This project of Somers Town is based on research works in Studio Global Praxis, Sheffield School of Architecture. This community, which is sandwiched between St Pancras International and Euston Stations in London, has a multi-cultural environment consisting of English working class, Bengalis people, the French, etc.
However, as its specific location, residents living in this area have been suffering negative influences of redevelopment station projects since 2001. Moreover, some organisations and local people argues that the current situation might become worse after the start of the expanding of Euston Station that aims for terminal of HS2 project, namely dust, pollution and noise problem.
The project tries to explore the current situation and some possible issues, after situating the site through walking, observing, and analysing the same name film Somers Town, which was shot in the real Somers Town. People in this area are living with so many security fencings, and the neighborhood has become non-resilience because of those ‘gated communities’, which is mentioned in Allah’s book Ground Control.
At the same time, Somers Town is also isolated by those public sectors such as two adjacent stations and the British Library with their long and tall walls built on the side of Somers Town, thus, most of citizens and passengers usually use main entrances on other sides. As a result, this multi-cultural community always keeps bizarrely silent in the daytime, to be contrary to the two busy terminals surrounding it. The neighborhood seems to be isolated in the city through a physical way, not merely the gap among different cultural backgrounds.
How to break the wall?
The research work started from two ways. One was gathering information from document, such as community meeting notes. The other way was understanding the site through the movie, called Somers Town. These two ways were used to understand the present and find some key issues. According to a result of one participation event held in 2013, the most considerable problem for 377 local residents in Somers Town is safety problem, which is also reflected in the film and some earlier violence cases. The non-resilience community in the isolated environment could be the main reason of this issue.
Inspired by the film Somers Town and some meeting notes from Camden Council, the project focused on the youth because of the potential of enhancing communication and connection among them. As the key elements of studio Global Praxis is ‘trading’, it was evolved into its original meaning, exchanging, in this project. How to connect the youth in order to break the isolation both inside and outside, physical and invisible is the very key question. Public organisations might act important roles in this urban transformation, for encouraging young people to talk and play together in public places through temporarily catalysts and long term interventions.
A conceptual strategy of 8 types of exchanging places is raised at the beginning so as to connect the youth and related public organisations, including Eco-garden, Food Stall, Street Market, Art Studio, Teen Square, etc. After this, I tried to understand the physical condition of this neighborhood and also activities for youth in the community. The proposed strategies use the concept of ‘Across’ as a way to tackle those walls, and new proposals, which are based on the existing physical conditions and social activities, aim at drawing people into public spaces and encouraging them to use streets, gardens and playgrounds. Those negative walls could be transformed into positive catalysts to activate neighborhood resilience.
How to involved local people?
In the process of delivering final proposals, the project was based on a wide and depth research work on Somers Town. Moreover, ideas and creative thoughts were presented and exchanged through dialogue among Sheffield School of Architecture, the Bartlett Development Planning Unit as well as the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment in Westminster University.
In addition, another launch event held by Citizens UK also provided a great opportunity to further develop the strategy and design after talking with attending local residents. People living or working in Somers Town know this neighborhood very well instead of outsiders, therefore, some extremely useful feedback for the project were obtained through the communication. At the same time, talking with the manager of local organisation Plot 10, observing daily activities of young people on the street, and interviewing with local residents, all could be helpful ways to engage them in the development of the project. It aims to be a project developed by citizens themselves, not merely a simple design work from urban designers.
Regeneration of Somers Town
After further research, the project was divided into two scales, neighbourhood strategies and key sites design. The neighbourhood could be redeveloped through 9 strategies that cover spatial designs and social interventions. For instance, three key areas would be developed firstly because of their special locations and related organisations, including the Plot 10 Playground with the Plot 10 organisation, the Civic Park with the New Horizon Youth Centre, and the Station Square with the Francis Crick Institute and St Pancras International. Walking and Cycling System could ameliorate the environment of this beleaguered community, and the landscape system aims to alleviate the negative impacts by Euston Station in the future.
With the guidance of the wider system strategies, some spatial design works were explored in this project as well. For example, it tried to transfer those isolating walls and the playground in order to provide a better environment for children. Building multi-purpose space to encourage local people to use public spaces at different time with different ways could also be useful and keeping the multi-cultural environment through art and cultural events such as Somers Town Festival of Culture.
A video was developed in 2016.