A civilised street with space for everything turns into an eyesore that should have no place on this small planet, says Bill Bryson

Once England was universally famed for the elegance of its streets. Sadly, now it is a different story. Not far from my flat in London is Kensington High Street, recently subject of a wonderful enhancement scheme by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It now has wide uncluttered pavements, bespoke street furniture and a boulevard feel, with the central reservation used for cycle racks with trees planted between them. Everything is there because it needs to be, and its location has been fixed in the overall design. It makes for a civilised shopping street, a place where it is a pleasure to be. It shows how our streets could be.

Continuing to the end of Kensington High Street, perhaps to go to Olympia, you come to Hammersmith Road. Litter collects in the areas created by kerbstone build-outs and there are signs everywhere. The footways have a mixture of materials from paving slabs of varying sizes to brick paviours of different colours. Street furniture is placed anywhere on the pavement, and, amazingly, a bus shelter has been placed right outside the doors to a mansion block of flats. Hammersmith Road is not a particularly bad street, but it is typical of the poor standard of street we now accept.

Bill Bryson is a commissioner for English Heritage and champion of its Save our Streets campaign, which launched on October 14.

Back issues A Baghdad debate, design goes off the rails and electricity goes nuclear …

October 1956

Our man in Baghdad

How a modern plan for the ancient capital of Iraq, Baghdad, is being made and the city developed was described to a Housing Centre meeting on October 23 by Mr. P. W. MacFarlane.

Baghdad, he said, was essentially an administrative town and the centre of a people being welded into a nation. The great thing that was changing the face of Baghdad and the Middle East was oil. A hospital costing from £1m to £2m was being built with American aid. The planners had not thought in terms of flats for housing. The average Baghdad man, they thought, did not want to live up in the air.

BR’s odious design record

British Railways since nationalisation have had a pitiful design record. Very nearly everything that has come from railway designers since they were nationalised has been third or fourth rate. Remember the odious tavern cars, still in service despite many statements that they would be withdrawn, the double jube-jube sign, the starving lion stretched over the wheel – the latest heraldic horror. In marked contrast to this tale of woe, the architecture of British Railways was for the most part extremely good.

But all is not lost. Last week, a ray of hope pierced the sooty gloom. The British Transport Commission is to have a design committee.

Nuclear power

The present nuclear power programme is now being pushed ahead with all speed. As the only known method of using nuclear is by utilising it to generate electricity it is obvious that the study and application of the use of electricity in industry, commerce and transport must also be intensified.

This statement was made on September 25 by Mr. L. Landon Goodman, industrial specialist of the British Electrical Development Association. He was speaking on ‘Automation and its Economic and Social Implications’ at Brasenose College, Oxford, during a refresher course for works and plant engineers organised by the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service.

Nuclear power, part two

Her Majesty the Queen will perform the opening ceremony at Calder Hall on the 17th of this month by connecting the already working plant to the grid.

The significance of this act is that this station is the first full-scale atomic power station to be put into operation in this country; it employs a graphite moderated reactor.

It is not within our scope to expound the intimate technicalities of Nuclear Reactors; it is sufficient to state that their importance upon the future of the world is comprehended.

Already great engineering and civil engineering problems in this field have been met and solved.