…and not necessarily for the better.
Imagine that you gave a small child a piece of paper and said, “Here’s a fun idea! Why don’t you design your perfect town?”
Well, that’s basically what Barnet Council did, except it gave the piece of paper to a no doubt horrendously expensive planning consultancy called Fluid (motto: “Architecture, urbanism, participation”). They nevertheless produced a proposal that would shame a small child.
So, what did they come up with in the Golders Green Town Centre Strategy? A mix of the indecipherable, the none-of-their-business and the overly imaginative.
Fluid believes that “High Street lighting is functional and there is a lack of intimacy” (because why else do you pop out to the pharmacy late on a Sunday evening if not to experience the sense of intimacy created for you in the street?) But what is the solution? “Atmospheric lighting to enhance heritage” – obvious when you think about it. The amount of unenhanced heritage lying around Golders Green is a crying shame, just waiting to be atmospherically lit.
They also criticise “inconsistent shop frontages”, which is surely just a function of there being, er, a range of different shops. Shop frontages in central London are very consistent but that’s because they’re all either Starbucks or Itsu.
Particularly important, stresses the plan, is to “celebrate diagonals”. I belive that anyone who pluralises an adjective (see also: botanicals, medicinals…) should be put on a watchlist and detained at airports, but that’s just my personal opinion.
Other vital elements of the scheme include “activating the ground floor” and ensuring that those leaving the station are greeted by a “sense of arrival”.
One of my favourite of the 36 pages, however, was that which specified what sort of people use different areas of the town centre. The area around the war memorial roundabout (a heavily polluted concrete wasteland) is, apparently, frequented by “nature lovers” no doubt anxious to see local wildlife such as the Lesser Spotted Bus Driver and the Great Nesting Uber.
The “five parades” – or, in English, five scrubby little side streets running parallel to Golders Green Road – are allegedly the domain of “design lovers, collectors, experience- and quality-seekers”. The only experience I’ve previously had on Broadwalk Lane is the experience of standing on a discarded nappy… and frankly that nappy should have been taken away by a Council-employed “collector” weeks before.
The scrubbiest side street of all, St Alban’s Lane, is pervaded by a smell of rotten fish, but according to Fluid, its main drawback is that “interesting facilities such as the Jewish Chronicle and a language school are hidden by commercial bins”. The word “interesting” is doing quite a lot of work there… as is the phrase Jewish Chronicle which is no longer based in Golders Green at all, perhaps explaining why it’s so “hidden”.
But that’s all about the now. What is coming in the future?
None of their business
It’s easy to forget, when you’re a small child or an urban planning consultancy, that you don’t actually own the world. Some of the proposals in the Town Centre Strategy would require co-operation from businesses who are, erm, unlikely to co-operate.
For instance, the large Sainsburys in which most of the locals do our weekly shop (which has “poor forecourt public realm”: not ‘a poor forecourt public realm’, just “poor forecourt public realm”) presents an “opportunity to replace with community use/ light industrial/ affordable workspace”. Well… no, it doesn’t present that opportunity unless J Sainsburys Plc agrees that its duty to sound urban design and acceptable “public realm” demands closure of the branch.
Fluid are also keen to “remove fences around the Greek cathedral to open its garden for wider community use and benefit”. Erm… what if the Greek cathedral doesn’t want the wider community sitting and boozing in its garden late at night?
Best yet is the planners’ desire to abolish the historic Big Red Building gentleman’s outfitters. And why? Because the site offers “an opportunity to create a 21st century food hall”. It’s not immediately apparent why this arbitrary food hall couldn’t be created in one of the many vacant, boarded up shops opposite the Big Red Building. But no, it has to be there. Gentleman can get their outfits elsewhere. Food hall. Now. Please.
The overly imaginative
The general solution to any urban ill, it seems, is to replace it with grass. But Fluid takes this idea one step further by proposing to revolutionise the railway bridge by “creating a green feature on it to build a strong local identity”. (This strong local identity will presumably consist of neighbours bonding over their shared bafflement over the sudden presence of a rhododendron on the Northern line.)
Almost every page of the proposal booklet contains photos of “inspirational examples” of other urban landscapes (English: towns). Some of these are approximately comparable to Golders Green, such as a high street in Hammersmith. Others seem to have been selected totally at random, for example:
Beirut?? How did Beirut enter into it? Another instance is where a new miniature park (sorry, “linear park”) is proposed, plus “active frontage: a Greek delicatessen for example”. Why a Greek delicatessen?? Why not a Turkish delight maker or a picture framer or a fancy dress shop? This cherrypicking of frivolous architectural ideas from arbitrary places is one of the most childlike parts of the entire scheme. ‘And then I’ll put a tower on top of Superdrug and it will lean to the side a little bit. And then I’ll knock down the bank and put the Taj Mahal there…’
There are also plans for a rooftop café on top of HSBC “with a special view of the Hippodrome” – which is of course one of the most sought-after sights in the south of England. For some reason there’s no proposal for a rooftop café on top of the Hippodrome with a special view of HSBC…
Another particularly wacky idea is to replace the surface of Hoop Lane (a fairly busy street linking up to the Finchley Road) with “historic cobbles”, the purpose being to “mark arrival space”. Perhaps they could also replace the pavement with treacle and put velcro on all the walls while they’re at it.
Perhaps my favourite proposal is that the Council should “consider planting olive trees as a link to the Greek community”. Because let’s be honest, whenever I tell anyone that I’m a rabbinic student living in Golders Green and I’m just popping out to get a bagel and some salt beef, without fail they always reply, ‘Ah yes, a very Greek area isn’t it!’
A closing song
One thing I genuinely learned from the strategy document is that Golders Green’s HSBC building was designed by well-known architect Ernő Goldfinger. So now there really has to be a closing song, doesn’t there. Here it is: