Leicester Square

With all its movie theaters, restaurants, and even a high-end hotel, Leicester Square is an “I don’t know what I am” kind of place. There’s the building offering theatre tickets for venues that are not even in the area; all the heavy traffic and an anomalous green park in the middle; and its role as a crossroads of sorts between Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and Covent Gardens – so much that this space doesn’t seem to have a real identity.

South Bank and Riverside Walk

This could be the most fantastic waterfront promenade, when you realize the abundance of important uses along the river: performance facilities, the London Eye, City Hall, Borough Market, and the Tate, to name just a few. One can only begin to imagine how extraordinary the whole experience could be, if it weren’t for the sad fact that so many of the major institutions contribute so little to the experience. Either they simply have little presence, or they offer up simply awful parks such as at the Tate Modern or the Greater London Authority (GLA). Some of the obstacles to achieving success in this place are significant, but there are plenty of other simple things that could be done. One would be helping people coming out of the Tube stations in seeing and knowing where they want to go; or better identifying buildings, along with their activities and their entrances, or layering a series of amenities, such as seating, public art, drinking fountains, and small performance spaces. All this could add significantly to the visitor experience on the waterfront, at a relatively small cost.

Old Spitalfields Market

Spitalfields Market and the surrounding district are being ferociously nibbled at by narrow-minded, stifling development that is contrary and destructive. This place could be one of London’s greatest attractions as a gateway into a fantastically diverse and entrepreneurial neighborhood. Working with the market and adjoining neighborhoods to build on their enormous and varied assets would far out-perform the development that is currently proposed for the AREA. Where is the wisdom that seems so prevalent in other parts of London? Why are people blind to the city-building, job-creating, reservoir of talent that is alive and ready to grow in this Market and the rest of East London? Help!

Kensington Gardens

This special area covers the west end of Hyde Park, including Kensington Palace and the Orangery Café. It is mostly used for strolling, rollerblading, swan-watching and paying tribute to Princess Diana at her former residence. While Kensington Gardens is otherwise rather limited in what it offers, there is an attempt to seek excellence. For example, we came across one of the best playgrounds we have ever seen here, a wonderful model for any park.

Oxford Street

What a difference six months makes. Oxford Street used to be so depressingly full of traffic that you wanted to get off it as quickly as possible. Now you feel like exploring it and discovering all it has to offer. It is the best-connected street in the city and borders interesting areas along both its north and south sides.

Great Court, British Museum

This is an enormously interesting space: a building within a building, and within the interior building, a magnificent library that one can view from windows in the restaurant on the backside from the entrance. But, as magnificent as the building is, the space between the interior and exterior buildings could be a great public space where art and architecture could be combined in exciting ways. And yet the building seems to give off an air of being too important for art, or for people to comfortably fit in and be a part of it.

London: Better Than Average Public Spaces was last modified: March 6th, 2012 by Project for Public Spaces
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