In 2006-7 the Borough of Lewisham conducted research into public attitudes.. Residents complained of loneliness and alienation, intergenerational suspicion and fear of using certain public spaces. Public discussion forums were set up which elicited a great deal of deep knowledge about local life-ways which had previously been unknown to officials. It also threw up issues which might appear obvious, but were nevertheless overlooked, such as the complete lack of seating in public space. This situation had emerged deliberately because planners had become excessively pre-occupied with a need to discourage problem drinkers or loitering teenagers, rather than with providing spaces in which a wide diversity of people might interact. A toolkit for intercultural place-making was produced and this informed a new approach to public space in Lewisham and eventually led to the borough joining the network of Intercultural Cities
Since then a programme of targeted improvement has transformed numerous locations within the district – and Lewisham’s commitment has aroused widespread recognition and approbation. Four of the Borough’s public spaces have received prizes in the London Planning Awards in the last five years: Ladywell Fields, Deptford Lounge, Cornmill Gardens and Margaret McMillan Park. Let us briefly explore one of these to assess the impact of the new approach. Margaret McMillan Park lies in the north of the borough, set strategically along an important pedestrian and cycling thoroughfare between the busy retail area of Deptford High Street and the transport hub of New Cross Station. At
The outset it was described as offering little to encourage visitors to slow down and use the space for enjoyment, and was rarely used by local residents, visitors or workers as a space to dwell and interact. There were relatively high levels of crime but even higher perceptions of fear about the place. Extensive consultation and imaginative participatory techniques led to a scheme which met with widespread approval.
The Park was also awarded first place in the Urban Green Space Category of the Local Government News 2011 Street Design Awards, and the Civic Trust Award in 2010 for Community Recognition.
The Metropolitan Police crime statistics for Lewisham suggest that the borough’s approach may be having results. Total recorded crimes in Lewisham fell by 2.2% in the year 2011/12 and by 5.9% in 2012/13.