How to turn Cricklewood into a ‘proper’ community: A new plan aims to carve out public spaces in a suburb that lacks even one park bench

The project is inspired by a 1980 study of New York’s urban plazas

It’s easy to miss Cricklewood if you happen to be passing through it. The Cricklewood Broadway, which sounds far more glamorous than the road it describes, hosts a B&Q and a gigantic Beacon Bingo hall. These two institutions, replicated in towns across the country, are the two main features of a North London suburb that has no library, no town hall and not even a solitary park bench.

The dearth of public space in Cricklewood is immediately evident as soon as you leave the train. This is a place where people perch on walls or else pester street corners, and it is this lack of conviviality that a new project is set to tackle over the next month.

Spacemakers, a civic design agency, is creating pop-up public spaces in the area. Their project, to reclaim tiny areas of public land for public use, is part of a £1.67m overhaul of Cricklewood financed by the Mayor’s Outer London Fund.

Their curious mobile town square – which can be transported on the back of a bicycle – will travel around five unloved parts of the town. One is a patch of grass outside B&Q currently populated by lager cans, pigeons and plastic detritus, while another is a simple set of steps. The venues will host activities such as a walk-in cinema and a dog show. It sounds very twee, but it highlights a larger problem with Britain’s public spaces.

A great many of the big developments designed to resemble public space – the vast outdoor courts of London’s Westfield shopping malls, the two-tier walkways of Liverpool One and the charming Granary Square in King’s Cross – are in fact privately owned. You can be moved along if your face doesn’t fit. London Occupy protestors, prior to camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral, came up aginst this problem when they attempted unsuccessfully to protest outside the Stock Exchange on the private Paternoster Square.

Tom James, the 30-year-old project manager behind the Cricklewood experiment, said: “Public space means you don’t have to pay for a latte to be there. Public spaces across the country are being aggressively privatised, and in some places you can’t ride a bike or take a photo without permission. I went to Westfield recently, and the music was piping out all the time – and they’re not real spaces, they’re fake. In public spaces you’ll meet people you don’t necessarily know, and who aren’t like you. It’s a space where protests can happen and you can make a stand about something. It comes down to being a citizen rather than a consumer.”

His project is inspired by a 1980 study of New York’s urban plazas by sociologist William Whyte. It found that a well-designed space that attracts all-comers can manage itself, forgoing the need for “security and spikes on walls”. A recent development in Brooklyn, where small triangles of land have been reformed into pedestrian plazas, has led to a reduction in crime. Since 2010, San Francisco authorities have been renting out curbside parking spaces for the purposes of creating extra public space. The result has been an adorable collection of benches, trees and shrubberies.

Cricklewood is not San Francisco. In fact, Mr James’ girlfriend, an area resident, coldy described it as “dirty”, with “nowhere to go”. The project’s aim is not to create an idyll, but to “give people a place to rest and stop” and to create a “place for the community to exist and exert itself”. There have been stumbling blocks along the way. He had intended to use The Galtymore, a legendary Irish ballroom that closed down in 2008. The landlord, he claims, “wasn’t interested, as they’re going to build a supermarket there. So the only way to do it is to occupy these marginal scraps of land. We need to sneak public space into them”.

Some residents are on board with his plan. A cashier at Stevan’s Supermarket says you “can’t go anywhere, it’s just businesses”.

But up and down the Broadway most shopkeepers are silent. Evidence, were Mr James to need it, that cafes and restaurants do not a community make.

Cricklewood: Claims to fame

Salt n’ Shake crisps

An unflashy snack for an unflashy place, the Salt n’ Shake brand is said to have begun life in the 1920s, when crisp-maker Frank Smith sold his first greaseproof bags of potato chips to pubs in Cricklewood. It was his idea to introduce a small blue packet of salt to season the plain crisps inside.

The Beast of Barnet

In 2001, a Eurasian lynx caused chaos in the suburbs after residents believed they had spotted a leopard. The somewhat smaller lynx – still four times the size of a domestic cat – was tracked through the streets and back gardens of Cricklewood before being sedated. The animal was taken to London Zoo, where it was renamed Lara.

Comedy Greats

The Goodies, the 1970s BBC comedy troupe that propelled Bill Oddie to fame, often used Cricklewood as a setting. The lyrics to their “Cricklewood” song weren’t too kind to the area: “Nothing ever happens there, in Cricklewood, no-one’s going anywhere, in Cricklewood.” Two decades later, comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost first met there.

Alan Coren

Dubbed the Sage of Cricklewood, Coren had an incredible fondness for the area and it featured in his humorous books and newspaper columns. When he moved to Regent’s Park a few years before his death in 2007, he took the “terrible” orange leather sofa from his old home to his plush new house, as he was too sentimental to get rid of it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions