Street clutter is the perennial enemy of urban design. Even the most masterful and considered public space can be brought to its knees needs by the unnecessary replication of traffic lights, street furniture and signage. Even trees can sometimes be in the wrong places.
Try and appraise the sublime Palladian facade of Inigo Jones’s spectacular Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace in London – only the second classical building ever built England - and your efforts will be thwarted by the clumsily located plane tree lumbering in front of the view.
This and the countless other examples found in cities, towns and villages across the country damage urban character and corrode visual unity. They are also all indicative of the lazy and uncoordinated approach towards visual unity in the public realm frequently adopted by local authorities up and down the land.
Which is why it was so encouraging this August to hear Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Transport Secretary Philip Hammond announce a war on street clutter. They wrote to every council leader in the country urging them to remove unnecessary signage and wasteful street furniture.
"Our streets are losing their English character” boomed Mr Pickles, “we are being overrun by scruffy signs, bossy bollards, patchwork paving and railed off roads, wasting taxpayers' money that could be better spent on fixing potholes or keeping council tax down. We need to cut the clutter.”
Presumably nobody told the Corporation of London. In fairness to the City’s municipal authority, they have been at the forefront of efforts to minimise street clutter for years.
Their laudable ‘Street Scene Challenge’ programme has seen countless improvements to public spaces across the City and they have already shown an enlightened commitment to enhancing its public spaces and urban streetscapes.
Which is why the unveiling of a new water fountain near St. Paul’s this summer was something of a strange event.
In an inspired piece of historic restoration, the St. Lawrence Jewry Memorial Fountain has been painstakingly restored and rebuilt in St. Paul’s Churchyard just to the south of the cathedral.
Originally located outside St. Lawrence Jewry church, it was removed during the redevelopment of the Guildhall in the 1970s and spent most of the next four decades languishing in a barn in Epping.
It has also now been returned to its original function of a public drinking fountain and, as the City’s first new drinking foundation in 30 years, is part of the City’s equally commendable plans to roll out new fountains across the district.
Built in 1866 by architect John Robinson, it is a typically riotous example of wedding-cake Gothic Victoriana complete with granite columns, gold-leaf trim and an ornamental pointed spire. However, from certain vantage points you may struggle to appreciate this due to the lamppost and a parking restrictions sign located right in front it.
Clearly the war against street clutter still has a long way to go....