ACTIVE NEIGHBOURHOODS CAN BRING ABOUT GENUINE, POSITIVE CHANGE
Posted on 10 November 2020
By Pete Zanzottera, Active Travel Programme Director
A little over a year ago, Dame Sarah Storey and I visited Walthamstow – one of the first areas of London, and the entire country, to implement an Active Neighbourhood (also known as Low Traffic Neighbourhood).
During 2020, the numbers of Active Neighbourhoods has grown, with many local authorities recognising their importance, particularly as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic shone a spotlight on how vital access to safe, pleasant and green spaces is for our physical and mental wellbeing.
As we explored Walthamstow last year, we saw first-hand the changes and facilities put in place to ensure that residents can celebrate and use their local space, and that neighbourhoods are reclaimed by those who live, work and play within them.
Bike storage facilities, informal play equipment and attractive planters now feature in streets which were once regularly congested at peak times, and otherwise had the continual threat of motor vehicles using the residential streets as a cut-through.
We saw several clusters of shops, cafes and pubs, complete with outside space for residents and visitors to sit and enjoy the ambience, meaning a rise in patronage, especially among families at weekends and on summer evenings.
Local nurseries and primary schools had well-used bike parking amenities, with scooters and buggies also populating the streets outside during ‘school run’ hours, meanwhile the village square had been revitalised, and was now a true community space.
We met with several people during our visit, including one resident who helped to maintain the planted spaces. Among the numerous other benefits brought about by the scheme, she pointed to the fact that anti-social behaviour had also been lowered.
During March and April of 2020, when we were under the tight restrictions of a national lockdown, many of us got a glimpse into the past: a time when traffic levels were so low that birdsong was audible, the air was cleaner, and more of us took to going out on foot or by bike, saying more than a quick ‘hello’ to our neighbours, and truly noticing the beauty and the potential of our local surroundings.
Active Neighbourhoods, such as the one Sarah and I visited, show that this can be a reality of the future as well. There is, of course, opposition to some aspects of initiatives in certain areas, but this will always be the case for anything that proposes significant change – something that many of us struggle with, especially when it means looking at our travel choices.
However, during our visit to Walthamstow, and doing further research work since, it was apparent that, for the residents – those the schemes are designed to benefit – the pros far outweigh the cons, and Active Neighbourhoods can bring about genuine, positive change when and where we need it most.