Parklet life

17 Nov

Example of a parkelt in Walthamstow

By Lewis Godfrey

I’ve just come out of a really dispiriting meeting with Newham council, and I need to vent about it.

The Newham Community Assemblies allocate money to implement different projects, which are put forward by residents. You can read more about them here.

Being reasonably civic-minded, I volunteered to sit on the Green St Community Assembly working group, the role of which is to scrutinise the projects and how they are implemented.

These projects were voted on by local residents. One of the most popular projects in Green St, where I live, is a project to deliver “pocket parks”, or parklets. You can read about it here if you like.

This looks like a fantastic idea doesn’t it? The London Parklets campaign would of course approve.

So what’s happened? Well, despite the public support for the pocket parks, Newham Council has got involved and watered down the initial proposal. Now instead of replacing car parking, the Green St parklets, so the proposal currently goes, will be put on the footway…

Huh. The initial proposal was fairly clear about where these pocket parks would be placed. Terms like “traffic calming” are used 5 or 6 times throughout the first bid. A second supplementary proposal talked about a need to mitigate rejections from motoring groups.

All of the working group understood that this proposal involved swapping car parking space for a pocket park. I assume most of the people who voted on this thought the same thing. 

Why’s this important? Well a few reasons. Firstly, Green St footways are BADLY congested at the best of times. This means that if you’re walking on Green St it can be impossible to socially distance (remember, Newham is one of the places most affected by Covid, and the pandemic hasn’t gone away. It might not for a while…). 

Secondly, a big reason to install parklets is to reduce the car parking available. You can ask The London Parklets campaign about this – reducing the parking available in an area cuts down on the amount of cars people in that area use. 

Reducing car usage is important in Newham, where a third of people get less than half-an-hour’s activity/ week, and which has the worst air quality of any place in the country.
Thirdly, the initial proposal was pretty clear that taking car parking space was the plan. Seems a bit…weird…dare I say…undemocratic… to change the proposal at the last minute…

So putting the parklet on the footway is a bad idea, I reckon. What’s more, doing so will affect other proposals to implement parklets. If I want to put a parklet in Canning Town, but somebody doesn’t like losing a car parking space, what’s to stop them pointing to Green St and demanding one goes on the pavement? It sets a really unhelpful precedent.

So…hmmm. At the meeting we just had about these issues, I asked why the proposal had been watered down. Well look, I won’t tell you exactly what was said, but the gist of it is that some people “may object”…

Of course, the working group knew people may object already, because the initial proposal had described ways of mitigating these objections, as discussed.

So where does that leave us? Well, not in a great place. The plan is currently to still take space from the existing public footway. Meanwhile, “people who may object”, who may well not live in Green St, are given a working veto over what people who do actually live in Green St get to do with our roads.

I’m very sad about this. The community assemblies were a way for residents to come up with cool projects, which tackled things like our lack of green space in innovative ways. But it seems that the things residents came up with were too radical.

If Newham Council shows guts, this project could still be a radical, exciting way of reimagining our street space. But I’m worried that the plans will be scuppered by a small, undemocratic group of very loud, very angry people. Let’s hope that Newham sees sense, and implements the project as initially proposed.

This post was originally a thread on Twitter. Reproduced here by permission.

One Response to “Parklet life”

  1. Kronikal November 21, 2021 at 18:19 #

    Oh no, you didn’t really think the council was entirely genuine about delegating these funding decisions to the public, did you?
    Sorry to scoff, but whenever they set up something about giving people a real say in anything, in a blaze of publicity, it’s mostly for the PR benefit, so those (the vast majority) who don’t participate, get the vague impression that the council are being nice to us (and hopefully vote for them next time), even if they’ve had experience of being conned by the council before. Those who do participate and get their fingers burnt, & have their time wasted, are taught not to try it again.

    Even where it’s been set up with good intentions by those in power, officers on the ground are likely to look for an excuse to undermine it. And in this case, involving several rounds of consultation, and working groups, it must have pretty high overheads for a system distributing to projects amounts of money which are, after all, chicken-feed by council standards overall. This demonstrates the outlay they are prepared to put down, in order to help reinforce the illusion of democracy and participation.

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