* yeah yeah, I know…
And so after all the waiting, does the new Windrush Square in central Brixton live up to the high expectations?
It’s a definite improvement on the ill-conceived geographic placement of disparate public space that was in place previously. But it’s not perfect.
First of all, let’s deal with the dynamics of the geography. Brixton needs a recognised central area. We need somewhere to meet, to celebrate and to generally reclaim as a public piece of land in the heart of SW9.
I have severe reservations however about the safety of cyclists as they progress either up or down Brixton Hill. The single cycling lane is going to cause problems when you try and make a turning, and have to cut across the traffic flow from either side.
The landscaping of the Square also leaves me somewhat under whelmed. It looks like a giant car park has been placed right in the heart of Brixton. The opportunity was here to make this a genuine green space. The old Tate Gardens area remains thankfully grassed over, but that’s about your lot.
The provision of extra bicycling racks outside the Tate Library is to be applauded. I remain unconvinced if this will eventually become a trusted area in which to leave a bicycle. The Ritzy is known locally as a hot spot for bike theft. Brixton Rec at least has some use as probably the safest places for Brixton bicyclists to padlock up.
The naming of the new space is perfect. With the (hopefully) soon to be opened Black Cultural Archives overlooking the area, Brixton has a positive identity to take us forward beyond the old stereotypes.
But for all the ’empowering’ talk of regeneration that is so often found in council press releases, some things just won’t budge. One of these is the closed public toilet beneath ground.
The ornate railings give the area a sense of tradition and perspective. Having them closed off is a sad incitement for modern times. The council press release covers all bases, by rather blandly stating:
“…with potentially a new cafe and public toilets.”
Never rule anything in, never rule anything out. Especially ahead of the local elections.
And so that is the theory, what about the grand opening of this major public project? I couldn’t tell you to be honest. It was all really rather strange, with the staging of an elitist opening ceremony involving local politicians from which the public were kept away.
Friday’s official civic opening saw the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, doing the ribbon cutting thing along with @cllrstevereed, the Labour leader of @lambeth_council. My man on the ground with his press pass tells me that both politicians tried their best to forge a smile for the cameras.
But at least the weather Gods were smiling on Brixton. Rain for the ring-fenced civic service on Friday, sunshine for the people on Saturday. The public opening of Windrush Square promised:
“live music performances, dance demonstrations and family art workshops. There will also be stalls by Spacemakers, Brixton Village and the Brixton Pound. The event will conclude with a lantern-lit procession led by local school children and a magnificent Phoenix.”
It didn’t disappoint.
Let the real people that matter into the area, and then the fun can commence. The events were pitched perfectly for the day – a mixture of music and local community stalls.
Maybe the music was rather slightly too loud, which caused a few problems with the @audioboos below. No worries. The event was all about community celebration and participation, and not providing a padded sound studio for a lone local blogger.
I was pleased to see the lovely @dougald promoting @spacemkrs and #brixvill throughout the day. The presence of @spacemakrs working alongside locals in
Granville Arcade Brixton Village has been nothing short of brilliant this year. Long may it continue in South London.
If Friday was all about the elected representatives doing their cordoned off bit for the community, then it was pleasing to see an as yet elected representative enjoying the occasion. @chukaumunna, the Labour PPC for Streatham, was once again a friendly face to see in SW9. He very kindly agreed for a catch up. Apologies for the bass heavy soundtrack, but I like to think yer man Chuka would probably approve.
The Friends of Brixton Market seemed to be the busiest stall on the day. The group is promoting the importance of local business for the local economy. A popularly held misconception (including by me) is that the whole of Brixton Market development is owned and managed by Lambeth Council.
Not so. Ben from the Friends group helpfully explains more below, including the very real threat of big business coming into our community and killing off the local economy. Westfield in SW9 is something we most definitely don’t want in Brixton.
And then finally I was most grateful to Suzy, one of the Brixton £ founders, for finding the time to have a chat. The B£ is booming, with many local shops now accepting it as the norm.
To my shame, I haven’t endorsed the B£ as much as I should. I don’t tend to shop in Brixton that often. Maybe this is the whole point of the local currency, to encourage people like me to make very real economic decisions that will be benefit the local people?
I cycled back to Sunny Stockwell late in the day, having found a real sense of community around Windrush Square. It was great to catch up with @brixtonalex, @brixtonblog and @andybroomfield. Sorry to have missed @langrabbie and @@lambethcpcg.
To be fair, @mayoroflambeth and @cllrstevereed (and others) returned on Saturday to mix with the public. I appreciated my chat with the leader of the council, and I thank him for being approachable. I left the good councillor pondering the question of how to find a central square for Sunny Stockwell.
The real success of Windrush Square won’t be judged until six months from now. What we need is one of those balmy Brixton summers. The whole area comes out to play in the heart of SW9. Seeing how the space can cope with this demand, and how the civic planning plays a part in influencing the social behaviour of locals will be the real test.
Will the street drinkers and blatant drug dealing be moved on? And if so, where to? It would be great to see the public toilets once again re-opened, and being used purely for the purpose for which they were originally designed.
Are we really a less civil society than some one hundred years ago when they were first built? Hopefully Windrush Square will play a part in helping to dispell this pessimism.