New London Architecture

Soho streets campaign gathers momentum

Thursday 28 May 2020

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

The campaign to close roads in Soho, and let restaurateurs offer al fresco dining as part of an ‘open streets’ movement, gathered pace this week with the launch of a website, talks with Westminster and new ideas to temporarily pedestrianise the area. 

Soho Estates managing director John James has set up Soho Summer Street Festival to champion the ‘opening of Soho’ and help make businesses financially viable given social distance measures currently in place and relieve the ‘disastrous’ effects on businesses from COVID-19. Supported by over 500 people so far it proposes the temporary pedestrianisation of Soho Streets to create the Soho Summer Street Festival.

‘Currently, most of Soho’s restaurants and cafes cannot open safely, while maintaining the social distancing required to kill off COVID-19’, said James. ‘I am trying to come up with some practical ideas to reopen the vibrant Soho we all know and love.I need your help, I cannot do this alone. There are lots of logistic hurdles to overcome but by making practical, short term changes, we can allow life, business and families to be supported again.’

Boarded up cafés in Soho
Westminster is working to reopen hospitality businesses from early July but officers at the council, led by Kevin Goad, are considering bringing forward local schemes that could be delivered quickly and for a set period of time ‘to improve the safe use of public space in the coming months’. It is also looking at how it can ‘make changes to public space, road and pavement layouts which will facilitate social distancing while allowing people to move more freely and support the reopening of bars and restaurants.’ 

Transit Studio director Ben Masterson-Smith has also joined the movement with his ‘Social Soho’ vision to temporarily pedestrianise areas of Soho to enable restaurants and bars to reopen, initially looking at the east of the area. One iteration (pictured) shows seating arranged back to back on the centreline of a road, potentially with decorative hygiene screens or signage. Another (pictured) is a 2m-wide table placed on the centreline, and other ideas include having a series of events to launch the scheme with lunches and dinners for frontline workers like doctors and nurses. 

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

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