Urban Fathers' Liberation Front

Confused dads working out the city

I’ve just noticed a clock…

on July 22, 2014

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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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