Our second case study: Finchley Road

Post by Dr Sadie Boniface

Another site we have visited is Finchley Road in the London Borough of Camden. Many of us on the Street Mobility team agree that the part of the road close to Finchley Road underground station is an obvious barrier to pedestrians due to the speed and volume of traffic, with physical barriers reinforcing this – a textbook example of community severance.

The section of Finchley Road we are interested in is roughly from Finchley Road & Frognal station in the north to Swiss Cottage in the south (boundaries TBC). At the moment, we are undecided as to how to define the edges of our case study area to the east and west. Our challenge here is how do we define ‘the community’ of pedestrians who may be experiencing severance in the absence of a specific population or clear geographic area (as there was in Woodberry Down) to study?

Google map showing approximate boundaries of Finchley Road case study area (boundaries TBC). Click the image for the full map
Google map showing approximate boundaries of Finchley Road case study area (boundaries TBC). Click the image for the full map

In this case study we would be mainly looking at the effects of the road, although there are some railway lines that may also be of relevance to Street Mobility. Finchley Road, like Seven Sisters Road (in Woodberry Down) is six lanes wide and very busy, with around 37,000 vehicles a day (based on 2012 data, though using the same data for 2011 there were 54,000 vehicles).

Public transport provision is good, with the underground and several bus routes. There are many shops and restaurants on both sides of the road, and a number of these have signs, seating, or items for sale out on the street. However, in terms of other features along the street, there are few trees or benches. Along Finchley Road barriers have been put in place as a safety measure to prevent pedestrians crossing the road away from designated crossings (‘informal crossing’).

Finchley Road looking North. Note the barrier at the side of the road.
Finchley Road looking North. Note the barriers at the side of the road.

According to the 2011 Census, some parts of the area have a high proportion of older people, while other parts have a lower proportion. The Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010 data suggest that – as in many parts of London – there are relatively deprived and relatively affluent parts of this area coexisting side by side (maps here).

Members of the Street Mobility team hope to meet the borough’s public health team soon to discuss the area as a case study. This area is a very different case to Woodberry Down which as we saw in an earlier post is undergoing extensive redevelopment. This presents us with different opportunities to speak to an established community about whether severance issues affect them, and new challenges in making contact with this community which will be led by Mapping for Change. We are looking forward to investigating whether and how community severance affects this area, and will post updates about our workshops soon. Please come back soon or follow us on Twitter @StreetMobility.

Announcing our first case study: Woodberry Down

Post by Dr Sadie Boniface

We have been busy visiting potential case study areas and feeding back on the suitability of the different areas to the wider Street Mobility team. I am pleased to say that this has been very productive and we now have our first case study confirmed: Woodberry Down, in the London borough of Hackney. The approximate boundaries of the area we plan to study are shown below:

Google map showing approximate boundaries of Woodberry Down  case study area (click for full map)
Google map showing approximate boundaries of Woodberry Down case study area (click the image for the full map)

The area is bounded by reservoirs to the South, a river to the North, and Green Lanes to the West. Seven Sisters Road, a six-lane road which carries around 40,000 vehicles a day (based on 2012 data), runs through the middle of the area. This road is the most apparent feature that might be causing community severance.

Public transport provision is good, with Manor House underground station close by and a number of bus routes running along Seven Sisters Road. However there are a number of features of the existing pedestrian environment that could be contributing to community severance. When we visited the area we identified that there are few benches along Seven Sisters Road, and while there is a lot of green space in the surrounding area (e.g. Finsbury Park), there is little along the road itself. We also noticed that the locations of pedestrian crossings were not always consistent with the locations of bus stops, which can encourage people to cross the road at other places (known as informal crossing).

Seven Sisters Road running through the Woodberry Down area
Seven Sisters Road running through the Woodberry Down area

According to the 2011 census, the population of Woodberry Down was 3,733 (counting the neighbourhoods inside the triangle formed by the New River and Green Lanes). Hackney in general, the population in Woodberry Down is relatively young, with less than 25% of the population over 50 years of age in most parts of the neighbourhood. In Street Mobility we are primarily interested in barriers to walking among older people, so we might have to make extra effort to make contact with this group.

The area is undergoing enormous redevelopment by Berkeley Homes and Genesis Housing Association. According to Hackney Council, the phased demolition of 1,981 homes has begun (mainly post-war social housing) and more than 4,600 social rented, private and shared ownership new homes are being built. There will be many new residents in Woodberry Down and the demographic composition is likely to change. In addition, the redevelopment will bring changes to the commercial and leisure facilities in the area and there have also been talks of narrowing the Seven Sisters Road to four lanes (from six). We are optimistic about making contact with community groups and networks formed in response to consultations on the redevelopment in our upcoming workshops that will be led by Mapping for Change. Members of the Street Mobility team hope to meet the borough’s public health team soon as well.

In a time of such change, the Street Mobility team is really excited to come to Woodberry Down to investigate community severance. We will post updates about our community workshops very soon – watch this space!

What are we talking about when we talk about severance?

Post by Dr Sadie Boniface

On our travels to potential case study sites we have seen the different ways in which busy roads have the potential to sever communities and neighbourhoods.

We have talked a lot amongst ourselves about which types of barriers cause severance (roads, railways, rivers/bodies of water), and also the characteristics of infrastructure that are relevant for severance (see Jenny’s previous blog post). While we discussed at length what these barriers might look like, I’ve been thinking that we haven’t talked about what this might mean for the resultant severance.

This is important for Street Mobility because it will affect the kinds of questions we ask participants when we are trying to measure severance. Participants might not describe their community as being ‘cut off’ as a result of infrastructure, but it might be ‘split in two’ by a busy road . The effects of severance will also not be felt in the same way if there is a different community on the other side of the barrier.

I can think of three kinds of severance that we might see in our case studies.

The first of these is that we might see a community bisected by infrastructure. An existing community could be split by the widening of a road, a new road building built, or other transport changes resulting in more and/or faster traffic. Residents might avoid crossing the busy road, meaning that they do not walk around their neighbourhood as much or see as many people in their community. This could be made worse if most of the shops or facilities are concentrated on the other side of the road. Travelling by bus could also be a problem, as the bus stop is likely to be the opposite side of the road for either the journey there or back.

How a community could be bisected by infrastructure
How a community could be bisected by infrastructure

The second type of severance we may come across is a barrier bordering two distinct communities on either side, inhibiting interaction between people from the two communities. As in the previous example, residents might not be willing to cross the road to access goods, services and people. The barrier could actually emphasise differences between the communities, meaning people are even less inclined to cross the busy road. This also describes what might happen in the first example long-term.

How severance may define the boundaries of two adjacent communities
How severance may define the boundaries of two adjacent communities

The third and final type of severance is a community that is isolated by a combination of infrastructure barriers. A less extreme example would be to imagine a community that can only be accessed by a single route or entrance. The barriers could be different types of infrastructure (as in the picture below), or all the same. In this example, the community itself is not split or divided, it is separated from the wider area, which may hinder access to facilities such as schools, hospitals, or places of work.

How severance might lead to a community becoming isolated
How severance might lead to a community becoming isolated

While I think the first example is unequivocal, there are definitely good arguments for not calling the other two community severance. We’d like to know your views – which of these would you call community severance, and why?