London’s best-kept secret: The invisible city

Written by By Alexander Walker, CNN Under recent proposals, such as one from Boris Johnson in June 2018 , pedestrianised areas and pedestrian crossings are to be “liberated” by placing them within adjacent traffic-only…

London's best-kept secret: The invisible city

Written by By Alexander Walker, CNN

Under recent proposals, such as one from Boris Johnson in June 2018 , pedestrianised areas and pedestrian crossings are to be “liberated” by placing them within adjacent traffic-only lanes, making them more attractive. Other measures will include bollards or a wall to separate the two traffic lanes — or in the case of the famous Islington Crossroads, a protective bollard the size of a garage door, much to the resentment of some city-dwellers.

So much for London, the famous citadel of recent Brexit reform — has its empire begun to crumble? We’re not just talking London today. Since the BBC took over the licence fee in 1990, successive governments have set the wheels of change in motion to free up street space (and public perception) in the rest of Britain.

Read more: London’s longest restaurant goes online, wants to find a new home

London has enjoyed a glorious array of schemes over the years. Touted as “one of the best-kept secrets in architecture”, the Underground Railway is hidden away, given pride of place by architect Antonio Perugini in its final development in the 1960s.

In some places, construction has indeed been sparse and modest, even in the recent Croydon reboot, where the maximum number of new homes was 1,890, at least 60 miles were constructed on the site and the biggest addition was the 800-seat cinema that replaced a derelict converted Methodist church.

Other schemes, such as the London Live Festival in Soho in 2011 and its continuing upgrade in recent years, to add to the number of live venues, have revived the city’s sagging creative communities with the help of an ever-tighter construction machine.

Some plans have been bolder still. The London Live festivals program, led by architect Farrell, produced buildings that intended to extend the sidewalks over the entire area and encircle the streets like a ring. The move was proposed for April 2001 — almost three years before the project was finally abandoned.

Even if London is officially the home of Brexit, the much-maligned East End is turning the corner on its real-life version of a Bonn novel, the chapter that produces the onion hat.

Writers over at the News Of The World gave far-fetched responses to what they imagined might happen under this plan, including the possibility of a “tsunami of text on all the other ‘peace signs’”

But the phone company would shut its post offices, local characters would die and buses would run “under tourist ones as the Festival of London tries to re-establish the dying streets,” wrote Paul Dowdell in his typically far-fetched article.

Instead, we get the London Live Festival and its ongoing development in recent years, to add to the number of live venues, including a 750-seat cinema at a disused Methodist church that replaced a derelict converted Methodist church.

When, in the 1990s, British writer Michael Scott wrote of the British government’s plans for public gardens in Parliament Square , he could not help but feel a wistful smile as he saw Robert Harding’s hot pink climbing poppy and David Collins’ striding grass fringed with flowering dogwood .

Of course, all is not lost — the British are a long way from gleefully cutting down trees — they still have a penchant for pretty flower bouquets. The only thing most expect is that the leaves are far less wintry than they used to be.

I spoke to Brendon Dawe, co-founder of the London Live festival, who explained that the idea that the project was abandoned, forgoing a second set of public gardens, was false.

“When we started out, we were totally in the dark, we did not know of the massive destruction of buildings or haphazard wasteland already there,” Dawe told me. “And then one of our presenters came up with the idea of a city, with 27,000 trees, dedicated to architecture and live art as part of a huge crop of artists. We laughed at it.”

Sensing opportunity, he later played a role in getting 1,770 acres of space — an area the size of Luxembourg or Berlin — designated as a Public Garden in London. By its tenth anniversary, which falls in November, he is confident there will be a second generation of festivals along the lines of the one that is being planned.

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