Urban Fathers' Liberation Front

Confused dads working out the city

I’ve just noticed a clock…

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Can you see the clock?

I’ve been pretty indifferent about the new clock in the middle of Palmers Green high street.  I first got wind of the news that such a project was happening in 2013.  The idea was to liven up the tatty little traffic island in a wider space known locally as ‘The Triangle’ at the main junction in Palmers Green.  There used to be a tree on it, but it had to be removed when it became diseased.  The absence of a feature there has troubled the local influentials ever since.  The clock idea filled me with utter dread; it’s hardly the most original idea and there are many truly great clock towers in other parts of the country that set a high bar for such a focal point – you only have to go down the road to Crouch End to see the iconic impact of a good clock tower.  Also knowing the of the promoters of the idea – the Green Lane Business Association, aggressive objectors to the mini-Holland idea project and on the basis of that meeting lacking any ability to respond to different perspectives – I gave the project a wide berth.

Said clock has now been in place for about a month, and to be honest, it’s barely noticeable, so it hadn’t troubled my sensibilities.  And given it’s so insignificant, I shouldn’t really comment, but the missed opportunity just makes me angry at the waste of public money (some of the funding came from the Residents Priority Fund).

The Triangle – the wider space – in Palmers Green is a reasonable piece of urban design.  Far more than a tatty traffic island, it’s an early 20th century focal point of a compact suburban town centre.  It is framed by well scaled buildings – many of them ornate and historic, rich in colour and detail – and offers interesting views to it on the approach roads.  It’s a busy hive of activity with shops, services and food and drink available on its three sides.  There’s movement across the roads, between the station and the high street, in and out of the shops.  People can sit outside and watch other people.  It is a place with much potential from a sympathetic and effective strategic design approach.  The tree must have once really made it special.

Coming through the space this evening, I looked at the clock.  Notwithstanding the effort put it by local traders and craftsmen in bringing it together, and the supposed influences cited from the surroundings, the clock lacks any command or status within the street scene.  It’s small and slender frame is lost; the clock face is often blocked by various paraphernalia surrounding it – traffic lights, street lights, a way finding sign, utility boxes, cctv stands….  It’s been hurriedly plonked in a random part of the island with no thought to the floorscape or the context.  The heritage / Victoriana approach is lazy, tired, undemanding and unoriginal, the lowest common denominator of civic intervention in the public realm and hardly offering the past any respect or the future anything to remember us by.  And do we really need a clock?

A little digging reveals that the designer came to the project late, with no previous experience of built structures and the ideas for the clock imposed upon her.  Consultation on the Palmers Green Community website shows half of those responding disliking the design.

Indifference remains the word.  It’s a missed opportunity in its own right; it’s premature in light of the promised interventions in the wider public realm in the medium term and it’s a bad idea poorly executed with a sloppy design.  Given that it’s lost in a sea of poles on an isolated traffic island, it’s probably just as well no-one will notice it.

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My sublimely subversive weekend

My subversive neighbour on her street play experience.

Subversive Suburbanite

It started with a cycle cash mob. If you don’t know what one of those is, I’m not sure we did either just over a month ago, if indeed there ever was such a thing…

Bike spenders Bike spenders

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Word from the street (play)

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Street Buzz

July 2014. Street Play: Devonshire Road, our second monthly event.

It’s half an hour before the event, and some of the kids from up the road are already circling on their bikes, waiting. The sun is hitting the street, the patchy clouds offering little resistance. A gentle breeze is in the bright green leaves of this suburban London road.

I’m setting up, at the top of the road, counting the minutes down, and then the seconds, until we can draw the barriers across the road and put up the ‘Road Closed’ sign, right in the middle. Then, silence. No more unwanted cars on this residential road. Our cycling enthusiasts take to the tarmac, and I walk back along the street, right in the middle, knowing I don’t need to look back. After all the anticipation of the start, now the anticipation of what the event will bring.

Second time is more relaxed. No-one is wondering what they should do. The adults lean by the walls, beginning to chat, making introductions where they don’t know each other. Some are sipping tea. There’s cake. Less cautious, the pre-teens have loaded their water pistols and are chasing each other in and out of gardens. There’s noise. Some of the youngest are on scooters or plastic ride-on cars. There are others chalking on the pavements and on the road in gaudy colours. Five foam footballs, kicked, follow the camber of the road and ultimately lodge under parked cars to be largely forgotten.

After an hour or so, with occasional interruptions for returning or leaving residents walked out of the street in their cars behind the stewards – oh, the power – there are twenty to thirty kids of varying ages wide-eyed and alive, engrossed in activities; packs race through the middle backwards and forwards on two, three or four wheels (we await our first uni-cycler) whilst others skip, chalk, chase and squirt. Adults stand by, watching, participating, talking. Some have the nerve to scoot. A neighbour without kids brings out his young parrot and a jug of grapes. Some of the kids are momentarily diverted and watch the bird devour the soft fruit. Buzz Lightyear is chalked onto the middle of the street, a homage to the bespectacled boy causing minor mayhem in a Lightyear cozzie.

Casual activities perpetuate for another hour until a sudden rush of returning cars at the end of the afternoon disrupts the flow, and before we know it, we’re pulling back the barriers and removing our signs; the cars take back the road again.

Our soldiers will take back the street again, briefly, next month and, one day, the war will be ours and we alone will rule the street.

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