The strategic aims of any streetscape intervention should include minimising unnecessary clutter. For our current design changes, this has meant looking to more durable and attractive designs, employing the likes of stone cladding of architectural walls, planters, benches and contemporary forms including art installations, stainless steel bollards and purpose-designed gates and gateways to discreetly embed social distancing measures within our public realm.
The temporary measures for social distancing, so far, have understandably overlooked the normal investment in the reduction of existing and now increased temporary street clutter. Physically obstructive street furniture of the past such as guard railing along the edge of carriageways, once seen as a safety measure - like the current temporary footway widening with barriers - also prevented safe road crossing. Now, the immediate need is to free up space for essential walking and cycling. Cheap furnishings, signage and road paint or other markings are being liberally used for reopening and recovery. But our city centres, towns, high streets and parks and gardens are also risking a new form of clutter with their presence, which is visually intrusive to the settings of fine heritage buildings, memorials, artworks, townscapes and landscapes.
The future will see our public realms continue to evolve, as we see a prioritisation of walking and cycling as modes of travel and an increased focus on access to public green landscapes and spaces for gathering. As we work to embed this “new” normal into the way our public spaces are designed, we must seize the opportunity to do so in a way that honours the existing landscape – retrofitting these improved design solutions into our existing public realm. That, I believe, is the future of placemaking.