The Greening Of England
I live just off the very unlovely Euston Road, one of the most polluted routes in one of Europe’s most polluted cities. It’s horrible to walk down, and quite impossible to do so during rush hour. As someone who has suffered lifelong chest problems, I find myself with permanent hay fever-like symptoms when I’m on it – but you only have to drop two streets back for the air to improve dramatically.
How to cut traffic, though? A survey discovered that most vehicles in the South London area of Brixton were private cars passing through on the way to somewhere else. Most had a single occupant, which makes driving such vehicles in cities selfish, unpleasant and often dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. Plans to redress the balance have been around for years.
After the collapse of the Thames Vanity Bridge, there have been other more sensible ideas to cut pollution and get people walking again. Now the campaign to have London declared the world’s first city national park is nearing fruition. The proposals would see new buildings in Fleet Street made out of a “modular, living building material” permeated with native wildflower seeds and containing its own irrigation reservoir.
All very nice – but what real chance is there of this happening?
Well, out of anywhere I can think of Fleet Street might just be the best bet. Since the presses moved out it’s been a bit of a dead zone, even though it’s a key link between the West End and the City. That CAD-rendering above may be fanciful, but the greening of London buildings has happened before, for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887. The plants stayed around for a long time after; here’s the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square.
As we know, plants are tough to maintain well. Remember the craze for vertical gardens a few years back? They appeared after the development of computerised waters systems, but how many of them are left now? And what happened to ambitious plans once proposed for Oxford Street that were supposed to make a pedestrianised link between Tottenham Court Road and Hyde Park?
Perhaps Oxford Street was too much of a leap, but Fleet Street is a real possibility. Other ambitious projects have taken off; by 2020 England’s new coastal path will go all the way round the country’s coastline, and a quick look at the map of our island, with its countless inlets, estuaries, wetlands and jagged prongs, shows it has a projected total length of 2,795 miles.
Of course, such ambitious projects can only advance in the city if someone is willing to divert cash to the project. The plans look beautiful, but given our track record on such initiatives, don’t hold your breath.