All of us city dwellers tend to live our lives much more in the public domain: in the streets, cafes and public spaces of our neighbourhood. My twenty-four hour diary gives a glimpse of how I use our streets, not only as a thoroughfare, but as a breathing space and a meeting place.
3.00pm Tuesday: I bump into a friend. We decide to sit on one of the benches under the trees in Candover Street for a five minute catch up. It could be a lovely spot, but the parking, the rubbish bins and cars screeching round the corner detract from its potential. A shame, because Candover Street possesses some of our finest arts and crafts buildings in central London, including Boulting’s Manufactory (1903 by the architect H Fuller Clark). But if I were to step back to admire the architecture, I’d probably be run down! The speed limit in our area is 30mph. Should it be less?
Later: I’m off to the Yorkshire Grey for a quiet pint with my husband. We plan to sit on the benches in Middleton Place, but this building, like hundreds of others in our area is having a refit, so instead of a quiet corner we have builders’ mayhem.
We walk around into Riding House Street which is also full of builders’ gear and completely blocked off to cars. I reckon the street cleaners have abandoned it too.
1.00am Wednesday morning: I’m woken by shouts in the street. An arguing couple probably don’t realise that I’m in bed only a few metres from where their voices are becoming increasingly raised. I pull the curtains aside. There they are, under the lamp post, oblivious to the fact that all my neighbours can hear them. About 4,000 people live in Fitzrovia West. It is actually one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in the country.
10.30am Wednesday: I’m cycling off to do some shopping. New Cavendish Street is to be designated as a cycling quietway, but who knows how they’ll manage it. I take my life in my hands, it is so congested. I think we need quiet quarters, not just a few so-called quiet streets. Are any of the through routes really necessary in FitzWest?
Some of my neighbours are still putting out rubbish, oblivious of the fact that the collection is long gone and they are all potentially in line for a £50.00 fine. I’m disgusted when I see two open bags full of food scraps that will undoubtedly attract vermin. But to give them their due, collections are not advertised on my street. Many people would prefer to take their rubbish to a recycling point.
Turning into Langham Street I have to negotiate another hazard. The female Ginko trees have dropped their fruit. The council have made an attempt to clean up the pavement, but it still smells disgusting. My heel slips on gunge.
1.00pm Wednesday: Lunch in a cafe. We all value this area because of the cafes and cosy pubs. I love the independent shops, the quirky businesses, the galleries and college activity. But the traffic, noise, pollution and rubbish nuisance that this intensity of use causes something we hate. This is a beautiful area with huge potential. I ought to be proud of living and working at the heart of this great city; not embarrassed by the mess.
The Fitzrovia West Neighbourhood Forum is taking some short term action. We’ve asked for the Ginko trees to be replaced. We’ve started a dialogue with Westminster City Council, trying to find solutions to the rubbish problem and we’ve joined with The West End Partnership to see if we can make change right across the West End.
Then there are the invisible menaces. Noise is one; pollution another. The invisible pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and fine particulates are more pernicious than ever the London smog was. They are at their greatest intensity in our area, Euston Road, Marylebone Road and Oxford Street are hotspots.
Almost 9,500 people die each year in London from air pollution. It affects the young and the elderly disproportionately. Calming the traffic and planting would help, but really we must consider restricting air conditioning and discouraging diesel vehicle trips.
In our last public meeting the forum made public space issues one of the top priorities for the FitzWest Neighbourhood Plan.
Fitzrovia West Neighbourhood Forum (FitzWest) will be holding a public exhibition and consultation entitled “FitzWest Futures — Have Your Say” at the Getty Gallery, 46 Eastcastle Street, Fitzrovia, London W1W 8DX on Monday 11 January from 11.00am-8.00pm. This will be an opportunity for people to see the progress we’ve made with the FitzWest Plan and give their views. Have your say. It’s free to join the forum here: Fitzwest.org/wordpress
Wendy Shillam is chair of the Fitzrovia West Neighbourhood Forum.