Leo Hammond, Urban Design Associate Director, Project Centre.
I grew up and still live in Hackney in East London, and boy, has it changed since the 1980s. My experience of growing up around post-war housing estates – seemingly designed by criminal masterminds – shabby high streets, blaring reggae, and terrible public transport undoubtedly inspired my career path into urban design.
Today the borough is teeming with mixed tenure masterplans by big name architectural practices, cafes and delis, and new public spaces. All of this is brought together in Woodberry Wetlands, a nature reserve created as part of the Woodberry Down masterplan in 2016 from an old fenced-off reservoir.
Walking round Woodberry Wetlands you would not believe that you were in London, as you gaze over the reed beds, meadows and ponds. Here the diverse communities of the borough rub shoulders with the equally diverse wildlife – birdlife, butterflies and bats to name but a few. The environment is both calming and inspiring, with a magic blend of water, nature, birdsong and an urban skyline in the distance.
The poorly built utilitarian housing of the old post-war estate is being demolished. In its place are legible and naturally overlooked streets; new C shaped blocks that maximise waterside views for both private and affordable homes; a public realm that promotes cycling, play and social interaction; and a community centre, cafes, local supermarket and post office that bring vitality to the neighbourhood.
All a far cry from the 1980s Hackney of my childhood. But sometimes I do miss that blaring reggae