Review 2006

Jacob asks:
What are your views on the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre?
" I'll be honest I'm dead against it. People forget that traders need access to [half moaning] Dixons! They do say it'll help people in [half-sighing] wheeeeelchairs?"
- I'm Alan Partridge Episode 2: Alan Gets It On.
Luckily, I have been to Norwich. An old school friend was living there some years ago and my friend Chris and I drove down from Liverpool to see him one weekend. For various reasons we came home early and got to 'enjoy' the seemingly endless stream of A-roads in and out of the town at day and night and in neither case were they very attractive. What I remember of the city centre is that the cathedral is very nice and that the rest is particularly modular - I remember having to walk through some very anonymous looking streets between the shops you'd actually want to go to.

Despite being a joke, Mr. Partridge isn't wrong about it not benefiting some traders and but improving access to some customers. The system in Liverpool seems to work quite well - although the main shopping areas are covered in block paving there is some access to vehicles earlier in the day and later at night. I should like pedestrianisation - in some cities it's quite thrilling (if that is the word) to be able to walk from one end to the other uninhibited by vehicles and their pollution, foot traffic being the only thing to avoid (particularly people who are walking front of you and just stop dead so you nearly fall over trying to avoid bumping into them - how annoying is that?). In Liverpool, you can stroll down Bold Street and all of the way up to the Victoria Monument at the top of Lord Street with only a crossing at Ranleigh Street.

The counter argument for me though is based on aesthetics. In some cities, pedestrianisation kills the look of the place lessening its impact as collective piece of architecture. One of the main roads in Birmingham, the one with the Odeon cinema used have traffic passing through it and had a lovely metropolitan feel - now there's a deadness to it - an emptiness no number of people can fill. I'd be extremely unhappy too if they ever paved The Headrow in Leeds which has the Boulevard effect even with its smaller dimensions. Some talk about these pedestrian areas leading to a European café culture. Not from what I've seen. It's far too cold, except for about three days during the summer.

The other problem is that pedestrianisation tends to add to the blanding out of city centres generally. Over the past couple of years I've visited both Nottingham and Shrewsbury and sometimes its difficult to remember which city was which and while I was there I was disappointed with how similar they are to every other city I know. Same shops, similar street fixtures and similar paving. In which case I would say that pedestrianisation is bad for Norwich because it'll ruin the individual character of the place.

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