Last week was our London Festival of Architecture (LFA) event, both online and in person, called ‘Co-Designing Place with Community’ in Aberfeldy, LB Tower Hamlets. We co-hosted the event with Dinah Bornat (ZCD Architects), Morris+Company and our clients, Aberfeldy New Village LLP. It was facilitated by The People Speak, a collective based on Aberfeldy Street, in their innovative “Talkaoke” format. There was a good mix of new and familiar faces from the RSG meetings, public consultation events, youth engagement activities, new residents and people stopping by on their way home.
At the centre of the event we had the Aberfeldy Heroes; a group of young people who have been involved within the design process from an early stage. They have tested our masterplan proposals against their manifesto and ideas. They were very collaborative and considerate of all the people’s needs in Aberfeldy, thinking broadly for all the different age groups, both young and old, and everyone in between.
Part of the conversation focused around the meanwhile uses which gave us very useful insights. Some people perceived that the term meanwhile had a negative connotation, particularly in relation to the time aspect and the durability of the proposals. An alternative suggestion was “ideas laboratory”, focusing more on testing and adjusting the ideas with the needs of the local community.
Safety was also an important issue discussed and the Aberfeldy Heroes provided very positive comments on the Highland Place proposal; a new pedestrian and cycle underpass under the A12 with play spaces along the way and activities overlooking the route. A key aspect is the provision of a layer of different activities, catering to different people and age groups, able to activate Aberfeldy at different times of the day (and night).
We also discussed what does it mean to live in a changing neighbourhood, which is going through a wide redevelopment with some of the early residents moving out and new people settling in. The difficulties of getting to know each other’s and feeling part of the same community emerged, and the group shared their thoughts on how we could all ease this process. The existing an improved open spaces, activities, shops and organisations were seen as catalyst for this.
There was an animated discussion about the High Street, questioning if Aberfeldy Street is ‘dead’, which provoked a wide range of opinions and experiences. People highlighted the need from more shops (a bubble tea shop was the Aberfeldy Heroes' first choice), the importance of existing activities such as the boxing club, providing a space for the youth, and the need of genuinely affordable grocery stores. Car parking and secure cycle storage provision was another hot topic, with many children sharing their good and bad experiences as cyclists in East London.
It was a very interesting event and a great opportunity to finally be able to see everyone in person again.