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Friday, March 31, 2006
Kings Cross and unprivatised public space
Several people asked me yesterday about the article in the Guardian about a RICS report on the increasing privatisation of what used to be public spaces, by developers hiring private security guards and policing the streets and spaces. Unfortunately one of the images used, and the first paragraph, mentioned the recently-approved Kings Cross Central development, which we worked on as public realm strategists. Needless to say, we were rather surprised to see the connection being made as Kings Cross is actually not going to be policed privately and is going to produce (pace the local authority planners) "genuinely public streets and squares" for which the scheme has been applauded.

If you do manage to read down to the bottom of the article, you will see that in fact, Kings Cross is singled out as the one large development which is taking a different attitude. "Camden council, north London, appears to have bucked the privatisation trend. It has struck a deal with Argent to retain responsibility for managing the streets in King's Cross Central". There are also some very articulate quotes from Roger Madelin, the head of Argent, about the historical aspects of this debate, and calling for an "urgent public debate about the cities we want to live in.

"It is right to be alarmist," he says. "As we speak, there will be developers scheming, and local authorities happy to get rid of problems." In fact, the other main point of the RICS report - that development specifically put aside space for independent local businesses - is also a cornerstone of the Kings Cross scheme, which is not going to have any chain stores apart from a supermarket and some shops around the station area (and what kind of station doesn't have a WHSmith or Boots?)

I do think it is a little bit irresponsible of the RICS to put, on their press release, Kings Cross into the category of "areas earmarked to come under private control" when this is really factually wrong. I know I'm biased, but when we put an awful lot of work, in collaboration with Argent who were completely in favour of more urban vitality, into ensuring that the public realm was accessible, un-elitist and genuinely public, it does grate to have our work so misrepresented.


Blogger David said...

I personally am keeping my eyes firmly on the Olympic site and neighbouring Stratford City. Funnily enough, a film and website created by the now-defunct no2012 group cited the privatisation of the public as a key objection to the Olympics, in that they felt it was an inevitable consequence of the lower-lea regeneration.

I remember the Foreign Office Architects show at the RCA a couple of years ago, in which a whole room was filled with video and textual research conducted with residents living adjacent to the existing site. I haven't seen this valuable research emerge since.

Sadly I suspect that King's Cross is lumped in with 'the rest' because it is all too easy to imagine any comprehensive redevelopment as a privatised wasteland; there are too many examples already.

Happily we know that it has genuine potential to be different.

10:30 am  

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