Fitzrovia futures

Fitzrovia futures

The excerpt below is taken from an Evening Standard article dated 21st August 2012, written by local resident and patron of FCC Griff Rhys Jones 

This month, behind closed doors, the Fitzrovia Partnership has corralled the larger businesses of Fitzrovia into a “Business Improvement District Fitzrovia already has a local scheme, the Fitzrovia Action Plan. It recognises, albeit in a slightly perverse way, that Fitzrovia is special. It points out that the district is full of small shops and businesses. It points to the limited residential population and the huge influx of commuter workers. It fails to understand its own context, however. Fitzrovia is not what it is because of “bad planning”.

It is in the centre of London and it is hugger-mugger in an old-fashioned, unplanned way. It is not an inner suburb like St John’s Wood. It is pure inner-city London. Jonathan Meades is not the first to point out that there is a European feel to this part of town. Here is a mixture: of workplaces and living places, institutional places, art places, entertainment places, and of some mad people who live in the middle of it all. It needs to be “saved”? Says who?

Fitzrovia is not a run-down or deprived area. It does not need “regeneration”. I know what a depressed city centre looks like. I am president of Civic Voice. I go around cities ruined by Seventies zoning. The urge to bring in major shopping centres and their attendant traffic and car parks, the drive to increase footfall and stick up rents so that small shops are banished, have wrecked our once-great cities. Huge faceless buildings are thrown up that ignore the street and often the street patterns. They need gigantic access roads. The place becomes a howling, alienating desert at 6pm.

To the north, around the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road, there is a more recent and gigantic area of “improvement” — glittering modern buildings, built to respond to the “transport hub”, seen by Sixties futurists as the Corbusian solution to the Great Wen’s woes, and resulting in our capital’s bitty development of scattered high rise, creeping up over noisy traffic intersections. And where do the workers in these improved areas seek solace? In Fitzrovia. Nobody goes for a walk on the north of the Euston Road, in the environs of those carefully planned “open areas”. They come for a stroll down Charlotte Street instead.

I don’t want to see Fitzrovia made “better for business”. There is the right amount of business there already. I don’t want to see rents raised and small businesses driven out. Many, like French’s Bookshop, have fled the increased rates in Covent Garden or Soho. There is no more eclectic selection of small shops in London: a flute shop, a sculpture supply shop, a play bookshop, a toy museum, a disco supply shop — take your pick. You want Whistles and the Kooples and Prada and Paul Smith to “improve” this area like they have improved Westbourne Grove or Covent Garden? We can have soulless upmarket clone as well as soulless downmarket clone.

Fitzrovia is not and should not be scheduled, planned or visioned. The worst things in this area are those brought about by big organisations: the worst architecture (the university), the worst polluters, the worst despoilers of space (the ex-Odeon hole in the ground), the developments least sensitive to the space around them (developers knocking down serviceable Sixties buildings and putting up new high rises). What on earth are we doing letting these people call the shots?