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Environment / Climate change

Oh good, another pretty picture which won’t solve any of London’s actual problems

It happened again. Another architecture practice has seemingly decided that it’s too difficult to get attention and praise for its actual work, and decided instead to cut out all that difficult “designing and building things” stuff, and just put out a pretty picture.

And it works. The media lap it up, because the readers lap it up. Look how beautiful Fleet Street is, with one, narrow lane of traffic instead of four! Look at the bike lanes! Look at all the plants!

And everyone loves it because you would, wouldn’t you? It looks much nicer than the grey, drab, polluted chasm that is the actual Fleet Street. I said it was a pretty picture, and it is: it’s gorgeous.

But – that’s all it is. It’s not a plan for Fleet Street, because it doesn’t – doesn’t try to – doesn’t even pretend to try to – tackle any of the problems you’d actually have to tackle if you wanted to actually change anything.

In that part of London, there are three east-west routes in the space of about 1km: High Holborn (the A40) in the north, the Victoria Embankment (the A3211) along the river in the south, and Fleet Street (the A4, actually) in between. Those are the only through routes open not just to private cars, but also to delivery vehicles, taxis and – most importantly – buses.

Now I am all in favour of measures to reduce pollution and motor traffic in our cities. But close Fleet Street to most vehicles in this way, and at the very least you need to work out what to do with the six bus routes and eight night bus routes you’ve just displaced.


High Holborn is too far and too crowded. The Embankment is a possibility, but it’s already pretty snarled up itself. And that’s just the buses. It’s probable that not every delivery van, say, currently using Fleet Street needs to be there – but some almost certainly do. What about them? What shall we do with them?

I don’t believe for a second that the people who commissioned this drawing have even thought about this problem. Because solving London’s problems is not what it’s for. What it’s for is garnering free media coverage for a time-pressed and click-hungry media.

You will notice that I’ve not mentioned the name of the architecture practice responsible for this monstrosity. I’m not going to, either. If you really want to know, you can look at the picture credit, but you won’t will you? Because you don’t care either. You’ve seen the pretty picture. You’ve read my rant. You don’t care which particular architects inspired it.

I’m fine with that. I’m fine with you never knowing their name. Because ad buys are shrinking, we’ve got bills to pay, and I am sick of these people thinking they can get free media coverage just because they can use Photoshop.

Also, you know what happens when you start acting like these graphics are serious thought leadership rather than just pretty pictures? Heatherwick, that’s what happens. Do you want to be responsible for creating another Thomas Heatherwick? No. Of course you don’t.

Stop giving these people the oxygen of publicity. Think once. Think twice. Think, don’t click.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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