As part of Open City's 2018 Green Sky Thinking 'Voices from the Industry' blog, NHA's Antonia Khayatt responds to the question:
What does 'People First' city-making mean to you?
London’s roads amount to approximately 80% of the city’s public space, but this vital public realm is largely given over to vehicles, whether on congested and polluted main roads, or quieter but underutilised back roads. For us therefore, ‘people first’ city making means prioritising people, not vehicles. It means streets, not roads.
The Mayor of London’s ‘Healthy Streets’ initiative aims to “help Londoners use cars less and walk, cycle and use public transport more.” To achieve this, the wellbeing of people using our streets is paramount. Streets that are welcoming to everyone with a relaxed atmosphere and things to see and do. Streets that are safe, not too noisy and easy to cross. Streets that have clean air, shade, shelter and places to stop and rest. These are the Mayor’s key indicators of healthy streets.
The reasons for this initiative are obvious: we need to reduce pollution and exercise more. Also, with London’s population set to hit ten million by 2030, congestion and pollution will only worsen if we keep relying on cars. Ultimately, this means taking space away from cars – both parked and moving – and giving it to people – both stationary and moving. And there’s a lot of space to give. In London, approximately 14,000 hectares is dedicated to on-street and front-garden car-parking alone. That’s an area 55 times the size of Hyde Park.
People First city making means pedestrianising our high streets and turning our residential streets into play spaces. It means converting parking spaces and traffic lanes into safe cycle paths everywhere, and then providing secure places to leave your bike (an oft-overlooked issue). It means uninterrupted bus lanes and knowing how long the bus will take. It means turning our streets into resting spots, event spaces, lunchtime destinations, market places, meeting points, cycle parks, play areas, parks and gardens. It means less room for vehicles and more room for people, nature and biodiversity.
Nicholas Hare Architect’s competition winning proposal for Old Street roundabout exemplifies this approach. It also embraces smart technology to further enable our engagement with our streets. It turns a noisy, polluted roundabout into a clean, green park. Within the park, a velodrome-inspired, permeable structure encloses secure cycle parking, a tube entrance, events spaces, market stalls, play-space and seating. Its façade combines extensive planting with a vibrant LED video wall for advertising, interactive lighting and augmented reality. An Old Street Park app provides real-time information and ticketing on events, market traders and cycle parking availability. It’s a space for commuters, cyclists, families and friends, office workers, residents, market traders and artists. In short, Old Street Park puts people first.