Thursday, 16 June 2011


The AJ's Forgotten Spaces competition shows how neglected spaces can be revived thought the application of creativity and ingenuity, but those qualities are not alway in plentiful supply, and there are plenty of places that could be improved just with grass and trees and flower beds.

Run down public housing estates are an example. 'Estate regeneration', in London at least, seems to start with consideration of the building stock, but often it is everything between the buildings that is really the problem.  Some publicly or RSL-owned post-war housing estates have appallingly neglected 'public' realm where every (generally undesigned) intervention that does take place, from the location of bins to the erection of barriers, seems to say to tenants 'you don't matter and we don't care'.

But it's not easy for the landlords, even if well-intentioned - compared with more traditional layouts, such estates are full of too may acres of 'space left over after planning' that no one takes responsibility for.  And there's no money.

At the Abbots Manor Estate in Pimlico, for example, (pictured above), there is an area of greenery where the space between the buildings has been filled with areas of well maintained planting that has the look of something that tenants are involved in, and didn't need a design competition.  Whether or not this is the case, it suggests that there is a good way of dealing with all that pointless space on estates that no one loves, by digging up the (already potholed and time-expired) tarmac and getting the people who live there to grow things.  There are so many pluses to this that surely it should be encouraged everywhere, but particularly on 'problem' estates:

1. It will make the place look better, and might provide some flowers and fruit and veg.
2. Gardening is good for you and the gardeners will be healthier and happier.
3. If there are people there with nothing to do, this is something for them to do.
4. It provides a good reason for people who are not up to no good to occupy and take ownership of the public space: eyes on the street.
5. Without wanting to get all 'big society' about it, it ought to be a good thing for people who live together in a place to have the opportunity to do something together that is so self-evidently beneficial.

- but anyway, a worthwhile target for 'big society' funding if ever there was one.

One could parody the difference between 1960s public housing and present day mass market private housing as having somehow flipped from, then, decent well planned flats built to Parker Morris space standards but set in a dystopian wasteland of decaying external space -  to, now, nasty, gloomy, badly laid out hutches designed for 3/4 size furniture, set in lush, buyer-friendly 'public realm' of shrubberies and Marshalls shared surface paving. The problems of the first may be easier to sort out than the problems of the second.

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