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A brighter future for Erith

Downton Mews home zone

“It is friendly and you can socialise. I live in the home zone so there is a family interaction. I am not worried about my children here and I feel at home,” Mrs N, resident at Erith Park.

Our Downton Mews home zone is the focal point in the first phase of Erith Park.  Travelling along the North End Road into Erith, there are views through the apartment blocks to an intriguing and very different kind of landscape – a street with coloured tarmac, striking landscaping and interesting street furniture. It’s a world away from the old Larner Road estate which presented a vista of a barren concrete  podium and stark forbidding blocks.

Home zones are residential streets where people come before vehicles, designed to encourage social interaction. Cars can enter, but as guests. Home zones are well established in the Netherlands and, to a slightly lesser extent, elsewhere in Northern Europe. In the UK, although the concept was recognised in the Transport Act 2000, few have yet been built and Downton Mews is the first home zone in the London Borough of Bexley.

Rather than conventional traffic calming, we have created an environment which signals to drivers that they are entering a different kind of place, and one which is so unlike other roads that they have to be alert and drive with consideration.

Danielle Munro, landscape architect from Broadway Malyan Architects, said: “I’ve designed quite a few home zones but this is the first one which has actually been built. The others have been taken out during the planning process or to save costs.  I’ve was really impressed that the client supported the design and I’m delighted with the way it has turned out.”

Research about home zones tells us that community engagement is key to success. Once people had moved into Downton Mews, Orbit organised ‘playing out days’ so that new residents could meet each other and to encourage children to play out, and their parents to let them do so

Place-making with a home zone – an architect’s perspective

Regeneration of Erith Park set high aspirations for the landscape and public realm to deliver higher quality open space and play provision within a well-connected neighbourhood. Attractive, safe and legible strategic links to the existing local community are provided through a street pattern that promotes active residential streets, which are well overlooked, enlivened by on -street parking and ‘greened’ by tree and shrub planting. A pedestrian priority ‘Home-zone’ lies at the centrepiece of the new neighbourhood.

Improved play provision is vital to the sense of community and is provided in a variety of ways, from natural play within a woodland dell to ‘doorstep’ playable spaces in the home –zone, as well as new facilities off site and better connections to the surrounding existing facilities which serve the local area.

The home-zone has been designed to act as the ‘heart’ of the community. Its aim is to give the street ‘back ‘to the community, allowing the street to be the hub of social interaction and a safe play for young children. Whilst it provides car parking for residents and access for refuse collection and emergency vehicles, its character is not dominated by the needs of the car and highways. Users have equal status; allowing drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to negotiate their way through the space, in a way that promotes slow traffic speeds and driver awareness, and prevents the street being used as a ‘rat-run’.

The ‘shared surface’ character of the space is reinforced by a consistent flush level from ‘door to door’, without the need for kerbs; a unifying surface treatment of tarmacadam in two main hues; a regular blacktop contrasting with warm terracotta; parking bays subtly demarcated in reflecting road studs; and informally arranged street trees and curved planting beds.

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