London Open City


Central London is blessed with many green and leafy public and private squares, acres of Royal Parks, a canal and the Thames River. But things get grim the further out of the centre that one travels. London Open City is a new exhibit which examines the need for open space in London and sets out a list of 100 public spaces that could be restored, refurbished or created in the next five years. The show is divided into three parts and at the end one feels that they have started to come to grips with the range and scope of the proposals.

First it sets out some guidelines of the study. Reconnect with the river--make sure that there are paths and walks and parks along the water. Secondly: people before cars. Thirdly: break down barriers--because of terrorism threats London has CCTV cameras everywhere, few litter bins (fear of bombs), and many gates and barriers. Then it examines four case studies of open spaces, with videos of each and a well written catalogue of the architects' proposals. One is historic, the Victoria Embankment, another is new, the third could be made part of a network of parks and the fourth is a wide open free-form space. In the next room (pictured)--free posts cards describing the new projects.


The last exhibit is a map with a list of the hundred new and old spaces. These range across the greater London area and include some existing and some proposals. There is a board for the public to add their views and "wish-list" places.

Also included are three interesting essays, to be taken away and pondered at leisure. Greening the Grey by Gillian Darley is about fringe areas where there is open space with no perceived use--not landscaped but not yet derelict. She argues that these places should be left to flourish: "doing very little is the best course of action. Releasing water long trapped between concrete channels and culverts to make its own course produces a new landscape and a new habitat at a stroke." She suggests targeted planting of natural species to restore a particular ecology. "Marshes can return to grazing land and invaluable reed beds be established." She reminds us of the overgrown and hidden delights of old cemeteries.


Changing Places, by Alan Powers, is about the redevelopment and enhancement of some existing areas. City of Surprises by Edwin Heathcote is a celebration of London's unique and interesting qualities: "moments of startling beauty in the ugliness". "Its streetscape now is one of spikes which are anti-seating, anti-climb, anti-skateboard, anti-pigeon, anti-terror--surfaces defined more powerfully by what they are against than what they are for. London does not need a universal solution, a style makeover, whether heritage or corporate modern; it needs careful and specific interventions that allow its strange, delicate ecology--its juxtapositions and surprise--to survive." :: London Open City

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