Since 2004 much of the EC1 area of south Islington, London, has been changed from a place that felt bleak, unsafe and colourless into one that feels safer, more attractive, neighbourly and vibrant.
This is thanks to the transformation of many of the parks, streets and open spaces around the council blocks under the New Deal for Communities (NDC) scheme.
With a population of 10,000, EC1 was typical of many inner city areas where people on estates in particular suffer from a lack of greenery, feeling unsafe due to antisocial behaviour and the dominance of vehicles, and a sense that the space around their homes is not well cared for. In 2001 it was designated as a New Deal for Communities area and awarded government money for a resident-led Partnership Board to kickstart its regeneration.
Residents emphasised from the outset their desire for a ‘greener’ place, and in 2004 the Board, and Islington Council, agreed a strategy to improve its parks, streets and the communal open spaces on estates. Since then there has been a major re-design of 6 local parks, 6 of the housing estates, and improvements to 19 streets where the needs of pedestrians have been prioritised and a street market revived.
Residents were given the opportunity to grow their own produce on allotments on some of the improved estates. This, combined with improved planting, a playful environment and seating has encouraged people of all ages to spend time in communal spaces on estates as well as in parks. Residents from the immediate area were involved in selecting design teams for each place, and working with them to decide what worked well and what did not.
“There’s a much greater sense of community now, 10 years ago, people were very isolated but thanks to the improvements to the streets, the parks and the lighting, EC1 feels safer and people get out and about more. Importantly residents have been able to have their say on how things have changed, so everyone’s played their part.” Pamela Quantrill, manager, Finsbury Library.
There were clear environmental as well as social benefits to the work. This included an increase in trees to reduce pollution and produce shade, a reduction in hard landscaping and increase in soft landscaping (which can help prevent floods and reduce temperature), greater biodiversity thanks to a greater variety of planting, and an increase in green areas, using run-off from some buildings to water plants. Walking was encouraged and the dominance of cars was reduced.
They key to success
The change was brought about by implementing a strategy to realise a vision for the area as a whole, as well as for each individual place, whether it was an estate, a park or street. The transformation took place over time with the opportunity to learn and build support as work progressed. Crucial to achieving sustainable change was:
- A strategic and planned approach, essential for securing funding and for the quality, and quantity, of work implemented.
- Working with independent design teams to develop plans based on holistic analysis and engagement with residents. The designers identified solutions and ideas that would not necessarily have been suggested by residents or officers.
- Bringing together funding from a variety of sources. The NDC provided funding that was used to kickstart the process and bring in match funding. But overall it contributed less than 50% of the costs; the rest came from a wide variety of sources most significantly Section 106 and Transport for London..
- Ensuring that all those involved in a regenerating a place work together; this requires working across departments and sections – so simple and logical in theory but very difficult to achieve within existing structures.
- A sense of urgency helps. The NDC funding was for ten years and this work started in year four; the drive was to achieve as much as possible in the time available. The local authority managed all the projects and delivered them far more quickly, at less cost and with greater engagement than is the norm.
The work demonstrates that it is possible to change estates and neighbourhoods; the hope is that this is recognised by council officers and residents and that together they will lead the transformation of many other estates and neighbourhoods throughout the country, as is desperately needed.