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Transforming public space in south Islington

Liz Kessler
6 July 2010

Improvements to estates, parks and streets have changed large parts of one of London’s most deprived neighbourhoods. Public space co-ordinator Liz Kessler describes a six year community-led programme that has also generated local jobs.

Radnor Street and Gardens

Radnor Street and Gardens, transformed as part of the EC1 new deal for communities funding programme. Photo by Jane Sebire

I’ve always loved spending time in places that are vibrant and attractive. All too often, though, this has meant towns and cities abroad. I have longed for the chance to introduce more of that outdoor vibrancy here – especially into places that have suffered years of neglect.

Over six years to 2010, the EC1 New Deal for Communities programme in south Islington has invested in the redesign of parks and streets and the landscaping of local authority housing estates.  

We were determined to avoid piecemeal intervention and so we took a place-based approach, looking at all the projects in their wider context and making connections between people, issues and places.

Six projects feature here, with before and after pictures, showing how spaces that are made to feel safer and look more attractive will be used more. When spaces have been designed to have widespread appeal, people choose to spend more time outside their homes and they get to know their neighbours better:

CABE research has reported that only one per cent of social housing residents said they use the open spaces on their estate. This is often because of its quality - strips of concrete, green desert and dominated by cars.

CABE and the National Housing Federation have published an action plan encouraging social landlords to do more to improve the public spaces under their management. The projects featured here demonstrate many of the ten points in the action plan, including closely involving residents and local people in redesigns; making places feel safer; developing skills and training; committing to quality and preparing for climate change.

Read more about the EC1 New Deal for Communities capital funding programme.

Liz Kessler was public space co-ordinator for EC1 New Deal for Communities from 2004 - 2009. Prior to this Liz had worked in housing, the arts and the environment movement. She has always been concerned with the quality of the environment and the impact this can have on peoples lives. In 2000 she completed an MA in Urban Design which has formed the basis for her work on public spaces.

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