This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 06/07/2018.
Croydon High Street: a new hope?
This summer I’ll be watching Croydon town centre with interest.
I usually avoid its grotty warren of cut-price shops and a life-expired shopping mall where, on rainy days, the buckets stand in rows to catch the leaks from the roof. The Westfield debate took place against a plaintive murmur from Whitgift centre stalwarts of “what’s wrong with it?”. I’m afraid that the answer is ‘everything’.
Modern Croydon town centre never worked. How could it have, sliced open by a roaring urban motorway through cramped and gloomy canyons that magnify its sound, sightlines obstructed and signage so poor that – minutes from the peace of Queen’s Gardens, the striking Victorian town hall, the exuberant art of RISE Gallery, the cool restaurant quarter or the heritage of Surrey Street – there’s no clue that they are there? Yes, Allders was once lovely, but fifty years ago, in June 1968, the Advertiser declared the central zone ‘a cold, dead place’ – and that was just after they had built it.
You can sip your Pimms with Sharapova in peace
Down the years, I’ve worked on projects to improve things. We dressed in Tudor costume for a sparsely attended activity day in Queen’s Gardens and promoted events from fashion festivals to mobile performers’ weekends. We ate The Big Lunch down in Surrey Street.
Now a summer programme of events in the high street, called Street Live, takes on this tricky part of town yet again, seeking to bring it to life.
Will it work? I don’t know, but I like their can-do spirit
It began with pedestrianisation of the stretch between Park Street and the Spread Eagle pub. Until September, it’s a stage for dancers, musicians, circus acts (join in and learn skills), Fit Street to keep children active in school holidays and the scene of jazz, live theatre, ‘block parties’ from Beats and Eats, a social dance festival and a vintage ‘Made in Croydon’ market. A big screen seats 250 to watch Wimbledon throughout the entire fortnight, providing a chance to sip your Pimms with Maria Sharapova… what’s not to like?
Street Live is run by Croydon Council and Croydon Business Improvement District. At a recent briefing, I liked what I heard: the time frame (7th June – 1st September) allows it to ‘bed in’ and locals to think of this stretch of street as a place where you’d want to spend time. Local restaurants and bars will provide food and drink and offers are available through the Check Out Croydon card.
It’s a pretty major challenge. Can they pull it off? I don’t know, but I like their can-do spirit. There’s a lot here that appeals. I wish Street Live every success.