Monday, March 31, 2014
One week to go
There are now only five days until the southern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opens to the public. We've been kept out for almost seven years, bar two fortnights in 2012, but this weekend we can all get back in and reclaim the whole place for ourselves. The main plaza around the Orbit and stadium remain sealed off while workmen work bloody hard to get it ready for Saturday. But a lot of the perimeter is already accessible, including one mile-long road I'm not sure I should have been allowed to walk down yet. Cue five dozen photos.
My latest QEOP gallery
There are 63 photographs altogether
You can already get full access to the Aquatics Centre and surrounding new roads. Wander across from Westfield and you can look down over Carpenters Road, and the Overground, and an immense patch of empty space where the Water Polo Arena once stood and which will one day be flats. But the intriguing bit is the view across the water to the lawns of the South Park, where thousands of people milled and thronged during the Games. I remember it for the food courts and programme sellers, the wild flower meadows and the world gardens. Nothing like that is currently visible. Instead the slopes that lead down to the Waterworks River are covered with grass rather than flowerbeds, plus some earthy stripes where nothing especially interesting is growing yet. There were, indeed are, a lot of daffodils planted along the way, but they've already bloomed and faded, and their stalks make no visual impact whatsoever. I assume the park's gardeners planned a fine display in the first week of April, and daffodils normally last that long, but 2014's premature spring has alas left the launch-time lawns bereft.
The Orbit looms down over all, above a new multi-purpose building called the Podium. This contains the ticket office, if you've failed to book in advance, as well as a cafe, crèche and Hospitality Suite. Food will be provided by the EastTwenty Bar & Kitchen, which sounds like it'll be one step up from the refreshment options at the Timber Lodge, but still only somewhere for "coffee, cakes and pastries, light lunches and snacks". Elsewhere the management team want the southern half of the park to be capable of being used for big events, hence it's mostly open space, mostly tarmac or grass. Much of that grass is freshly laid turf, and was being watered and striped over the weekend by operatives in little yellow machines. Two men with lawnmowers were alternating across the riverside lawns so they look pristine when crowds arrive. Among several mature trees along the promenade, two willows are already in leaf, and they look rather splendid. But there's nothing immediately obvious that'll make you go "woo, this is special" when you pop along next weekend, not unless the gardeners get busy with their trowels, or there's something further in that I couldn't see.
You can already enjoy a stroll along the Waterworks River on the Aquatics Centre side. The river is full of brightly coloured crayons, these part of the art left over from the games, and doubling up as mooring posts (because everything's practical round here). Sealed off at present is a lower boardwalk where boats or floating attractions could tie up, or you could come and throw bread to the ducks, except there aren't any. Another bridge crosses to the south, strong enough for traffic, but not yet open. And beyond that is a raised promenade with a bench at the end, which has already been colonised by cuddling teens, although maybe the spring weather brought them forth. This leads to an iron bridge, which I'm delighted to see is the exact same bridge which used to lead across to the railway sidings in 2007, only painted a brighter shade of purply blue. What's less good is that the only approach from Warton Road is round the wrong side of the roundabout and up an earthy bank via a temporary staircase, as if access for local people were a mere afterthought.
And then comes the elevated Loop Road. This was the service road for the Games, curving for about a mile round the back of the Olympic Stadium and never really meant for general traffic. It begins where Carpenters Road passes below the mainline railway, the old road still very much sealed off because as yet zero improvement works appear to have happened since 2007. But there is a link road via the Aquatics Centre - the connection currently coned off to traffic - plus a footpath link to Montfichet Road above. Is the Loop Road yet officially open to pedestrians? Who knows. But I saw the pavement barriers had been deliberately taken away, so thought what the hell, let's go for a walk.
The Loop Road was very very quiet. Occasionally a builders van or truck went by, but generally nothing, and nobody resembling security rode past and complained. So I followed the virgin pavements up from ground level to elevated viaduct to see where they'd lead, and what I'd be able to see. The connectivity around here is perverse. Both Montfichet Road and the Loop Road run parallel, and both on viaducts, but while one is rising the other is coming down. This means there's absolutely no connection between the two, despite at one point their pavements almost touching, which means an awkward detour for traffic. Pedestrians are blocked from crossing by steel barriers, although anyone with deft feet and no pushchair could easily manoeuvre through the gap, a squeeze which ought to be proper connectivity, but isn't.
The Loop Road ascends to cross the Waterworks River, with fine views down across the south end of the park. The riverside strip is green, with steps, but then comes an extremely broad expanse of tarmac. This'll be great once covered with stalls or art or concerts or whatever, but it's nowhere you'll want to linger next weekend. Beyond that is a very artificial-looking swathe of grass, probably cricket pitch sized, should you want to bring a bat and ball or picnic hamper. A new tarmac path is being laid along the City Mill River to create a connection to the park from Blaker Road, which I'm excited about because this used to be my favourite entrance pre-Games. But the riverside within is currently blessed with little more with barren earth banks and little of beauty. Obviously QEOP is a long term project, but this corner feels longer term than most.
Coming up next, blimey, it's the View Tube, but viewed from below. I've lost count of the number of times I've stood in the yellow metal box and looked down at a road sweeping in from Westfield, and now at last it's finally possible to stand there. In good news for the View Tube, and especially its cafe, a ramp is currently being constructed to link the two levels. No more will the Greenway remain a separate quarantined zone, it'll finally be possible to step down and into the park proper direct. The workmen overseeing the digger watched me as I walked by, perhaps because I was the first person who had, but again nobody yelled that I should leave. The Loop Road continues towards the rear of the stadium, then drops down to the road junction I watched being constructed in monthly photos from the Greenway bridge above. Finally, I thought, after all these years, I'm down rather than up. I pressed the button at the pedestrian crossing to celebrate, and stopped nothing.
This is the point where Marshgate Lane bears off, and that's the only unblocked route a malingerer on foot can currently take. The road itself is too narrow for a footpath where it ducks down, so pedestrians get to walk instead beneath the Greenway, ducking under several rows of giant ribbed metal sewer pipes. It's best not to think about their cargo, although the sound of pigeons echoing from above may serve as an untimely reminder. I hadn't walked this section of Marshgate Lane for years, not since it was a dumping ground for car tyres, and I was impressed to see the narrow staircase up to the Greenway still intact. I'd reached the crossing point north of Pudding Mill Lane DLR that's been watched over by guards for years, but now I met none, as if perhaps I was almost meant to be here. A "No Pedestrian Access" sign suggested otherwise, and if only there'd been one at the other end I'd never have got this far. But the exploration proper can begin in earnest on Saturday. Really, nearly, open.
posted 01:00 :
Sunday, March 30, 2014Sorry, the interesting post was yesterday. This is the...
Marshgate Lane Transport Update
Marshgate Lane bus stop
Five months ago, you may remember, the extension of cycle Superhighway 2 had unintended consequences for local bus traffic. As cyclists zoomed through along their semi-segregated lanes, bus passengers suddenly found that one particular stop had been permanently closed due to an almighty cock-up. At the Marshgate Lane bus stop, for unintended administrative reasons, a white line rather than a dashed line was painted along the edge of the blue superhighway. That meant buses weren't allowed to cross the line, so couldn't reach the bus stop, so TfL removed the bus stop altogether. Nearby residents were not best pleased. Buses now sailed past their front gates, a full half mile without stopping, leaving them in an unintended transport desert. Never mind that CS2 was usually empty and buses could have crossed the offending line in safety, the law was the law, and cycling trumped buses.
Well, good news. The Marshgate Lane bus stop has returned, with a minimum of fuss, replanted by the roadside and again accepting passengers. No longer do locals have to alight on the wrong side of the Bow Roundabout, or stay on until well past the Greenway. Now buses stop here again, cutting across the cycle lane to enter the layby, then crossing back into the traffic to continue towards Stratford. I took a ride yesterday and can confirm that the stop is already being well used. Now when 'Marshgate Lane' appears on the scrolling display it's possible to ding the bell and cause the driver to stop, rather than sighing deeply as they speed past up the road. It's not all perfect, though. On the D8 an electronic voice announces "There is a cycle lane behind this bus stop, use the crossing point" when this is patently untrue. A bus stop bypass exists at every other bus stop down Stratford High Street, but not here, because there isn't room. Instead bus passengers have it easy, they step straight onto the pavement, and it's cyclists who now need to watch out.
Look carefully at the route numbers on the Marshgate Lane bus stop and you'll see that one has been missed out. The 339 is missing, despite the fact that it runs up Stratford High Street and its buses currently stop here. But that won't be the case for long. Next Saturday the 339 is to be permanently diverted, serving the southern end of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from its opening day. At present the 339 does a loop round Fish Island to return via the A12 to the Bow Roundabout. Not from next weekend it won't. Instead (at long last) it'll continue north from Fish Island to Hackney Wick station, and then continue along Carpenters Road towards Westfield. There hasn't been a bus down Carpenters Road since 2007, indeed the road has only been reopened to traffic in the last fortnight. Back then it was the 276 which passed this way, but that route's diversion through Bow is now permanent, and it's the 339 that'll pick up the QEOP traffic.
The first stop in the Park is near the central bridge, below the Copper Box, where it'll be possible for visitors to alight and wander up onto the main concourse. There'll be another stop below the bridge that links Westfield to the Aquatics Centre, a fairly bleak spot at present, then another outside the Aquatics Centre proper. Two bus shelters await their first passengers, though they'll need to check carefully they're waiting at the right one because buses here will be travelling in a counter-intuitive direction. Before long the D8 will be stopping here too, but not until the railway bridge at the southern end of Carpenters Road has been cleared out, and there's absolutely no sign of that as yet. Meanwhile the 339 continues to Stratford City bus station, through the Athletes Village and on to Leytonstone. I believe there are still plans to extend the route to Whipps Cross, but only if sufficient stand space can be found, so no sign yet. Whatever, from runty backroads bus to Olympic Park feeder service, the 339's moment in the sun arrives next weekend.
Pudding Mill Lane station
Meanwhile it's all change up Marshgate Lane on the DLR next month. The old Pudding Mill Lane station lies in the way of Crossrail so must be removed, and the new station is nearly complete. It's now a long shiny elevated box, the glass panels along its length complete, and a far cry from the windswept halt at which passengers have waited for 20 years. It's also crawling with workmen, adding fixtures along the platforms, fixing lights on the stadium-sized staircases and riding diggers around the exterior. The concrete viaduct that'll divert the tracks is complete, and the main job which remains is to attach the new tracks to the old so that trains can pass through. That means a lot of engineering works in the weeks ahead, and a lot of line closures to facilitate change.
6th April: closed from Stratford to Bow ChurchThe Easter closure is the big one - a full week from Good Friday until the following Friday, extending along the whole line the following weekend. This is so that the new double-track section can be properly linked, and the rejigged system fully tested before Pudding Mill Lane 2 opens to the public on Monday 28th April. Expect Boris to turn up. I think this is the only new station he gets to open this year, possibly even the last of his Mayorship, unless of course you know better. The largest station on the DLR network will then be ready for stadium crowds and West Ham home matches, once they finally kick off in two years time. It could be rather quiet and echoey in the new place until then.
Thursday 17th April: Last day of the old station
18th-25th April: closed from Stratford to Bow Church (leaflet)
26th-27th April: closed from Stratford to Poplar
Monday 28th April: First day of the new station
3rd-4th May: closed from Stratford to Poplar
5th May: closed from Stratford to Bow Church
17th-18th May: closed from Stratford to Bow Church
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, March 29, 2014One of Google Maps' greatest flaws is that it's been built by algorithm, not by cartographers. This zoomed-out map of Greater London illustrates the point perfectly. In outer London several large centres of population are named, but within the ring of the North/South Circular only two appear. One is Brixton, and rightly so. And the other is Cazenove. Who the hell, other than Google Maps, has heard of Cazenove? I've been to north London to find out.
I had to Google it. Searching on Google Maps suggested that Cazenove is an investment bank based in Moorgate, which was both unhelpful and no longer true. But searching on regular Google eventually revealed that the Cazenove we're looking for is located in northern Hackney. It's not even a proper place, it's a council ward, the smallest of the nineteen electoral districts that make up the borough of Hackney. A mere thirteen thousand people live here, in a triangle of residential streets between Clapton, Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington. Cazenove is by no stretch of the imagination important enough to merit its prime position on Google Maps. But it is a truly diverse corner of the capital, and to those who live here it's very much home.
I hoped that by visiting Cazenove I'd discover somewhere of interest to tell you about. I arrived at the ward's only station, which is Stoke Newington, and set off in search of mild excitement. I passed the legendary white goods retailer Sellfridges, except they were across the road in Stoke Newington ward so didn't count. I passed the delights of Stoke Newington Common, except that was across the road in Hackney Downs, ditto. Instead I headed north and walked around my target area for an hour, confirming that Cazenove is basically a lot of streets where people live.
Admittedly they are some rather attractive streets. A large proportion of the ward has conservation area status, stretched out along the north/south spine of the delightfully named Osbaldeston Road. The local housing stock is built from London stock brick and dates to the late Victorian period. These are high sweeping terraces with painted architectural embellishments, in a style that's almost uniform but with enough variety to provide great character. Estate agents would have no difficulty selling these as larger family homes, indeed the current going price is about three quarters of a million pounds. Gentrification has yet to bite deep, but you could easily imagine the TV family from Outnumbered living around here, with probably the odd organic vegetable box on the doorstep. I wonder if that's why Cazenove ward returns the only Liberal Democrats to Hackney council - a clean sweep here, and not a single Cleggite elsewhere.
Visit on a Saturday and one of Cazenove's demographic peculiarities will reveal itself. We're on the borders of Stamford Hill, home to the largest concentration of Haredi Jews in Europe, many of whom can be seen walking to or from the synagogue beneath large flat fur hats. This striking tyre-shaped headgear is called a shtreimel, worn only by men, whereas their wives could pass almost unnoticed in the religious fashion stakes. On some streets hereabouts several homes have house names written in Hebrew, alongside signs on the doors that might say "No Junk Mail Here" but are probably more devotional. Up Oldhill Street a Sabbath-quiet parade of shops includes a Kosher butchers, a Kosher bakers, a Kosher off licence and 'Just Ripe', your local Heimishe Greengrocer.
But that's by no means the full story, as a walk along Cazenove Road reveals. This is the street that gives the ward its name, a broad avenue of Victorian townhouses and more modern infill. To walk its half-mile length is to pass through a broad cross-section of communities, from the traditional council blocks at one end (yes, one's called Nelson Mandela House) to the Bosnia & Herzegovina Community Biblioteka at the other. Trendy Stoke Newington intrudes close by at the Made in Hackney Local Food Kitchen, a sustainable organic store offering communal cooking classes and with a tempting pile of locally-sourced food stacked up along its shelves. Meanwhile opposite the synagogue is a large but unobtrusive mosque, whose worshippers spill out and nod in recognition to the Hasidic gentlemen walking past. They get along well in Cazenove.
And that's the theme of an exhibition currently taking place at Hackney Museum. Side by Side - Living in Cazenove is running until May in the gallery by the Town Hall, and features numerous artistic projects representing the ward's religious and ethnic diversity. Residents have painted murals, filmed videos, created collages and framed portraits to tell their stories, including Buddhist monks, Kurdish refugees and an entire class of local schoolchildren. Someone's even recreated a room from a squat, circa 1980, a little less ramshackle than reality. But the highlight is obviously the knitted model of Stoke Newington Common, a triumphant celebration of the four seasons in four-ply, created by the Stoke Newington Common Users Group and the Geffrye Museum's Asian Women's Project. Ask at the front desk and they'll tell you how it was created, or just gawp and admire.
It's not the biggest nor the most exciting exhibition you'll ever visit, but it is a fine way for Hackney to celebrate one of its more cohesive communities. And Google Maps may still be utter fools for highlighting Cazenove on their London map, but as a typically atypical corner of the capital, perhaps it merits wider recognition after all.
Guided local history walks of Cazenove
Explore the local area, people and their contributions to the locality. The story starts from the common and along the way, look at people, places and architecture. Led by local historian Sean Gubbins. Free spaces, though limited. Book your place. [Sunday 6 April, Sunday 11 May, Sunday 8 June, 11am-1pm]
posted 07:00 :
Friday, March 28, 2014A lot of websites are upgrading at the moment.
TfL's website updated on Monday, and yesterday they decided to announce the fact to the general public. Here are three tweets from @TfLOfficial.
» Our new website, which is now live, has lots of improved features to make planning your journeys easier than ever http://www.tfl.gov.ukTfL also issued a press release to trumpet what they've achieved.
» Our new website has launched, making it easier than ever to plan journeys on the move http://ow.ly/v2KJk
» Our new Nearby feature lets you see on a map all transport options in your area, including live departure information http://ow.ly/v2FhfNew TfL website puts customers in control, making it easier than ever to plan journeys on the moveAlas they could only publish this press release on the old version of the TfL website, because the media section of the new website isn't ready yet. Ah, the irony of it.
Transport for London's (TfL) new and improved website is now 'live' for all Londoners and visitors, making it easier than ever to plan journeys on the move and make the most of all London has to offer.
The new site is optimised for use on mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop and puts customers in control by providing more personalised, live travel information, including a new 'Nearby' function which shows all local travel options and real-time service information.
Meanwhile Flickr flicked a big switch on Tuesday and forced everybody to view photo pages in a new default design. Over the last year or so they've played around with all sorts of formats, generally increasing in complexity, to the consternation of users. This final layout displays the photo as large as possible on a jet black background with a volley of accompanying information crammed into a column down the right hand side. Here's an example of what they've done - a photo of Stoke Newington Common, knitted.
Management naturally think the redesign is great.
"With the photo page redesign we set out to provide you with an incredibly fast photo browsing experience, highlight the photo and the accompanying story, bring you all the functionality in one place, and do it all with beautiful design.Users are however unconvinced. Indeed most are livid, and are telling Flickr so in a 23 page Help Forum thread that's now passed 2000 angry comments. Being dragged screaming into a new layout they don't want is one issue. Another is the large number of previous features that appear to have fallen by the wayside, either permanently or because nobody's quite worked out how to reprogram them yet.
We hope you enjoy the new photo experience as much as we loved building it. We'd like to thank everyone in the community who helped us with making this page better. Through your help, photos in comments, HTML embedding in addition to the new Web Embeds, and many other features become reality. As always we are listening to you and we encourage you to give us your feedback."
One such vanished feature is the ability to see where photographs were taken on a map. I've spent hours if not days over the last nine years adding location data to over 6000 photos, but as of this week all that effort appears to have been wasted. Dumbed-down Flickr offers only a place name, hidden well down the screen, but nothing clickable to view a location. Thanks Flickr, thanks a bundle.
And then there's Google Maps. They've launched a wholesale overhaul of their mapping interface, abandoning white-space borders for a wholly edge-to-edge design. Functions now have icons rather than words, so it's no longer obvious precisely which button where does what. And the whole interface has become so slow that I can barely use the site on either my laptop or mobile, waiting forever for a zoom or scroll while something processor-hungry flails hopelessly in the background.
"Over the coming weeks, the new Google Maps will make its way onto desktops around the world. Many of you have been previewing it since its debut last May, and thanks to your helpful feedback we’re ready to make the new Maps even more widely available. It’s now even easier to plan your next trip, check live traffic conditions, discover what’s happening around town, and learn about a new area—with Pegman’s help if needed."Why do big companies insist on doing this sort of thing? They have a site that works, pretty much, but could be improved. Someone has a vision for change which turns into a wholesale upgrade of existing functionality. The design team then implement something they think is better, but remove stuff you've grown to need. And then the whole thing is launched with glaring holes, some of which eventually get patched up while other features fade forever.
Are there suddenly more upgrades of big websites at the moment, with companies blind to the fact that the public hate their so-called improvements? Are organisations suddenly more willing to launch flawed beta sites without waiting for finalised functionality? Or is this just social media amplifying a minority of disgruntled users when in reality the majority of the upgrade works fine?
Whatever, it's not been a good month.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, March 27, 2014So, the TfL website has updated. A beta website had been running in parallel for the last nine months, giving the Online Team a chance to fine tune all aspects of the final design before it went live. So when the big button was pressed and the new site replaced the old, were people pleased with the result? Well yes. And no.
Let's talk [Maps]. Sorry, you didn't think I'd finished, did you?
It's interesting that the first map you see on the new [Maps] page isn't the world famous tube map. Indeed the first map you'll see isn't even a TfL creation, but an interactive map based on the increasingly ubiquitous Google Maps representation of the capital. I'm intrigued by TfL's embrace of Google Maps, and the parallel phasing out of their bespoke streetmap dataset for public-facing purposes. One reason they've given is that Google Maps will be familiar to the target audience, and that's certainly true, and presumably it's cheaper than running your own cartographic operation too. At least they've bought a license for the ad-free version, so you won't be zooming in to find markers for White Tiger Accounting Services and Big Jean's Massage.
You will need to zoom in quite a lot though. There's nothing interactive on the initial level, nor if you zoom in once, nor if you zoom in twice. On zoom 3 a lot of small bubbles pop up marking the positions of stations, and on zoom 4 those stations suddenly gain names. The name labels are quite large and may obscure the bit of London you want to look at (and occasionally after too many zooms they become so obstructive that you have to refresh the page and start again). Zoom 4 is also the level at which bus stops and cycle hire docking stations become visible, pictured as red and blue dots respectively. The blue dots are clickable, revealing up-to-the-minute data for numbers of bikes in a usefully pictorial manner. Perversely the red dots don't become active until zoom 7, at which point the circles enlarge to show the bus stop's letter, and then you can click to discover which buses stop here. The next three buses due will appear... that's underneath the map, which may be off the bottom of your screen... and one more click should bring up all departures over the next half hour. It may have taken you a while to get here, but the end result is very useful.
But there is a better, more interactive map than this, which you can discover if you click on [Nearby]. As I mentioned yesterday this brings up a map centred on your current location, plus a list of all the neighbouring bus stops and stations. When you click on a bus stop this time something rather special happens. The route of every bus from that bus stop appears as a red line on the map, instantly creating a network diagram showing everywhere you can go on one bus. You won't see the full picture immediately - for that you have to zoom out, probably several times. But there it is, your very own spider map centred on the stop of your choice, indeed on any bus stop in London.
TfL's Online Team had hoped we'd be so impressed by these digital spider maps that we wouldn't need the originals any more. You know the ones, the spider maps that appear on bus shelters, pdfs of which had been available for many years on an increasingly well-hidden subpage of the TfL website. When the site updated all the spider maps disappeared, because they weren't deemed necessary for public access in the future. The public disagreed. That's partly because they hadn't noticed the new digital spider maps - they're not exactly obvious - but also because they're not as good. Every bus route on the digital bus map is marked in red, so it's not possible to untangle the lines to tell which numbered route goes where. You have to zoom out to see the full picture, whereas on the static map you can see everything in one go. You then have to zoom back in again to discover where the bus stops are and more importantly what they're called, because Google Maps is supremely rubbish at place names.
In his latest post on the TfL Digital Blog, Head of Online Phil Young addresses this issue of downloadable bus maps.
It’s clear from your feedback that some of you love the ‘spider’ maps and area maps, which are pdfs. We’ve created some really nice interactive maps that show you transport links near your given location (try them in ‘Nearby’), and display live information such as bus routes and stops, and cycle hire docking stations. However it’s clear that for some this can’t replace the original maps, so we’ll be adding these to the new site shortly as well.That's excellent news. But I sense that Phil is slightly bemused that anyone might still want non-interactive maps when something 'better' is available. You might also wonder how all the audience research TfL conducted over several months failed to pick up the public's affection for spider maps. But instead you should realise that the people who use spider maps form a tiny minority of those who use the site. Only clued-up individuals plan their own journeys these days, that is at any level above tracing a route on the tube map. You and I might be the sort of people who want to see in advance where all the buses from Clapham Junction go, but most people don't care, or can wait until they get there to look at a map.
Indeed one thing you'll struggle to find on the launch version of TfL's updated website is any kind of map that shows more than one bus route at the same time. The old spider maps did that, but they were removed. The four quadrant bus maps still exist on folded paper, but are no longer accessible as pdfs. Instead the [Bus maps] page only allows you to search for a single route or single location, not to get an overview of how buses serve a particular part of town. The single route maps are very good, showing clearly where single bus routes go and with a clickable list of bus stops underneath. But independent multi-journey planning is now discouraged in favour of being spoonfed the choice of routes that the Journey Planner dishes up.
Enough of buses, what of the world famous tube map I mentioned earlier? It's there on the Maps page, but it's the third option down in the menu below the more inclusive [Tube and Rail] option. Both maps appear embedded in the page, and if you want to move around you have to swipe or scroll. That's assuming you can. Sometimes when I land on the page these maps are scrollable, and at other times I can only see the top left hand corner, and I can see no rhyme or reason why. You need to be able to zoom in to read the names of the stations, but then you can't see the whole of the map any more, because that's how embedded maps work. On my mobile I can't find a 'close' button on the tube map, which is annoying, and I can't load the Tube and Rail map at all because it appears to be blank. But it is nice to still have the option to view the tube map as a pdf or gif - indeed if you have any sense you'll save one or other to your handheld device so that you can access the map even when there's no signal.
Several other maps for several other modes of transport are also available, again now as embedded maps surrounded by white space. There's a DLR diagram like they have aboard the trains. There's a Tramlink diagram like they have aboard the trams. There's an Overground diagram laid out better than they have aboard the trains. And there's a National Rail map which turns out to be exactly the same map as the Tube and Rail map four options further up the list, except this time with a download option. The Cycle Hire map is essentially the same as the main interactive map but with all the stations and bus stops turned off. And the interactive River map is particularly obtuse in that boats apparently sail from their nearest railway station, not from the actual pier, until you finally zoom in close enough.
As well as [Maps] you'd expect the TfL website to have a section devoted to [Timetables]. Not so. We've moved on it seems from old-fashioned lists of times at several key stops along the route, and now the focus is solely on departure times from where you are. On most routes TfL run a turn-up-and-go service, so they'd argue why would you need a timetable anyway? Live departure boards tell you all you need to know assuming you're travelling now, and Journey Planner can crunch the numbers for any future trip. I'm sure the beta version of the website had individual timetable pages for every stop on every bus route, which was rather useful, but I've looked and looked and I can't find that feature on the final version of the site.
But it seems there is going to be a section devoted to timetables. The four London Overground timetables have transferred across to the new site here, at a URL which suggests that www.tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/timetables will one day be a reality. Just not yet, and it's not yet clear how many other 'proper' timetables will follow. Meanwhile there is one astonishing addition on the new website and that's the appearance of every one of London Underground's Working Timetables. These are the massive documents that schedule train paths to the nearest half minute, the bread and butter on which the entire network runs. And they're all now downloadable by the public, presumably because TfL were getting very tired of the public repeatedly launching Freedom of Information requests to ask for them. Nerds of London, read and enjoy.
Indeed if you dig down under the surface, there is a phenomenal amount of information on the TfL website, reflecting considerable openness in the runnings of the organisation. Forget the heavily promoted menu at the top op the page and try clicking around at the bottom to see what you can find. How to become a tube busker, a list of disused underground stations, the contract Emirates signed for sponsorship of the cablecar, a list of stations gaining step-free access over the next seven years. But you won't yet be able to access TfL's press release archive, which for some reason still languishes on the old website because nobody's managed to transfer it all yet.
TfL's new website has been launched before it's even 90% ready, that much is clear. But that's Agile software development for you - making changes as you go along in response to feedback. So do keep feeding back your opinions on what does and what absolutely doesn't work. And I suspect that, however much you hate the redesign today, come 2020 or whenever you'll be pleading with TfL not to replace it with something new.
posted 01:00 :
Wednesday, March 26, 2014So, the TfL website has updated. A beta website had been running in parallel for the last nine months, giving the Online Team a chance to fine tune all aspects of the final design before it went live. So when the big button was pressed and the new site replaced the old, were people pleased with the result? Well yes. And no.
The old site wasn't great on mobiles, so the new has been built very much with smartphones and tablets in mind. It has much increased functionality, with all sorts of clever touchscreen features and location-based interactivity. But not everything is better, indeed some previously simple things are more complicated, and certain useful information appears to have disappeared completely. In particular text is larger and more spaced out, meaning not so much appears on screen in one go, and pages are optimised to run down rather than across, meaning a lot more scrolling is required.
Let's take a look at the new site, starting with the home page.
How much you see on the homepage depends very much on what kind of device you're viewing on. On a smartphone no menu appears until you press the screen, whereas on a laptop options for [Plan a journey], [Status updates], [Maps], [Fares & Payments] and [More] are always visible. The [Plan a Journey] option seems slightly pointless on the homepage given that a box for planning a journey appears immediately underneath, plus it's an unnecessary trap. If you should make the mistake of going to the [Plan a Journey] page you get exactly the same planning box but with a massive advert for British Airways slapped across the back. I know TfL have to advertise to save costs, but this advert is so big I've accidentally clicked on it several times while trying to manoeuvre around the page and ended up being sucked into a journey to New York instead. Top tip - when planning a journey don't go to the [Plan a Journey] page, go to the ad-lite homepage instead (by clicking on the roundel top left). [Thursday update: I take it back, the homepage is often as ad-infested as the Journey Planner, sigh]
[Plan a Journey] has this priority position on the homepage because it's what most users want. Indeed TfL did lots of research before starting their design, and discovered that about half of the visitors to their previous site wanted the Journey Planner. So here it is, up front. It's probably not the page you use most, but then you, dear reader, aren't most people. You probably know London fairly well, and already have a good idea how you'd get from Paddington to Oxford Circus or Wimbledon to Bank. Johnny Public however hasn't internalised the tube diagram, nor developed a mental map of inner London and roughly where key buses run. Johnny Public doesn't want to flick through timetables and maps, he just wants the reassurance of a service that can dish up a route which he can passively follow. Johnny Public is very happy today, because he has an upfront Journey Planner on his smartphone and he may never need to think again.
Below [Plan a Journey] come three icons for [Live departures], [Maps] and [Nearby], which are potentially very useful options. [Live departures] provides a link to the stations, stops and piers of your choice, eventually. It's generally quicker to use the [Search] box than to click through the volley of menus that follow. Using smartphone menus to find trains from Neasden station, for example, requires clicking on [Tube, DLR and Overground], scrolling down to [Jubilee], clicking on [Jubilee], scrolling down again to [Neasden] (the list is in alphabetical rather than geographical order), then scrolling down yet again to view the next three departures. Rather usefully the departures update minute by minute, in real time, just as if you were standing on the platform. Sometimes you click all the way through the end to discover "We are unable to show live departures at the moment. Please use Timetables to check the frequency of your service" except that nobody has yet thought to provide a click-through link to [Timetables] because that might be too useful.
I'll perhaps come back to [Maps] tomorrow. But [Nearby] is a great innovation... or at least should be. Land here and TfL's website will ask permission to share your location. It keeps asking me this, even though I've given it permission more than twenty times, but maybe that's something to do with my browser set-up. With pinpoint accuracy the website will then home in on the nearest TfL departure points to your location, which where I live include bus stops, stations and cycle hire terminals. You'll probably need a map to make sense of which bus stop is which, something that's much easier to view on a laptop than on a mobile. Top tip: if there's a bus stop or station near you that you use regularly, favourite it and then it'll appear much earlier in your search on future occasions. The system's not perfect, though. Three of the five bus stops closest to my house don't appear anywhere in the [Nearby] list, only on the map, so presumably something isn't quite bedded in right.
And then on the homepage comes the feature that I use most - Line status updates. I check this first thing in the morning to see if I'll be disrupted on the way to work, I check again at the end of the day at work to see if I'll be disrupted on the way home, and I check every weekend to see whereabouts the engineering works are and which rail replacement buses I need to avoid. I am therefore a little peeved that this feature no longer appears "above the fold". Previously when I went to the homepage I could see the list of lines and their current status straight away on the main screen. Now the list appears much further down so I can only see the top line, and for the rest I need to scroll. This is especially annoying because there's a huge amount of empty space on the right hand side of the TfL homepage, plenty big enough to fit a summary table of disruptions. But TfL's new site doesn't really do right-hand sides, having been optimised for vertical layout, hence I'm penalised for using a laptop in an increasingly smartphone world.
Hurrah for the appearance of Tramlink status on the TfL homepage for the first time. You can also check disruptions on major road corridors, and on the river, and at your favourite bus stops. There's also the opportunity to check the status of the cablecar - ideal in slightly blustery weather - although it does seem slightly perverse announcing a "Good service on all lines" after 8pm in the evening when it's shut down for the night.
OK, shall we shift to the main [Status updates] page, the one with the maps showing what's happening now?
On a mobile the status page is very simple - a minimised map followed by a list of line statuses. By default you get statuses for [Tube, DLR, Overground], that's 13 lines in total, in a list that's too big to appear on my iPhone screen in one go. Ridiculously it's almost too big to fit on my laptop screen too, such is the height of each row and the amount of white space all around. Arriving fresh on this page I now have to scroll down to see the bottom five lines, which is annoying when I used to be able to scan the whole list in one go. The default is to see lists of disruption by line, but with one click you can see a list of disrupted stations. Here's a seriously retrograde step. Previously the list started with [Closed stations], listed in red, then continued with all the (many) stations at which maintenance was taking place. Now the two lists have been combined, which means the one closed station (Embankment) is concealed behind a ladder of click-throughs arranged in alphabetical order. What this means is that if your local station has a sudden one-off emergency closure you'll never spot it, not a chance, not until you turn up and find the shutters closed.
Then, oh dear, there's the line status map. Here's what it used to look like.
All the disruptions were in colour and everything else was a faint grey. It was also possible to decide whether you wanted to see [Line closures], [Severe delays], [Minor delays] or a combination of the three. As a regular user of the tube, I found this very usable.
But now we have this.
The biggest change is that every station name now appears in blue. This looks fine once you zoom in, but at maximum scale the names now dominate the display in an extremely distracting way. Meanwhile you can no longer personalise the map according to type of delay, which makes it harder to spot which sections of line are totally shut and which are merely slow. But you can use the menu in the top right-hand corner to invert the shading so that the map only shows the lines which are running normally. That's going to be extremely useful for people who don't know the network well, as they now have a map clearly showing where they can travel, not just where they can't.
If you're particularly unfortunate, your map will instead look like this.
This is my view at work, where the IT team force me to use Internet Explorer 8, and Internet Explorer 8 can't cope. Instead I see strings of random station names running in lines across the screen, and absolutely nothing resembling a map whatsoever. That's because the new line status map isn't a straightforward image, it's been coded and crafted by designers who've been so clever that their handiwork doesn't work in older browsers. Well done folks, the skill with which you've reproduced Harry Beck's network diagram in code is no doubt cutting edge, but I can't use the bloody thing at all.
Want to see disruptions to your travel this weekend? That information's hidden on a menu behind the timestamp in the top right-hand corner of the page. You might never think to look there, but at least the weekend closures map is now more clearly signalled from the homepage. A calendar then allows you to check the map for any date in the future to see what engineering disruptions are planned, in a much more upfront way than used to be the case.
Status pages for other modes of transport are available on another dropdown menu. There's one for buses (sorry, Status maps coming soon), there's one for trams (sorry, Status maps coming soon), there's one for the river (sorry, Status maps coming soon) and there's one for the cablecar (sorry, Status maps coming soon). The status map for roads is however rather excellent... which is more than can be said for the status page for National Rail. Nothing's changed here in the last month, with TfL still insisting on showing rail travel updates for every train company in the land, including those that don't run anywhere near London. Top of the alphabetical list is Arriva Trains Wales, where we learn that the 19.30 service from Manchester Piccadilly to Carmarthen will not call at Swansea. Meanwhile significant parts of London rely on Southeastern, Southern and South West Trains to get to work, but they're down the bottom of the list, with any service changes squashed into long thin columns of text. South Londoners deserve much better than this, but presumably creating a bespoke feed of London-specific rail problems would involve employing somebody, and public organisations try not to do that any more.
I once went on a change management course so I know that most of us have an inbuilt resistance to new things because they're unfamiliar. Most of the things the TfL website used to do are still there, it's just that we need time to learn where they are and how they work. But that doesn't make all of the changes good. Yes, the new design includes some big improvements to functionality, but there are also some backwards steps too, especially for those attempting to use the site on larger screens. If you're a refusenik who wants to live in the past, then rejoice that the old version of the site is still available (for now) at origin.tfl.gov.uk. But better to engage with the design team direct, because constructive feedback is your best hope of influencing any future improvements.
posted 01:00 :
Tuesday, March 25, 2014TfL's website updated completely and utterly late last night. They're very proud of it. We should discuss the new, mobile-optimised version tomorrow. In the meantime, please help me out. Can you find the following ten pages, all of which existed until yesterday, on the new version of TfL's website?
1) Spider maps of bus routes in Tower Hamlets (eg Canary Wharf) [Missing, but will return soon]
2) Central London bus map [Restored to website 28th March]
3) Planned track closures for the next six months [Out of date version found]
4) London Overground timetables (for all four lines) [Found them here]
5) First and last tube times
6) All TfL press releases from March 2004 (e.g. 24/03/04 Withdrawal of Mercedes Citaro buses)
7) Order up to six free Cycle Guide maps [Found it here]
8) How to use the Cycle Superhighway 2 extension (with three videos)
9) Full specifications for all tube rolling stock (eg D Stock) [Reduced amount of information here]
10) Cablecar passenger journeys (weekly totals) [Found them here]
posted 07:00 :
They've been clearing out the social media cupboards at City Hall and having a spring clean. A bundle of new accounts have been set up, and some existing accounts refreshed. Don't say you're not excited.
Updates from... The Mayor of London @MayorofLondon The Deputy Mayor of London @DepMayorofLondon The London Assembly @LondonAssembly /LondonAssembly London Gov @LDN_gov /LDNgov @LDN_gov The Mayor’s environment team @LDN_environment The Mayor’s business engagement team @LDN_economy The Mayor’s volunteering team @TeamLDN /TeamLDN How London prepares for emergencies @LDN_prepared /LDN_prepared
The three brand new accounts are the three in the middle of the list that start LDN. And it's that LDN prefix which has got the social media team excited. Previously the volunteering and emergencies teams had the very ordinary word "London" in their names, but now they have three much hipper letters, as part of a cross-organisation rebrand. The idea is that when you think City Hall you'll think LDN, or when you see LDN you'll think City Hall, one or the other. Unfortunately for City Hall the plain @LDN Twitter handle was taken several years ago by Everything London, a commercial service which specialises in dripfeeding promotional material inbetween rhetorical questions and pretty photos. As such it is of course ridiculously popular, with over a quarter of a million followers - numbers most official City Hall Twitter feeds can only dream of.
The London Resilience Partnership are charged with ensuring the capital's resilience in the face of catastrophe, and they've been explaining more about the @LDN_prepared rebrand on their site. Coherence is important, hence the symbolic coming together of GLA social media channels under the same brand umbrella. City Hall's Twitter feeds now all share a common visual identity, a fairly dull coloured square with Mayor of London at the centre. I'm unconvinced that replacing "London Prepared" with "Mayor of London Prepared" is a good move, or indeed especially accurate, but presumably the logo champions disagree. Rather cleverer is the fact that 'LDN' is three letters shorter than 'London', which leaves more space to tweet. Should the capital ever face disaster from flood, tempest or any other hazard in London's Risk Register, every single character counts.
One downside of the latest upgrade is that Twitter have stripped the London Prepared team of their official blue tick. Last week @LondonPrepared was a verified account, as befits potential mitigators of civic doom and disaster. This week they're merely @LDN_prepared, a bogstandard account with a couple of thousand followers, and hopefully they'll get their tick back soon. More intriguing is that London Prepared are planning to shut down their Facebook operation next month. Apparently that's because their Facebook page achieves far less engagement than Twitter, so it's deemed more efficient for the team to focus their efforts on tweets rather than Likes. If killer smog or an alien spaceship should descend upon the capital this summer, whatever you do don't head to Facebook for official advice - it won't be there.
Here's an unofficial league table of City Hall Twitter accounts by number of followers. You'll spot the newbies...
1) @MayorofLondon (882872 followers, 3566 tweets)Unsurprisingly, Boris has by far the greatest following. As the face of City Hall obviously you'd follow him, although his is also the most partisan of the feeds. So be reassured that the GLA’s policy is that its social media channels are politically neutral, hence the other accounts should be purveyors of useful information and policy. It's hard as yet to judge the new @LDN_gov account based on four tweets and two retweets, none of them especially interesting. But as the mouthpiece of local government in a city of eight million people, it's got to be worth a punt, and a must-follow for anyone with an interest in local democracy.
2) @LondonAssembly (7226 followers, 2563 tweets)
3) @TeamLDN (4056 followers, 6080 tweets)
4) @LDN_prepared (2266 followers, 2137 tweets)
5) @DepMayorLondon (500 followers, 63 tweets)
6) @LND_gov (337 followers, 6 tweets)
7) @LDN_environment (84 followers, 3 tweets)
8) @LDN_economy (38 followers, 5 tweets)
posted 00:30 :
Monday, March 24, 2014post-Olympic update
Sunday saw another chapter in the reopening of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with the <insert Supermarket here> Sport Relief Games taking place across the site. Thousands came to compete, thousands more to spectate, and several bits of the park reopened on the quiet. You only got inside the South Park if you were a runner, and I wasn't so I didn't. But there was still plenty to see and do, as a further taster of what's in store very soon. [I'm up to 60 photos now, 15 of them new]
The Mile: They piled in across the bridge from Westfield, collecting their running number and milling around with friends and family outside the Aquatics Centre. The weather wasn't helping. Last weekend felt like April, and the weekend before May, but on Sport Relief Sunday we got February, and many participants looked rather cold. Successive runs set off at regular intervals, with 'athletes' massing forwards into a narrow channel to wait their turn. There was time for a warm-up to jolly pumping music, maybe even some energetic drummers, and then some minor celeb turned up and waved to start everyone off. There was no way most people could have run the very first section because the throng was too great, but then they were off through the South Park round the Orbit and the Stadium and the not yet very exciting flowerbeds. Several minutes later they emerged near the Copper Box, down a funnel past a pipe band, where some kindly volunteer was waiting to dish out some not especially large medals. A lot more families were hanging around here, and nipping as necessary into the portaloos. And just to the left was a long staircase down into the parkland which hasn't been open before, and did anybody use it? Nah, they were all much more interested in...
The Event Village: No supermarket-sponsored sports event is complete without an event village, and this one was positioned in the park so as to be impossible to miss after running your mile. First up were a bank of food stalls, not your usual mass catering fodder but a little more bespoke - think kedgeree rather than hot dogs. Once past that things got a little more appropriate, in particular a Sport Relief "Thank you" tent, and a bank of sporting organisations out to get people involved. Your kids could have played mini tennis or mini basketball or gone mini climbing - which looked fun - or taken a selfie next to a cut out of Little Mix - rather less so. Essex CCC were here to represent cricket, and West Ham were here to represent football, which was of course mighty appropriate. "We have some very special guests for you," said the announcer on the main stage, which turned out to be a group of morris dancers, stalwartly performing to a declining audience of dozens. And then there were the 'partners', i.e. companies with something to flog, or in this case rather give away. My haul included a free Fair Trade mixed berry flapjack bar, a free bag of <Supermarket> nuts and a free half litre of suspiciously longlife chilled milk. And as I looked at the length of the queue to get inside the British Airways pavilion, I thought how sad it was that the lower levels of parkland were being almost completely ignored. Acres of expensive, lush and well-maintained greenery stood almost empty, while visitors waited to be advertised to in a tent. The weather may have been partly to blame - it had hailed at least once in the last half hour - but it seems your average family just isn't interested in the delights of a mere park.
The Velodrome: Sport Relief weren't allowing mere members of the public to ride around their pristine pine tracks. Families were instead directed onto the road circuit, the tarmacked mile I wrote about last week, though this time with the VeloPark's full permission. Their presence brought life to the northern end of the Park, with a steady stream of all sizes of cycle wheeling forth amongst the trees. But what was this? Offers of free guided tours of the Velodrome for anyone who cared to look? Fantastic, I thought, count me in, and dashed through the airlock doors to catch up with the latest group. Two employees of the Lee Valley VeloPark took us round the spectator rim, recounting architectural statistics and outlining how easy it'd be to book a future session. To think, two summers ago this was the hottest ticket in town and now here we were ambling round for free. Admittedly there was no cycling action to watch, but all the better to enjoy the form, the structure and the beauty of the venue. And then as a proper treat we were led down to reception, then down again to pass through the concrete tunnel beneath the tracks. Emerging in the centre of the circuit felt rather special, giving a competitor's view of the arena, which suddenly seemed much bigger. We had a few minutes wandering across the blue void, looking up at the seats and screens, and maybe remembering how packed it was with cyclists here during the Games. One week to go, and this place opens up properly to a bright future.
Carpenters Road: I last walked down Carpenters Road in 2007, just before the Olympic Park was sealed off for initial construction work. It wasn't an especially lovely road, with industrial estates and scrappy motor businesses along its length, very much off the beaten track unless you had to pass through. So I was excited to see that the barriers blocking access have finally been removed, and took a lonely solo walk from one end almost to the other. The unblocking has taken place at QEOP's central bridge, where yesterday the BBC's Sports Relief studio was positioned. Two bus stops stand ready for the permanent diversion of the 339, which'll soon be heading this way from Fish Island to Stratford. Standing on the bridge over the River Lea I remembered the view here way back then, all JCB warehouse and pylons, and marvelled at the 2014 stadium/landscaping upgrade. To the left a fresh promenade leads off along the Waterworks River, not yet unblocked, so I had to walk down a pretty featureless road to the Aquatics Centre instead. All those zebra crossings are currently entirely unnecessary, but one day there'll be flats all along here and then they'll be useful. Cars aren't yet allowed to continue to the Loop Road, nor under the railway to Stratford High Street (through a tunnel which shows no sign of reopening soon). But I wandered unchallenged into the wasted space beneath Montfichet Road, then round to read the poem on the electricity substation, as the knitting together of park and community nears completion.
posted 01:00 :
Sunday, March 23, 2014The Prefab Museum
17 Meliot Road, Catford, SE6 1RY
Housing was scarce after the war, and thousands of London's displaced population ended up living in temporary accommodation. Prefabs went up all over the edge of town, including an area of parkland on the high ground south of Catford. The LCC used German and Italian prisoners of war to undertake construction, and an estate of 187 two bedroom bungalows was completed in 1946. They were only expected to be temporary, and almost every other such prefab across the country is long gone. But the Excalibur Estate hangs on, against all the odds, after almost 70 years of service. And yesterday I popped in for a cup of tea and a Rich Tea biscuit.
You can tell that this estate is somewhere peculiar as you approach from Battersby Road. The surrounding houses are typical two-storey suburbia, but all that's visible over the boundary fence are the curving tops of lampposts. Nowhere on the Excalibur Estate has an upstairs, let alone an attic, so their flat roofs remain invisible until you turn the corner. Lines of squat homes then spread out round an offset grid, some on the main streets, others reached from perpendicular alleyways. Every prefab is identical, or at least was before the owners personalised each one. Some have pristine gardens, some are bedecked with hanging baskets, one has a St George's flag fluttering outside, and one's even been Mock-Tudored. Most residents are clearly very proud of where they live, because who gets a detached council house surrounded by their own garden nowadays?
But not all of the homes are in quite so good a state. Some are boarded up, others abandoned with front door wide open and refuse strewn across the lawn. The entire northeastern corner of the estate is sealed off, and has been for some time, as Lewisham Council attempts to end what they see as substandard squalour. These prefabs don't need modern standards - some leak, some contain asbestos - and plans are afoot for replacement. Along with developers L&Q they want to replace the Excalibur with 371 new houses and flats. Some of the new homes will be affordable, others rather less so, and the new community that grows up will be nothing like the old. Some residents can't wait to be rehoused, anywhere more modern than here, but many are keen to hang on in this special place they're proud to call home.
The Prefab Museum is the brainchild of Elisabeth Blanchet, a freelance photographer interested in documenting social conditions and communities. She's got together 13 artists and taken over a prefab in Meliot Road, filling it with photos and mementos donated by surviving residents. You'll spot the place easily enough if you visit by the flags and bunting hanging outside. Several leafy shrubs survive from the time of the former owner, including a camellia by the front gate that's in full bloom. And if the museum's open (that's Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10am), you can step right inside.
The prefab at number 17 was bigger within than I was expecting. A hall runs down the centre of the building, almost precisely along the line of the Greenwich Meridian, leading to a toilet and small bathroom at the far end. To the left are the two bedrooms, currently devoid of beds, and with more cupboard space than I have here at home. And to the right is the living room, a surprisingly light space, plus a fairly basic kitchen round the corner. Number 17 has an extension out back - it would be wrong to call it a conservatory - with a somewhat flimsy-looking roof. And OK it's not the best preserved building, nor the most sturdy, and even a full interior makeover couldn't hide its age. But it's easy to see how someone might love this place more than a far-flung semi or a box in the sky.
There are photographs on most of the walls, many picturing residents in their homes or standing beaming outside the front door. The back bedroom has one photo of every prefab on the estate, packed in polystyrene ready to be given away to any former residents should they visit, which is a lovely touch. One wall here is given over to a looping video, featuring amongst others 93 year-old war veteran Eddie O'Mahoney who's lived on the estate since it was built. The living room has shelves of knick-knacks, plus newspapers from 1946 found underneath the lino, and books and mugs you can buy to support the survival campaign. The leader of that campaign - the Worried Tenants Group - was on hand yesterday to talk to visitors about the iniquities of various decisions and votes. And a teapot was on the go, as you'd expect somewhere so communal, so I helped myself.
I couldn't get into the front bedroom because a special event was underway. This was the Archive Tea Party, a cunning ploy to bring together several Excalibur residents to reminisce on camera. They had plates of cakes to keep them going, and a grand mix of ages doing the talking and listening. If the planned redevelopment finally happens then all that'll remain will be memories, plus a mere six prefabs that've been given Grade II listing by English Heritage. It's hard to imagine half a dozen survivors having much impact amongst a sea of modern homes, indeed it's the collective clustering that currently gives the place its edge. But six is better than nothing, I guess, as a very small reminder of an important period of Britain's housing history.
Departing the Prefab Museum, I wandered through the alleyways in the early spring sunshine, possibly for the last time. A Scottie dog peered out from one net-curtained window on Persant Road, and a resident rolled home in his mobility scooter with a bag of shopping balanced behind. The mothballed northeastern corner of the estate looked particularly sad, with great wooden barriers sealing off 34 already-doomed prefabs from their more fortunate counterparts. Nothing's moving fast here, the council thus far unsuccessful in obtaining planning permission for even partial demolition. They're frustrated because they want to increase housing stock in the borough, and this low-density, low-value estate could provide so much more. But Eddie still thanks the German POW who built his home, and would argue there's nowhere finer than Excalibur.
The Prefab Museum
» Facebook page (opening extended until May)
» The Prefab Museum - events and opening times
» ITN report
The Independent, Municipal Dreams, Running Past, the Londonphile, Caroline's Miscellany, English Buildings, Ian Visits
Excalibur photos: 12 by me, 18 by doctorboogie, 33 images from the exhibition, tons from Flickr
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