EC1 New Deal for Communities - before and after transformations

The EC1 New Deal for Communities programme in south Islington, London, invested in the redesign of parks, streets and social housing landscaping over six years to 2010. Public space co-ordinator Liz Kessler describes six projects demonstrating how spaces that are made to feel safer and look more attractive will be used more.

Radnor Gardens design by Breeze Landscape Architects. Radnor Street concept design by Atkins. Detailed design by the London Borough of Islington - image: Jane Sebire
Radnor Gardens design by Breeze Landscape Architects. Radnor Street concept design by Atkins. Detailed design by the London Borough of Islington - image: Jane Sebire


Many of the estates in south Islington were built with generous open space, which vehicles were subsequently allowed to dominate. The estates were made to feel still more unsafe following years of piecemeal intervention and a failure to adequately maintain these communal spaces, or even the areas around entrances. Everybody hurried through.

Many of the housing blocks remain far from ideal, especially as family housing. But improving the external areas has made a big difference, especially where planting and opportunities for play have been improved along with seating areas and allotments.

This has been particularly true of the Brunswick Estate - 267 units in three high-rise slab blocks housing many families with children, with high levels of deprivation. Brunswick's grounds had always felt even emptier than most. Now they are well used by residents of all ages.

The area has been relandscaped and the planting revitalised. There are allotments and bright play facilities. New estate entrances define more clearly what is private to residents, while work to improve the entrances to the blocks will start shortly.

Prior to the work, children were rarely to be seen. Since it was completed, an elderly resident has mused: "I had no idea so many children lived here until the playground opened. It's been like a cork bursting out of a bottle."

- Brunswick Estate design by Cracknell.


Wenlake Estate shows how good landscaping can provide a setting to enhance original architecture. Residents now regularly comment on how attractive their buildings are.

Roads on the estate have been completely redesigned as open space that works for everyone, not just cars. High-quality landscaping slows the traffic down and there are lush planting schemes, sustained by rainwater harvesting. This has created an air of calm. Children now play throughout the estate as well as in an extended play garden, for use by all ages. This replaced a fenced-off play area where mainly teenagers hung out.

One resident remarked that the estate "feels more alive now". Residents refer to a new sense of neighbourliness and like the fact that it no longer looks like a sad council estate.

- Wenlake Estate design by Parklife and Cracknell.


Radnor Street Gardens is a small green space surrounded by two high-rise and one low-rise estate. It used to be a bleak spot, used mainly by dog-walkers.

One resident even went to the extreme of always driving the few yards to work in Ironmonger Row Baths because she did not feel safe walking down Radnor Street - a rat run lined with parked cars.

The road has now been remodelled to reduce traffic to a trickle and sight lines have been improved by removing parking bays and increasing visibility into the park.

The park itself has been landscaped to create a clear path through it, which encourages pedestrians to use it as a short cut. The park feels safer and more integrated into the estates, with new facilities such as table tennis now attracting a better range of age groups.

The area feels a lot more tranquil.

In 2009, a resident from one of the towers said: "I've heard joyful sounds coming from the gardens throughout the summer holidays."

- Gardens design by Breeze Landscape Architects. Radnor Street concept design by Atkins. Detailed design by the London Borough of Islington.


Spa Fields is the biggest open space in this heavily built-up area, but it was barely used before the improvements. It was mostly a scene for antisocial behaviour.

Its catchment area includes a large housing estate, the historic Finsbury Health Centre and an adventure playground. Now that the park has been completely redesigned, you will see children, elderly people, families, office workers at lunchtimes and people walking or jogging through.

Local residents were heavily involved in the new look. They wanted young people to be fully catered for and some of those who had previously made the park feel like quite a threatening area were deliberately involved in the design and implementation process.

Thirteen of these young people took up the opportunity of training and work experience during the works and three were subsequently offered full-time work by the contractor. Now young people use the space, but there are far fewer problems.

One resident commented: "Before the revamp, I wouldn't have dreamed of walking through Spa Fields. But it's now a beautiful and peaceful place for everyone."

- Spa Fields design by Parklife.



Whitecross Street is one of London's earliest street markets. But it had fallen into decline, with 40 per cent of the shops empty and the market itself reduced to five traders selling their goods from plastic boxes on the ground.

A new trading strip was included as part of a strong and simple new design. This changed the feel of the street and created a step-free environment, which feels pedestrian-friendly and is used by traders and for cafe seating.

Now there are up to 50 bustling stalls on market days and Whitecross Street has a growing reputation for good food.

Unemployed local residents have taken the opportunity to begin trading. One resident who sells cakes made in his flat said that running the stall "has changed me psychologically in a way that five years under the doctor didn't".

Shopfronts have been improved with heritage economic regeneration scheme grants and vacancy rates reduced. As one local pub landlady observed: "There's life to the street now and a real sense of community."

- Whitecross Street concept design by Muf Architecture Art. Construction design by the London Borough of Islington.


Tree-lined pedestrian promenades can be delightful, but the pavement at the eastern end of Old Street was just gloomy and felt unsafe, frequented by street drinkers and drug addicts.

But it was also a key route for people using the London Underground station, so it was one of the first projects that EC1 New Deal for Communities took on to make the whole area feel safer and lift the spirits.

During the consultation stage, people said they wanted colour. Early proposals included colourful street furniture but people said they preferred more "green".

The final stage designs, therefore, concentrated on colour and planting, which has proved successful though more complex to maintain throughout the year.

There is now new seating, paving, flower beds and promenade of trees and lights. Experience from this showed that good design helps to attract funds.

- Old Street Promenade of Light design by Tonkin Liu. Construction design by the London Borough of Islington.




CABE research has reported that only one per cent of social housing residents use the open spaces on their estate, so CABE and the National Housing Federation published an action plan encouraging social landlords to improve public spaces.

The projects featured here demonstrate many of the 10 priorities for change set out in Decent Homes Need Decent Spaces:

1. Commit to quality

Make a commitment to quality green and open spaces at the highest level in your organisation. Better design and management can change how outdoor spaces are valued and used.

2. Involve residents

Encourage local residents of all ages to play an active role in deciding what their open spaces should be like, how they could be used and how they should be looked after.

3. Know the big picture

Take a strategic approach when planning and improving open spaces. A better understanding of who is responsible for specific spaces will make it easier to integrate changes.

4. Make the best use of funding

Secure different sources of funding by making the most of partnerships. Approaches include public and private investment, income generation, grants, endowments and voluntary sector involvement.

5. Design for local people

Make neighbourhoods greener, improve street layouts and provide new facilities though better design procurement and project delivery.

6. Develop training and skills

Motivate residents and staff through open space training opportunities. Creating high-quality open spaces requires landscape architects, horticulturalists, project managers and confident leaders.

7. Maintain high standards

Ensure that the maintenance and long-term care of gardens and open spaces are treated as essential. This means having a management plan for each estate and regularly reviewing performance of maintenance.

8. Make places feel safe

Improve the character and design of places to change user behaviour and improve personal safety. Investing in the creation and care of high-quality public spaces is very effective.

9. Promote healthy living

Encourage people to be more active by providing attractive, well-maintained open spaces. Walking, cycling and play can become part of everyday routines if people have easy access to parks and natural green space.

10. Prepare for climate change

Provide increased protection for residents against flooding and heatwaves through urban greening. This will help adapt to and mitigate against the effects of climate change.

- To download the action plan, visit

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