Dr Emilia Smeds from the University of Westminster introduces the EX-TRA research project surveying opinions on Wanstead’s street space. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson
In June 2021, a colourful seating area appeared next to the Co-op on the High Street in Wanstead, where a couple of parking spaces had existed only weeks before. This Wanstead Mobility Hub was the second of its kind to be installed by Redbridge Council. The Wanstead Society, residents and local businesses had their say about it, with a diversity of perspectives. Now that the hub has been in place for nine months, we are revisiting the debate.
The Wanstead Mobility Hub provides a new seating area or ‘parklet’ for local people to enjoy the High Street. It is free for anybody to use, not exclusive to specific café customers. You might use it to take a break with your kids while out shopping or as a meeting point.
Redbridge Council’s vision for the space goes beyond this: it is called a hub because it offers many travel options in one place, allowing people to easily switch from one low-emission mode of travel to another. Next to the seating there is bicycle parking and a parking bay reserved for a car club vehicle. You could, for example, cycle to the hub, attend the farmers market, and then travel onwards in a car club car or by Tube. There is an electric vehicle charging point, serving both the car club and members of the public who can park their own electric vehicle in a reserved bay and charge it whilst shopping locally.
Our EX-TRA research project (Experimenting with City Streets to Transform Urban Mobility) is interested in the Mobility Hub because it was implemented as a trial to explore a new idea. An important issue is to what extent local communities are aware of such street space ‘experiments’ when many have been introduced quite rapidly since the pandemic.
Is the Mobility Hub a good use of street space? Should there be more of them in Wanstead? We are interested in all views, whether you like the hub or find issues with it. While the University of Westminster is collaborating with Redbridge Council and the charity Living Streets, our study is independent.
Understanding local opinions about the hub is only a starting point for a wider conversation about the future of local high streets. This is why our website includes a second survey about your views on streets in Wanstead and South Woodford more broadly, where you can place a pin on a map and comment on where you would like to see changes.
The pandemic has accelerated the redesign of London streets, providing more outdoor space for people (whether sitting, walking or cycling) rather than space for cars and parking. There is a finite amount of street space, so the question for the future is: what balance is fairest to make space for everyone?
In Wanstead High Street, that question has now arrived.
To take part in the street space survey, visit wnstd.com/extra. Residents can also speak to project interviewers, who will be at the Wanstead Mobility Hub on weekdays this spring.
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