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London’s Do-It-Yourself Approach to Safer Streets

In the UK, the non-profit Sustrans is pioneering a community-based method to reclaim streets from high-speed traffic and make neighborhoods safer and more sociable places.

Called "DIY Streets," the program brings neighbors together to help them redesign their streets in a way that puts people, safety, and streetlife first. So far, individual streets have benefited from DIY redesigns in 11 communities in England and Wales. Recently Streetfilms got a walk through of one successful DIY project -- on Clapton Terrace in London. With the people who made it happen as our guides, we saw how planners and neighbors collaborated to transform a place where speeding used to rule into a local street with calm traffic and safe space to socialize.

Can the DIY model work on a bigger scale than an individual street? We're about to find out: Residents of the London Borough of Haringey will soon be working with Sustrans on the first neighborhood-wide DIY project.

[intro music]

Katherine Rooney: [00:02] The way we design our little residential streets has a massive impact on how we’re living our lives. I think, you know, a lot of the ills of society at the moment actually could be really changed if you could just put a bit of effort into making the area outside our front doors nicer. So with DIY Streets, we start with only really working with communities that want to work with us, we don’t want to go in there and try and force people to kind of engage in a consultation process if they don’t want to.

Garry Morris: [00:29] I think DIY Streets is a very good idea. It’s a very good idea to give residents ownership and also responsibility for this scheme.


Katherine Rooney: [00:39] In Clapton Terrace, the street that you’re visiting, is really beautiful. It’s an old Georgian terrace. The houses are big terraces, but a lot of them have, you know, three/four flats in them.

Lynn Altass: [00:48] We’ve got 80 dwellings in 17 houses here.

Katherine Rooney: [00:52] And it faces onto an open green area. On the other side of the green area there’s a very big main road which basically means loads of buses and loads of traffic.

Adrian Holliday: [01:02] The original problem was we had cars accelerating very fast down here. Neighbours were quite concerned.

Garry Morris: [01:09] I came on site and my initial view was, oh, one-way street. That’s a traffic engineer’s point of view. But having met the residents, we had more problems.

Lynn Altass: [01:19] We had the old black bins which everybody was just letting overfill. And even though we organised getting two collections a week, it was still a problem. So we talked to the Council through Sustrans, Do-It-Yourself Street thing to look at a different way of collecting our rubbish. So we’ve now got the rubbish at central points which are not on the pavements, so the pavement now looks like it should do. We’ve had a speed table put in. We’ve had a pinch-point put in so that people can’t go as fast along the Terrace. And it looks lovely and people are really pleased with it.

Speaker: [01:48] I think it’s lovely that we’re actually getting everyone together. Not many streets do this.

Katherine Rooney: [01:55] The residents there are really fantastic, really active, very vocal.

Speaker: [02:00] It was a mess and now it’s lovely.

Speaker: [02:01] Before the street was done up, no, I wouldn’t have let her walk even on the footpath because there was so much rubbish and everything lying around. But it’s a lot safer now. You’re able to see traffic before it comes onto the street so you can take her off and it’s definitely a lot child friendly.

Speaker: [02:18] I turned up here about ten or twelve years ago and I think since this DIY Streets, it’s brought everyone on the street together and now I’m sort of chatting to people. When I walk down the street I bump into people. It’s just made the place a lot less threatening.

Katherine Rooney: [02:35] So once we know the community wants to do it and the Local Authority are happy to do it, we then kick off with public meetings to make sure that as many members of the community are there as possible cos we really do go to them with a blank sheet of paper and say, what are the problems in your street? It’s really then a succession of public meetings, kind of consultation design meetings, where we take them through a process. Okay, so now we know these are the problem areas, let’s start to think about solutions. What we try and do next is what we call a street trial, so we actually go out to the street and lay out the changes with straw bales usually. So we do the street trial and sometimes that’s combined with a kind of street party feel, so we try and get more people out and about. The other thing about street trials is that we try and arrange for the fire engines to come and for the bin lorries to come, cos any changes that we make, those people still need to be able to get through.

Mark Holloway: [03:24] I’m just trying to get a feel for what other people have done. You know, what kind of things work, what kind of things don’t.

Alastair Hanton: [03:31] I think it’s just a marvellous scheme and it’s a tremendous example of community involvement.

Katherine Rooney: [03:38] The pilot ended in March 2010. What we’d like to do is do the same thing but on a neighbourhood scale, because what we were doing was just on single streets, which is a much bigger project and there’s many more members of the community to consult. So that’s what we’re doing in Haringey in London for the next two years.


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  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/maconthehill Mac


  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/vhamer vhamer

    Fantastic Streetfilm! I could really use some of that on my block. I like that so many people described this process as being about community engagement, not just 'getting what I want.'

  • Lives in Long Island City

    I think NYC could benefit from a program like this. Bring in a traffic engineer and let the people tell them what the streets should be like, and then have a discussion on what is possible.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Aaron_B Aaron Bialick

    Love it. Wish we could have that kind of expediency.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/msonn mikesonn

    North Beach! Bring this to North Beach. Upper Grant needs it.

    More power to London. The lessons are out there, our cities don't have an excuse anymore.

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Todd Edelman

    I really like the straw bales testing bit. This could easily be done with computer modeling based on requirements of emergency services and so on BUT with this method it is more hands-on, much less abstract and, indeed, involving.

    Just guessing based on what I can see: If half of the private vehicles could be sold or otherwise relocated (i.e. parked at places where collective public transport lines intersect the motorway) and the rest could be converted using a system like Relay Rides (or if some could be replaced by classic carshare vehicles), a lot more space could be freed up, and, e.g. the street could be split in two, with thru-access only for emergency and utility vehicles (with automatically-retracting bollards). Other short vehicles could turn around with a bit of further modification.

    It is a pity about the big road nearby over which the people on this street alone have little influence, but perhaps some sculptures or other features could be installed in the green area to absorb the sound.

    But three cheers (!) for Sustrans and the people who live on this street, and I hope that mechanisms like this become more normal and supported (though never top down).

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Green_Idea_Factory Todd Edelman

    In related news "Hundreds of community playground schemes in England are being axed or scaled back because of government cuts." which begs the question that if these are built on transformed roads are they covered by a different budget?

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/lecola RC

    really great video. Another great example of how people can combine power to change their own community!

  • http://www.carfreebaltimore.com Mark

    The community garbage bins are a great idea.

  • Will

    Great initiative indeed, but it looks like an upper middle-class street with few businesses.

    I'd be interested to see a similar bottom-up movement in a working-class / immigrant neighbourhood and / or with lot of shops and businesses.

    Any idea?

  • Martin Dockrell

    I live on the terrace and you know what the best thing about the project was? It got us working as a community. I've lived here for 20 years and until this project kicked off I hadly knew any of my neighbours, now there are people out chatting most evenings.

  • Chunk

    I'm glad they got their street cleaned up. But it begs the question. Why do they generate so much trash? Maybe they should have a monthly community garage sale.

  • Maharet

    To Chunk: I think hey have a lot of trash because there are 80 people living in 17 houses.

    I guess that's about 5 people per house, but if each house had several cans...

  • Adfg
  • Ned

    We're (hopefully) about to move to Clapton Terrace and this video has really given me hope that this neighbourhood has that rare thing: community in London. I hope that - almost five years on - the benefits of this program persist.