The EC1 Site Visit was informative and eye opening as many of the areas we visited were very close to Old Street Tube Station and to the main roads but they had not been visited before by many of the attendees. We were shown around by Liz Kessler, the Public Space Coordinator who explained the range of projects that the EC1 New Deal helped to fund and their impact behaviour in the area. Read on to see what we saw…..
The EC1 New Deal for Communities is one of 39 NDC partnerships in England. The program aims to act as a catalyst for regeneration within deprived communities and incorporates a range of programs that impact every aspect of an area from job opportunities to health through to the environment. The program has a timescale of 10 years and in addition to the funding, many areas have used this programme to act as a catalyst for additional funding. For this site visit, we looked at the projects that directly impacted the environment from reviving a small market (Whitecross Market) through to improving connectivity and the street scape.
This program consists of many small projects and was completed piece meal with the Promenade of Light (on Old Street, immediately west of the tube station) acting as the catalyst for the other projects. Momentum was used from each project to acquire additional funding for further projects that were in the pipeline. This created places that were specific to their context and local. All areas had a high attention to detail and materials were used that had low maintenance costs. Throughout the process and projects, the community was involved and there was a sense of pride in the area. Due to these projects and increased sense of pride, vandalism and anti-social behaviours were also viewed as decreasing.
The most impressive aspect was how through only changing the public realm, the buildings themselves acquired a different atmosphere and were less intimidating. The majority of the buildings are local authority housing with a number being built in the 1960s. Within the areas that had improvements made to the public realm, through landscaping and a pedestrian focus, the buildings became the background to the public realm instead of the dominating feature. With spaces surrounding these buildings more clearly defined in terms of public and private, the buildings began to work with their surroundings instead of against them.
After walking through many improved areas, the group went around the Pleydell Estate, which was not part of the overall programme of public realm improvements. In the centre, surrounded by three tall buildings, are numerous car parking garages with blank walls. This immediately turned the focus onto the buildings, especially the blank garages which gave the area a disconnected, unused, and unsafe feel. Those garages are also underused due to the location and public transportation links within the area. Through responding to these local contexts, the car parking could be converted to public space and provide the residents with some open space and further amenities.
Walking around this area is highly recommend just to see the changes that have been done, especially Whitecross Market and the community building in Spa Fields.