Spatial Character in Harrow

January 14, 2011

In my attempts to meet the team in Harrow, I like another colleague happened to be slightly delayed in my arrival. Upon reaching the station I called the awaiting group who told me their location in a café by the war memorial. Seeing the high street I instinctively knew I had one of two directions to walk in. Hoping it was the right direction I commenced walking and asked passers-by where the War memorial was. The first three people did not know for sure saying that ‘I’ve not lived in the area long’ or ‘well there’s a thing with a clock on, that might be it?’. My eventual informant was a young man who described the memorial to me as ‘that thing across from Iceland’.

What was interesting about this beginning to the day was the way in which local people used points of reference with the supermarkets of Iceland and Tesco being used as landmarks. Is the way we find our way around changing streetscapes? Are these the sites of most common shared use and therefore most familiar to everyone?

It was questioned whether the other colleague was familiar with the form of the ‘British high street’ hailed as he does from the US. What is the form of the British suburb? Is it the linear high street or the shopping centre? What does each of these provide in terms of sense of space, local and movement? What are the implications of each form in terms of the adaptability of the area, the economic sustainability and the marketability? Is the chain store, which dominates the mall, a sign of economic prosperity in an area or a loss of character? What do people want from their suburb, their high street or their mall? Is this clone town Britain or the division of service provision allowing greater choice?

It was noticeable in Harrow that the main location of the shops was the artery called the High Street that comes from and re-joins the A409. It is this spatial signature (linear high street) and it’s associated mixed use and potential adaptability that stood out for me as we walked around. Both St Ann’s and St George’s shopping centres displayed alternative shopping environments as we approached Harrow-on-the-Hill station and contained more chain stores. Issues that arise in thinking here are those of the character of a place and how that is associated to the spatial signature of that place. How is that spatial signature linked to adaptability and the sorts of activities (commercial and non-commercial) that occupy different sorts of spaces. Perhaps bloggers can walk around their local area and see how they feel about these spatial patterns, the character of places and changes in these.

References & Links
• An interesting link on the act of going for a stroll through an area in order to get to football match. Football teams seem to represent a community, the act of going to an away game (one I’m familiar with as a Blackburn Rovers fan) is also an act of going to see another community. If the spatial location of the end point of the stroll changes then the nature of the cultural performance changes.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/football-league-blog/2010/aug/10/stevenage-walks-to-stadium-from-station?INTCMP=SRCH

• Paper on spatial signatures of suburban town centres.
Vaughan, L. and Jones, C.E. and Griffiths, S. and Haklay, M. (2010) The spatial signature of suburban town centres. The Journal of Space Syntax, 1 (1). pp. 77-91.

• The sustainable high street
Griffiths, S. and Vaughan, L. and Haklay, M. and Jones, C.E. (2008) The sustainable suburban high street: a review of themes and approaches. Geography Compass, 2 (4). pp. 1155-1188.

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