On Sunday 14th May 2023, Tranquil City hosted a free public walk around the Peckham, Walworth and Elephant & Castle locality, exploring findings of a recent review of the literature we undertook for Natural England. The review (in partnership with the University of Surrey and Go Jauntly) investigated which aspects of parks, green spaces, green active travel routes and street greening in cities can encourage both use and enjoyment. We were excited to share our findings with people and have an open conversation on how they can be applied.
The walk was held as a part of Jane’s Walk London 2023 festival, a celebration of the urbanist Jane Jacobs. Held annually in London since 2020, the Jane’s Walk global festival is oriented around the principles of Jane Jacobs – an American-born writer and activist (1916 – 2006) famous for her writings about what makes a “good” city. Jane Jacobs argued that everyone is an expert on the places they live, work and play in. The voices of ordinary citizens are equally important in neighbourhood and city regeneration processes, alongside architects and local authorities. The festival encourages the concept of “walking conversations” to help communities tell their stories, navigate the city and connect with one another.
Tranquil City is a multidisciplinary collective with very similar objectives, passionate about bridging the gap between diverse groups and working on projects together which enhances the quality of life in cities. We enthusiastically grabbed the opportunity to participate in this festival (!), sitting alongside other London Walks exploring related themes of green spaces, blue spaces, cultural heritage, memory and participatory urban design.
The event was so much fun, with some splendid, sunny weather across the morning! We had a great turnout – 30 people attended the walk, coming from diverse professions: urban planners, spatial mappers and creative illustrators, nature conservation community groups and enthusiasts, Masters and PhD students, food security community groups, walking groups and health and wellbeing researchers. This contributed to some dynamic and exciting conversations about the numerous ways in which diverse local green spaces can be improved and maintained in the future.
We walked from Peckham Square to Elephant Park, exploring a multitude of different green spaces we explored in our literature review – active travel routes/linear corridors, big and small parks, old and newer, emergent informal green spaces. We shared the findings for these green spaces delineated in our research. Through the walk, we encouraged people to share their thoughts amongst the group or one-to-one with a member of Tranquil City or the Jane’s Walk team, or even a new person they just connected with! Sensory immersion was also key, encouraging participants to tune into what they observe, hear, smell and feel.
Reflecting on participant discussions, Surrey Canal Walk was seen as a great place to connect Peckham to Burgess Park via a green, leafy and quiet pathway. The group also highlighted the importance of seating and the need to moderate space between pedestrians and cyclists.
At Burgess Park, discussions revolved around the balance between landscaping and wildness, the need for signposting to show the types of nature and reasons why some areas are left to grow instead of mowed (…ensuring the conservation of wildlife!).
We passed through a Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) on Bagshot Street and discussed the pros and cons of such measures and the delicacies of how they should be implemented.
At Surrey Square Park, a small residential park, we reflected on feelings of safety, ways of walking through the space as well the need for adequate lighting and local surveillance.
Meandering through Aylesbury Estate/ Walworth, we noted the presence of informal roadside verges compared to street greening in and around the Elephant & Castle regeneration. Conversations here focused on accountability and the need for closely coordinated efforts to look after informal spaces, also an invaluable aspect of green space networks in cities.
Finally, in Elephant Park we discussed the variety of different planting and design aspects that makes this park interesting and accommodating to a wide number of uses. However, the fact that it was privately owned, with security cameras, we discussed how this both contributed to and detracted from positive feelings towards the place compared to the other parks we visited.
The event highlighted the importance of being proactive, testing and evaluating research findings in the real world. The event also highlighted the need to replicate these “walking conversations” in other areas of London and beyond, bringing greater collective attention to the quality of various green space types and governance strategies needed to manage such areas.
Photos of the event and a PDF copy of the walking route (if you wanted to explore the route for yourself!) can be seen below.
Keep it tranquil,
The Tranquil City Collective
Author(s): Chloe McFarlane & Grant Waters