We recently launched an initiative to develop a parallel route for artisan and creative industries in Muswell Hill, North London. The intention of this is to consider the potential for creating additional work and meeting space for local small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), artists and producers through repairing the neglected mews and lanes that run alongside the main thoroughfares. Here is a summary of this …
The Lanes, Muswell Hill: a strategic vision to develop a parallel route for small businesses, artisan and creative industries in N10
A well-defined urban village in North London, Muswell Hill is an exemplar of contemporary city living; homes, shops, a library, gyms, parks and schools are all located within close proximity while a number of bus routes link to central London and the wider locale. Through this, the area has retained a particularly strong sense of community and identity within the context of an ever-changing and expanding global city.
A model for contemporary city living: homes, employment, shopping, leisure, schools and transport links within close proximity
This is bolstered by a vibrant arts and crafts, mixed media and creative scene that supports a community of local producers, artists, jewellers, dressmakers, carpenters, bakers, potters, designers, independents and start-ups.
However, increasing rents along the Broadway – N10’s primary shopping street – and a lack of alternative commercial opportunities present a significant challenge to Muswell Hills’ social and physical make-up.
To maintain a diverse and sustainable community, there is an urgent need to create affordable work and meeting space for independent outlets, SMEs and creative industries that generate employment, support other local businesses and foster the area’s unique sense of place.
This raises a significant question; how to create additional opportunities while maintaining the over-arching sense of place and character?
Hidden behind the main commercial streets is a network of mews and lanes. Forming an almost complete loop around the existing commercial area, these were initially planned to provide a rear access to shops and the apartments above these.
Over time, the nature and management of the shops has changed – restocking and servicing may now be from the front of the shop at off-peak times while ‘on site’ parking and outside storage is no longer a necessity. As a result, the rear lanes and mews have become somewhat neglected spaces and despite their proximity to the Broadway, these remain largely unused and unnoticed.
Examples of ‘left over’ spaces along the lanes and mews behind commercial streets
If these areas can be restored and reintegrated within the urban fabric, they present a unique opportunity to improve the overall quality of the built environment, create exciting new streets and public squares and provide invaluable work and meeting space for local businesses through the renewal of existing buildings and sensitive infill development.
Realising such an initiative will of course require support from public and private sector stakeholders and further study on a ‘site by site’ basis. However, from a practical perspective, initial investment may be limited to public realm improvements, which will reconnect these spaces and through this, encourage greater use and activity. A variety of mechanisms may then be explored to guide and control the implementation and occupancy of new accommodation.
If successful, the model may be applied to other neighbourhood nodes across London and in other cities, many of which have similarly neglected service mews and lanes to the rear of primary commercial streets. In addition to providing invaluable workspace for SMEs, where appropriate, an upper level of housing or live/ work units may be added; this would provide natural surveillance of the street outside working hours while also, encouraging greater densities around mixed use centres.
If viable, the composite effect could be the repair of neglected lanes and mews and the renewal of existing sites to strengthen key nodes and deliver much needed accommodation for a variety of SMEs, affordable housing and live/ work units.