Tuesday, 28 February 2012


To the launch party for Farrells' new book Continuum, which charts the last ten years' work of London's pre-eminent urban design practice - where we learn from Terry Farrell a word new to me and others there, 'urbiculture' - the culture of placemaking that they aspire to.

Earlier in the day I'd undertaken a tour with colleagues of large recent projects each of which had major elements of what we have learned to call 'public realm' (an awful bit of jargon that fails the 'would your mother have any idea what you were talking about' test - but is called by that name with a straight face during the planning process) which is in fact revealed to be 'private realm', when on site after site we were told, by the usual characters in hi-vis tabards, 'you can't take photographs here, this is private property'.  They were polite enough - but if the public 'offer' is part of the planning deal for these projects, being ordered around doesn't feel in the spirit of the thing - a far cry from the welcome that the Victorian sponsors of Brompton Cemetery provided at their gates:

 When you raise the issue of 'real' vs 'pretend' public space with developers, they will say that they don't want their investment in landscape handed over to a local authority who may or may not look after it properly.  That's fair enough, but it's an entirely separate point from whether or not a visitor is made to feel that they are somewhere genuinely public.

The various and admirable self-generated projects instigated by Farrells - Marylebone Road and others - have more in common with the Victorian generosity of spirit suggested by the sign at the cemetery than with the bizarrely paranoid and unpleasantly over-protective attitudes found in the 'public but not really' parts of so many new developments.

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