Do the English appreciate good urban landscape design – in Lewisham or anywhere?

Lewisham residents did NOT want their urban landscape to be like this

Lewisham residents did NOT want their urban landscape to be like this

I have been reading a book by Jeremy Paxman (the BBC’s rotweiller) on The English. Among many well-phrased and unoriginal points Paxman states that ‘the redevelopment of English cities has been left in the hands of stupid, short-sighted and sometimes corrupt local councils, aided and abetted by third-rate architects and get-rich-quick builders. If ever evidence were needed of English contempt for the urban way of life, it is there in concrete and steel’. Self-criticism is always welcome but, like most attack dogs, Paxman only scratches the surface. The English love their towns and I have known many talented architects, landscape architects and urban designers who have worked on them. But good design requires good patronage. The deep problem is that England’s municipalities are frail twigs at the ends of the long branches of central government. Councils raise little of their own money and they have little freedom in how it is spent. So they did not, cannot and have not given local people what they want. There is a glimpse of Old Lewisham on the left of the photograph. It then had a major road driven through its heart – in the name of ‘modernisation’. When fashions changed, Lewisham High Street was part-pedestrianized and a covered shopping centre was built. If any tourists have ever come to see the drab results, it was probably to visit the memorial to a race riot – the 1977 Battle of Lewisham. Paxman may have been there as a cub reporter but on a BBC salary of £1m++ but now lives in a charming Oxfordshire village (Stonor) which is protected from change by the planning system he castigates. The BBC probably send him home in luxury limousines from which he glimpses sufficient Lewisham look-alikes to bare his teeth at the humble designers who toil to make them better.

The roundabout area, called Lewisham Gateway, is scheduled for re-re-re-development. You can see the council’s vision for the Gateway Development. The area beyond the roundabout road-sign is a part-buried river. Maybe Paxman thinks the English hate rivers?

Image courtesy tomroyal .

10 thoughts on “Do the English appreciate good urban landscape design – in Lewisham or anywhere?

  1. Tom Turner Post author

    There is general hostility to residential skyscrapers BUT many of them have been built for, and are bought by, young urban professionals as ‘affordable housing’ and ‘re-development of brownfield sites’ etc. The planners have a dilemma because the population is rising, through immigration, and the people do no want to see new development on greenfield sites. So residential towers are the solution.

  2. Christine

    Sounds like the best of British ingenuity is required to solve this problem.

    It would be great to see the introduction an idea of residential living in towers (of different sizes, shapes, forms and use mixes) that is particular to the British context and the multitude of infill and urban sites where they might be located.

    Taking the garden tradition to the sky should inspire this generation of landscape architects to ensure that peoples lives do not become all steel and glass and pavement….

  3. LIZ

    Paxo actually lives part-time in W14 near Olympia, frequently seen on bicycle.
    The Stonor family abode has is own stable conversion as an idyll for writing – who wouldn’t enjoy writing in such an unobtrusive atmosphere, with huge time-off in the summer and time for staff parties, which I have attended complete with ping-pong, swimming pool and croquet…a familiar lifestyle of policitians, methinks, and a long way from his heritage of tenement blocks in Glasgow only 150yrs ago.

  4. Tom Turner Post author

    Liz, thank you for the correction re Jeremy Paxman. I did not know he was a cyclist and wish he would start each interview with the words ‘may I ask if you are a cyclist?’ He could then give a softer treatment to people who could say ‘yes’ (like David Cameron and Boris Johnson). I have no objection to him slagging people off, because most of us deserve it, but I do think he should slag off the right people for the offences in question. For urban design, this must include politicians.
    Christine, ‘The Lawn’ is an ironically brilliant name for the First Tower. My comment on Harlow is that the large-scale and the small-scale design were way-ahead of their time but the medium-scale design was terrible. Another way of putting this is that the Landscape Planning and the Detailed Landscape Design were good but the Site Planning was terrible.

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    Maybe the porte-cochères Humphry Repton was so fond of could be classed as carports? Otherwise I have no knowledge of the subject. I have noticed that many carports in London get converted into extra rooms sooner or later. In the days when cars rusted to nothing, they said there was less rust in a car port than a garage.

  6. Christine

    Hmmm…the history of the invention of the car is quite interesting. The car certainly took some time to arrive on the scene in a useful format. Interesting also to note that the first electric car was designed in 1881. [ ]

    I assume by 1961 cars were being garaged on a regularly basis.[ ]

    In 1927 the Royal Clarence Hotel had ‘customer’ garages. Quite an extraordinary thought that drivers were able to ‘garage’ their cars at locations away from home – much as they had ‘stabled’ their horses. [ ]


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