Poorly planned

Colindale needs imaginative public spaces that match the fierce energy of its people
By Adrienne Lau

Rainbow over housing on Charcot Road Credit: Adrienne Lau
Rainbow over housing on Charcot Road Credit: Adrienne Lau

Regenerating Colindale is still a work in progress. But, it is worth investing in a public realm plan that is much more ambitious than what has already been delivered. The park upgrades are welcome but more should be done to shape our shared environment into one that is nurturing and imaginative.

Like many areas in Greater London, Colindale has seen unprecedented housing growth in the past decade. It has become a permanent construction site with cranes and marketing suites adorning the high streets. This dense residential enclave is bordered by the M1, cutting it off from Hendon and A5, separating it from Brent, with swathes of suburbia surrounding north and south.

Walking through Colindale I notice the untapped potential for community spaces. At Stay Club crowds sit on the building exhausts, smoking, chatting and blasting Guns N’ Roses. Porsches and BMWs begin to arrive, doors open and silhouettes disappear into the blacked-out shisha lounge of Cielo Prlr. On Charcot Road, teenagers skateboard past in their race to Montrose Park, soon joined by roller skaters. Women and children share picnics outside the Hub, built as a park café, which has failed to open doors since the pandemic started. A group on kangaroo bouncy shoes exercise in sync to heavy beats. Along the silk stream, people sit on benches, glued to their phones. Joggers make their way around the empty tram-shed, a part of Colindale’s aviation history that has been cosmetically restored but remains unused, now covered with alternate layers of multilingual graffiti and corrective white paint.

To create a great neighbourhood, we need a social heart. Currently, the amount of commercial units is off-balance given the growing population. Their mix also lacks strategic planning, too many kebab shops and too few alternative eating options. This could be compensated by well-designed and comfortable civic spaces, in addition to parks, that facilitate more activities under different weather conditions, attracting more people. Currently, leftover bits of hard paving, shaded and windy most of the time, make people want to move along as quickly as possible.

As an architect with urban design experience, I have seen more successful developments. This current situation is an expected outcome of a process that puts profit before people. In London, the high demand for housing is a result of a shortage of supply and affordable options, rather than excellence in delivery. We should redress this relationship and have people living here because they love to, not because they cannot live anywhere else.

The Colindale population is multi-cultural, daring and creative. Montrose Park is the roller skate HQ of North Lon- don. The Shah’s food truck outside Colindale station offers convenient takeaways while the friendly staff of ITJL café have fostered a community atmosphere. Organisations such as Unitas and the 4Front Project of Graham Park provide much-needed youth support. People are enterprising and seize every opportunity to make the most out of their environment.

Colindale needs an imaginative and ambitious next step that matches the fierce energy of its people. It cannot remain a bedroom community, even if it was planned as one. The density, compounded with more people staying local as they work from home, offers a critical mass, demanding the next level of place-making and community assets such as more inclusive retail, weekend markets, music venues and makers spaces.

Why not be original in urban experimentation? What about a pop-up summer lido with barbecue facilities? Or, a pavilion that different local organisations and businesses can take over in its curation?

A thriving public realm makes a lot of economic sense. It also provides inspiration, opportunities and platforms for people of all backgrounds to participate in their local area. Let’s have a neighbourhood that makes locals feel proud. One which newcomers cannot wait to be part of and is celebrated as a hidden gem of London.

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