streets across the UK to know that children may well be in the road, and should take priority.

Lots of information is available on the Playing Out website.

January’s Street Talk

Christian Wolmar – From good to great? How to use transport policies to turn London into a liveable city

We hope you can join us for the first Street Talks of 2013 when we’ll be joined by Christian Wolmar, leading commentator and author on transport issues. Christian’s talk will explore how changes in transport policy could help turn London into a more liveable city.

Upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8PN at 7pm on Tuesday 8th January (bar open from 6pm).

Christian Wolmar is an award-winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport and is the author of a series of books on railway history. In the autumn of 2012, he announced he is seeking the Labour candidacy for the 2016 London mayoral election. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events, and regularly appears on TV and radio. In 2011 he was the captain of the Warwick team of graduates in Christmas University Challenge, which reached the final of the competition.

Christian has spent nearly all of his working life as a journalist, and his interest in transport began at The Independent when he was appointed transport correspondent in 1992. Although he mainly concentrates on transport matters, he has covered many other social policy issues and writes regularly for a wide variety of publications including newspapers such as The Times and The Guardian – he has written for every national newspaper except the Star – and numerous magazines. He broadcasts frequently on radio and TV and is a regular pundit on the national news. Among his TV appearances, he has featured on Coast, Julia Bradbury’s Railway Walks and the railway programmes presented by Ian Hislop and Michael Portillo.

Christian is a member of the board of London Cycling Campaign with a special interest in intermodal transport and uses his bicycle as his principal means of transport around London.

May’s Street Talk – Full details

Judith Green, Reader in Sociology of Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: Identity and the city – what your choice of transport says about you

Some Londoners have a large choice of how they move around the city – others rather less. How much choice you have, and what you choose, depends in part on transport availability and accessibility, and your resources; but also on the cultural associations that become attached to different modes of transport. Social identities (gendered, aged, ethnic and other) as well as practical considerations influence whether we see ourselves as ‘the kind of person’ who cycles, or catches the bus, or drives.

Understanding perceptions of transport modes is essential if we want to change the ways people move around the city. Cyclists in London are disproportionately ‘affluent white men’: why is an accessible form of transport (in theory) so narrowly appealing in practice? Bus travel, in contrast, was once the mode of last resort for those with no other options. However, policies to provide bus travel for free for two key age groups (under 18s and older citizens) have arguably made bus travel a valued, rather than stigmatised way to travel, for these groups. Social identities are bound up in transport choices, but these are clearly not fixed – they can change as a result of both the deliberate outcomes and unintended consequences of policy.

We hope you can join us and Judith Green from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for May’s Street Talk to explore some of the changing cultural perceptions of transport modes in London, in particular cycling and bus travel. What makes a particular form of transport more or less appealing to particular kinds of people?

Upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8PN at 7pm (bar open 6pm) on 1st May.

Judith Green is a medical sociologist, with degrees in anthropology and medical sociology. She is part of the Transport and Health Group at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her current research includes studies of inequalities in road injury, transport policies, and the sociology of active transport modes. The On the Buses project is evaluating the impact of free bus travel for young people on public health. Judith edits Critical Public Health, an international peer-reviewed journal which publishes a broad range of critical research and commentary on and for public health, and recently co-edited a collection of articles from the journal, Critical Perspectives in Public Health.

Judith’s talk will draw on research by the Transport and Health group at LSHTM, including research funded by Transport for London, NHS Camden and NIHR Public Health Research Programme (project number 09/3001/13). The views and opinions expressed in the talk are those of the presenter, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Health, other funders or colleagues.