How to make a great street — and why we’ve built so many awful ones

This evening Andy Cameron, an engineer who advised the last government and has written standards for transport and urban design, will join us in the pub to talk about making streets for people.  That’s upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey on Theobald’s Road at 7pm (bar open from 6 with excellent food available).

If you can’t join us, the slides and audio will be online sometime later.  But in the meantime, you can see a talk Andy gave to CABE — not quite the same audience as a pub, so presumably not quite the same talk, but entertaining all the same.  Most interesting, perhaps, is a little insight into why local authorities have been turning our high-streets into hostile motor roads: they mistook the Highways Agency motorway design manual for an instruction book for city streets.

If you’re not familiar with CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, they were a Department for Culture Media and Sport quango full of architects whose main purpose was to understand the ways that architecture and the built environment impact on our lives, and to apply that understanding to reviewing nationally-significant construction projects and planning applications — iconic new buildings, large developments, important public spaces.  Created in 1999, they are partly to thank for the more positive trends of the last decade.  They did their best to hold back the worst excesses of out-of-town barn retail sprawl, and to establish a fashion for new public spaces and squares and streets and bridges that prioritise people over the movement of vehicles, as in the redevelopment of the old industrial waterside areas of Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester, and Gateshead.

CABE was cut in the bonfire of the quangos, and, in the name of economic growth and people power [er, are you sure it can be both? -Ed], Eric Pickles and George Osborne have relaxed government control over development.  But people rarely have the time, money, resources, or expertise to exert much power over development decisions, and even when they do, are easily stepped over by better-resourced councils and corporations.  A new wave of cheap corrugated-sprawl-and-car-park development is on the way.

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