View from the street: 'Let’s revive the Promenade'
David Harrison, Islington Living Streets
- Credit: David Harrison
Sand between the toes, leaping into waves, ice creams in the piazza. Among the pleasures of Mediterranean holidays (currently a blurred memory) let’s not forget the fun of the town’s passeggiata, with locals of all ages, promenading in the evening to meet and greet friends and neighbours. The colour and buzz create the atmosphere of a party where everyone’s invited.
Socialising like this back home may not seem feasible. Yet, similar activities were once common in London. Londoners would promenade along the Mall in St James’s Park – as the paintings of Gainsborough and others testify. Nearer to home, in Moorfields avenues of elms and gravelled walks were laid out. Into the late 19th century, a stroll to the entertainments at Highbury Barn was a common treat. Old photos show Victorians sauntering through the borough’s new quiet, residential streets.
The creation of a car-centric city in the last century ended most of these activities as walking became increasingly unpleasant. Now the People Friendly Streets policies really are giving priority to pedestrians instead of motorists. Despite vocal opposition from elements of the national press, the council’s policies have gained the people’s support as survey after survey shows and the recent elections overwhelmingly demonstrated.
Londoners have increasingly grown used to a more continental life-style. Chairs outside pubs and restaurants and chance encounters with friends and acquaintances have become the norm. We have our greens, squares, parks and little gardens, and thanks to greater control of traffic even many of our streets are pleasant places to stroll along. We are discovering new walking routes. More trees are being planted to improve the experience. We might even revive the custom of the promenade or passegiata in Islington.
Remember, where possible, ditch the car, walk and have fun!