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A more gentle time?

London was the longest time I have spent living anywhere – in fact when I try to work out how long – I can’t exactly!

Let’s just say I arrived in the early nineties and left in 2006, so at least fifteen years. I don’t go back that much really, and when I do in the last few years I’ve really noticed a difference in the numbers of people on the streets. Like, loads. Loads and loads and loads of people. So much so, that it makes me not want to go to London.

I thought I would look into this a bit further, in case it was my perception that has changed, but the figures show that London’s population is – to use a media term – exploding. Between the two censuses in 2001 and 2011, London’s population grew by one million people. And it’s those who are getting in my way now…

But it’s a serious point I am getting to: that of cycling. When I drove through London the other week, and I came straight through the middle, the number of cyclists was alarming. Not because cyclists are alarming per se – cycling is a gentle pursuit and one I fully endorse – but because of the lethal mix of cyclists and traffic on the London roads.

I write as someone who used to cycle from Stoke Newington to Notting Hill for work in the nineties and there were, back then, very few of us, let alone many cycle lanes. It seemed safer though. Now, there are Boris Bikes, and tourists and so forth blithely wobbling around, weaving in and out and of traffic, often without lights or indeed helmets. As I drove through Islington last month, as dusk fell, I realised that I would be unlikely to ever cycle in the capital again, as things stand, because the roads are just not set up to be safely shared spaces.

There have been a number of cyclist deaths in London this week – some at very busy interchanges where sometimes cyclists just don’t get seen. Drivers can be concentrating so hard on one thing, that they don’t even see someone on a bike. Equally, I shudder when I see cyclists squeezing along the narrow gaps between high-sided vehicles and the kerb. I rarely did that when I was on two wheels, understanding that you risked death. Sometimes, the driver just can’t see the bike. I see the Mayor plans more super highways for cyclists, where the two-wheeled travellers are physically separated from the four-wheeled traffic. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be enough. As London’s population continues to rise, and the transport costs alongside, cycling is going to continue to be popular mode of transport and deaths are going to continue. It may be time to consider a complete overhaul of how we work, live and travel to the capital because it seems to me that the place is about to burst.

Click here for a link to a petition to make the roads of London safer for cyclists.

One of London’s ghost bike memorials (from The Times)

If you want to design a whole new garden city (and who woudn’t?) why not enter this year’s Wolfson’s Economic Prize by answering this question “How would you deliver a new Garden City which is visionary, economically viable, and popular?” There is the small matter of ten thousand words, pesky projections and financial models, building plans and working out where to put the whole confection, but for a £250,000 prize, I’m thinking… Christmas project…

Painting the pram sheds

As the world moves on apace in East London in preparation for the Olympics: they tear down old post-war housing, grotty little shopping centres are turned into consumerist Meccas and those pale ghost bikes spring up with their sad garlands of flowers, some things stay the same.

Stamford Hill is a Hasidic Jewish stronghold and some of the council housing there has the luxury of a pram shed to go with the tenancy of a flat. Of course, from time to time, someone has to come along and give these outbuildings a lick of paint.

My mind travels back to the days when mothers pushed proper shiny prams (uncollapsible in every way) and lived above ground level, without lifts. Straightaway you see why you’d need, not a garage, but a pram shed.

I am reminded of pushing my own sister round the block in one, a second-hand cream contraption, with instructions to keep going round and around until she stopped screaming, sometimes with Toby the dog for company. She was a colicky baby, perhaps. Just as well we didn’t have pram sheds in Lincolnshire, if we had it would have certainly crossed my mind to park them both in it. And close the door quietly before tiptoeing down the dyke to watch a fenland sunset…

There’s an excellent insight to life on a Hackney estate from an aesthete’s point of view at this blog.