Balham has undergone much change, as young professionals and families, priced out of Clapham, moved into the area. The town centre and streetscape was in need of improvement. The scheme to overhaul the public realm included transforming Hildreth Street into a vibrant market square with a cafe strip and finding a creative solution to the ’ugly wall’, a flank wall that is now covered in mock-Victorian green faience tiling as a nod to the Northern line.
The scheme comprises four projects: enhancing the railway bridge environment to increase footfall beyond and unlock the potential of the areas adjacent to it; public realm improvements to Hildreth Street to make it a vibrant market and café strip; public realm improvements to Balham Community Space to better serve the local population and a creative solution to the ‘Ugly Wall’
The key moves were to strip back and declutter the spaces allowing them to thrive. Traders and shop owners can now use the space more effectively and improved access for pedestrians is provided.
The project has resulted in low vacancy rates and encouraged a broader range of uses throughout the day and evening. The existing market has been retained and enhanced creating a much more vibrant town centre. Where street furniture (seating, bike parking etc) has been provided it has been grouped together, out of pedestrian flow and overlooking public space, so everyone can move more easily and avoid hazards. Lighting has been designed to provide focus lighting as well as safety, security and wayfinding.
The project sought to build on the strengths of Balham’s high street and make it a ‘destination’ that retains and expands current activity, and act as a magnet to outsiders.
Who comes to this place and how does it serve their needs?
The spaces were designed specifically to serve the needs of the local community. The desire to fully understand the local needs was evidenced through an extensive and innovative public engagement process through the design and construction stage. An example of this came early in the process when community engagement took place in a purpose-built balloon basket and involved the use of a study area model and performance artists to help the public orientate themselves with the sites under discussion.
More than 800 people completed comment cards and these initial ideas informed the design process and gave legitimacy to the concepts, an extremely useful tool when progressing schemes which involve gaining support of a multitude of stakeholders. This process led to us working with an Artist to help us interpret some of these ideas. The brief encouraged site-specificity and an interrelationship with the communities and residents of Balham as key principles. Among other things the local community wanted to improve the street market, introduce more greenery (we planted new trees on Hildreth Street), improve bike parking, improve lighting and security (especially under the bridge) and make explicit the fact that these were public spaces.
Before works commenced most people were unaware that Balham had a community space (given over as part of an earlier s106 agreement with a local supermarket) so it was important that the place became clearly distinct and tied back through a material strategy to the other public realm interventions.
What do you see as the greatest success of this project?
The project has been effective at solving several long-standing issues in the town centre and has promoted an improved image of Balham. More generally, the project has been successful at integrating the existing community space within Balham, improving the public realm adjoining the two supermarkets in the town centre and improving usage of previously peripheral areas. The improvements to Hildreth Street in particular have significantly enhanced the image of the area, attracting new shops and increasing footfall. Businesses appear positive regarding the improvements to the area, and early indications suggest it has improved shopper’s perceptions of the town centre.
A post occupancy evaluation was conducted by Wandsworth Borough Council which revealed that 58 new jobs created, a 30% increase in footfall, a 34% Increase in visitor satisfaction, a decrease in vacancy rates and that 65% of local residents using the town centre daily from a base case of 40%. in cafes and coffee shops which is used as meeting places by mothers and self-employed freelancers