A space for community not commuters

Mini Holland
‘Mini Holland’ in Waltham Forest, London Image: Waltham Forest BC

It’s November 2019 and the neighbourhood of St Denys feels like it’s on the cusp of transformative change. We’re coming to the end of a great year for the Breathing Spaces project, with lots of engagement on clean air issues and resident-led projects kickstarting local action. Southampton City Council also recently launched its Connecting St Denys survey which will hopefully form the basis of a more liveable, low-traffic neighbourhood in 2020. It’s important to remember that St Denys/Portswood was selected out of 85 areas in Southampton for this survey – make sure you make your views known!

In terms of Breathing Spaces, we chose St Denys as the initial focus area because there is a strong sense of community and lots of residents keen on creating change. The neighbourhood has also, up until now, appeared ‘invisible’ to commuters, commercial traffic & policymakers. We recognise that areas close to the docks or motorways are pollution hotspots, but purely residential neighbourhoods aren’t viewed as having a particular problem. The reality is that St Denys has terrible issues with rat-running, HGV traffic, peak-time congestion and poor air quality. Recent flooding, which closed off part of Thomas Lewis Way and caused traffic gridlock for almost a whole day, is another compelling reason to transform the area into a space for local communities rather than commuters.

Waltham Forest Mini Holland – East Ave, Orford Rd, London

A key source of inspiration has been the Waltham Forest ‘Mini Holland‘ project in London. The photos above provide a glimpse of what local streets could be like in Southampton if you took motorised transport out of the equation. Orford Road in Waltham Forest is a high street which used to be choked with traffic, but is now a thriving public space. People linger, spend more money locally and can breathe more easily. What’s not to love?

At our final Clean Air Café on 30th November we want to talk about how everyone’s ideas and pledges for clean air and healthy streets can be supported in 2020. We’re also looking for a group of residents who would like to take part in a study tour of the Waltham Forest Mini Holland project and then inspire the St Denys community to create its own truly liveable neighbourhood. Could you be an ambassador for clean air & healthy streets?

And if you’re thinking ‘This is all great but where is all that traffic supposed go?’ then the answer is – it simply evaporates.

“…traffic does not behave like water moving through pipes, finding an easier path as another narrows. Instead it is a force of human choice, driven by people making all sorts of different decisions when driving conditions change. The respondents in the Cairns study, for example, changed their mode of travel, chose alternative destinations, or the frequency of their journey, consolidated trips, took up car sharing or didn’t make the journey at all.”

Imagining St Denys at our Clean Air Café in October

In order to realise a vision for the future you have to imagine it first. So at our Clean Air Café on 26th October we asked everyone to: ‘Imagine your neighbourhood in 20 years time – all of today’s problems have been solved and it’s the perfect place to live. What does it look like?‘ Below are some of the responses we had – ideas and designs for the perfect neighbourhood.

Re-designing St Denys – streets for children, car as guest, community boat, benches, street art & social calendar
Summary of ideas for ‘Imagining St Denys’

Some of the other suggestions included:

  • “More street events … benches/trees/places to talk/stop/rest and meet your neighbours”
  • “Another crossing point over river for walkers, cyclists and scooters”
  • “Encourage the feeling of a village”
  • “All roads blocked off in the middle so can access only”
  • “Encourage & celebrate healthy ways … colour is important, England has toooo much grey … cover flat roofs in moss, small plants etc”
  • “Knock down all the dilapidated buildings and turn them into green spaces

It seems that reclaiming space for the community is a key thread running through these ideas. Let’s make this vision for St Denys a reality.

Graphic recording of the Clean Air Café by Rebecca Kinge. Click on an image to see a bigger version.

Northam Home Zone, Radcliffe Road
Another example of a low traffic neighbourhood – Northam Home Zone in Southampton

Feature image – Orford Rd, Waltham Forest, London. Courtesy of:

A tour of Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland

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