2009 London, UK
Research Findings Influencing Proposals for Church Street Market Regeneration Corridor
Research Findings Influencing Proposals for Church Street Market Regeneration Corridor
Proposals for Section Four of the Church Street Market regeneration corridor were informed not only by on site and desk top analysis but also by a review of the wider literature on issues relating to Identity and Difference, Occupation and Management of Space, Transport and Movement and Crime and Safety, all in relation to the built environment. This essay reflects on particular literature and how it informed the four main groupings of proposals for regenerating Section Four of the Church Street Market regeneration corridor: Streetscape/Public Realm Improvements; Management/Configuration of Market Stalls; Improved Way-finding/ Legibility; and Non-Retail/ Non-Residential Opportunity Realisation.
Gehls (2004) Public Spaces, Public Life studies assessment methodology of assessing public spaces in proximity to the space in question, as well as the site itself, provided an insight into opportunities for addressing challenges and ways to ensure that immediate improvements benefit local residents in addition to providing ways for drawing people into and through the site. The three phase approach of initially evaluating the quality of the site, a recording of the public life occurring within and around the space, and finally developing recommendations for actual improvements, was taken. This order of priority enabled us to focus on the local context, together with who, what, why and how people use the space which informed the SWOT analysis of the site, informing ways that the design proposals/solution could reinforce and build upon the strengths of the area – ensuring interventions are appropriate to the local community, but which attract non-locals to support the area.
In the site review it was established that the area is currently a ‘transitional space’ which people move through and along but not to ‘linger’ or socially interact – a key factor in the quality of the public space, and public life of an area (Dines, N. Cattell et al 2006). David Engwicht (2003, in Cowan, 2005) defines two types of public space: ‘exchange space’ and ‘movement space’ and considers that ‘the more space a city devotes to movement, the more the exchange space becomes diluted and shattered. The more diluted and shattered the exchange opportunities, the more the city begins to loose the very thing that makes a city a city: a concentration of exchange opportunities’ (Engwicht, 2003 in Cowan, 2005). This detail reiterated for us the importance of realising the value of the space as more than just a transit corridor. Furthermore, the role that this space plays as a secondary type of public space ie a local/ neighbourhood space, rather than a main/metropolitan public space (Madanipour, 2004) led us to conclude that the potential value of the space was as an avenue for the resident community to socialise aswell as pass through. On market days this level of sociability could be increased as markets can play a diverse role to a range of different users, reflective of the diversity of the local population (Watson and Studdert, 2006). It was decided that maximum benefit would be had from design interventions which made the space meaningful to as many groups of users as possible, ensuring delivery of a multitude of benefits. Madanipour (2004) also places emphasis on the importance of such spaces being ‘highly flexible, allowing for multiple uses, for a variety of purposes in different time settings’.
The achievement of providing a space that encourages this unstructured social interaction was not viewed as requiring drastic physical change, but rather making subtle improvements to the public realm through streetscaping and landscaping improvements, addressing the role of the car, improving legibility and way finding with surrounding areas and altering the management and configuration of market stalls for improved use by traders and buyers. Consideration was also given to the role that these interventions may improve and secure local economic viability as a way ‘to avoid the increasing fragmentation and demarcation of public space in the City (Watson, 2008, pp33). It was noted that by securing economic viability of the area opportunities for non-retail and non-residential development opportunities could be realised, encouraging office, live/work and art spaces into the area, thus enticing a wider range of workers and residents into the area that will ultimately contribute to securing important economic viability.
The priority of strengthening local identity by building on existing character of the area is also part of creating an area which will attract such investment, and which encourages visitors to support existing retail opportunities.
Efforts to encourage economic viability was seen as central to tackling one key existing negative attribute of the area – crime and heightened perceptions of crime. Van den Berg et al (2006 pp14) identified that in an unfavourable or declining economy (as we are currently experiencing), crime may increase. Poor earning power and unemployment can lead to increased rates of crime, a point particularly relevant to this community which already suffers from high levels of unemployment and crime, and which provides evidence of the importance of ensuring any interventions provide both physical and economic regeneration benefits.
The night time economy was identified as central to addressing this issue of crime and fear of crime (Tiesdell & T Oc, 1998, pp641) by bringing activity into the area which was considered a practical, simple way of deterring criminal incidents and giving people the confidence to use the space into the evening (currently it is relatively deserted after dusk). Tiesdell and T. Oc, (1998, pp641) highlight that ‘avoidance of city centres is a consequence of fears about certain environments as well as fears about certain incidents’. To encourage this activity we recommended extension of market stall hours and improving links to Samford Street to draw people using the Cockpit Theatre out into the area in the evening. This would require the aforementioned public realm improvements (ie shared surface, improved lighting, strengthened local identity, creation of key gateways and landscaping) to encourage this night time use. These interventions would be in line with guidance from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM, 2004) which recognises that certain design elements can be introduced at an early stage of planning to influence criminal behaviour.
In summary, our approach for proposals to improve this Section Four of the Church Street Regeneration Corridor has been simplistic in acknowledgement of Gehl in his Public Spaces, Public Life studies who states that ‘the importance of gradual transformations in urban redevelopments, in order to make changes sustainable and to give people time to adapt to physical changes, adjust their lifestyles and experiment with new ways of using the city’. It is hoped that by proposing low key physical changes which address Streetscape/Public Realm; Management/Configuration of Market Stalls; Way-finding/ Legibility; and Non-Retail/ Non-Residential Opportunities, that incremental change will occur which reinforces current strengths of the site and its surroundings, and which addresses those challenges currently impeding the area and how local residents are able to use it.
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