High Barnet visit

February 7, 2011

I have to admit, it’s not often that I take the tube to the end of the line, so upon reaching it, I was intrigued by the pre-recorded announcement that not only told me that the train terminated here but also thanked me for riding the Northern Line. After exiting the station, I looked out at the green hills in the distance and realised that I don’t get to see such things very often, as a central London resident and worker, and this surely must be one of the many things that draw people to this area.

The first thing on everyone’s mind, before doing a thorough investigation of the area, was to have a bit of breakfast. My mind immediately jumped to locating the nearest Pret A Manger, which I acknowledge, is a product of conditioning; however, we instead opted for a local “greasy spoon”. Prior visits to other sites have started off in coffee shops or bakeries, but by going to the “greasy spoon” instead, we had a chance to see a different sort of clientele. Construction workers with their heavy boots and coveralls, opposed to more middle class folks having their sugary/caffeine fix before getting on with their day. One colleague had made a comment that you can notice in an area there’s generally a nice pub and a scruffier-looking pub, and both cater to different people; perhaps this is the breakfast equivalent.

Speaking of caffeine, as we walked through the Spires (a shopping centre integrated into the high street), I made note of a locally owned coffee shop that was across from another one, and both were around the corner from a Costa. One would think “surely there’s no need for that many coffee shops in one area”; however, they were all busy. It seems that they all have enough business to continue operating. Who do these different shops cater to? Do locals pick the non-chain ones over Costa and, if so, do they have their specific one they favour over the other?

My interest is spotting the pattern in businesses and understanding what need they fill in the community (and what it may say about the local area). As we headed away from the High Street and continued towards Ravenscroft, I took note of the number of churches and OAP housing communities in the area. Coupled with the previous observation of coffee shops, it begins to paint a picture that, although High Barnet may not be trending towards a vibrant nightlife, it serves the community it has and gives them options that they are interested in.

In “Suburbs and the Historic Environment” (2007), one suggestion it made to local authorities for better planning in the suburbs was to consider issuing a Supplementary Planning Document. Of particular note, this document could help avoid things such as inappropriate traffic management schemes; which in one area of High Barnet, could have been of some use. At the intersection of the Avenue, Union Street, Leecroft Road, and Wood Street, a double roundabout has been constructed. From observing the traffic for a bit, I noticed a number of hesitations and drivers craning their necks to get a better view of where the traffic was coming from and where they needed to go. Of particular interest, this area was actually the historic town centre of High Barnet. Old buildings and hidden treasures were here that are now obscured or lost that with better planning could have been highlighted or preserved.

Though we can obtain data for major businesses, many small businesses fall below the radar, yet are still a vital part of the community. Union Street housed many businesses that were situated in the front room of converted houses that were also next door to houses still being used for habitation. I saw a woman at a desk, making telephone calls in a room lined with filing cabinets and next door was a man with his feet up, watching a TV and having a cup of tea. This scene changed, the closer we got to the High Street. Just before we did, though, I saw the old Victoria Bakery shop. They now have two locations, one in the Spires and another on the High Street. It’s a very nice looking bakery, and is also popular with the locals; however, this old shop had a few letters missing from the title, a dusty front window with the remnants of the last display, and a boarded up door. It was somewhat sad, just seeing it left there – discarded.

We made our way north to a military training area and took a foot path located behind it to see where it led. As we were making our way onto the footpath, two women walking their dogs came out. Walking down it were signs reminding people to pick up after their dogs and receptacles for them to dispose of any leavings. Seeing those got me thinking that things are put in a place for a reason, and they also signify use. These areas off the normally used pathways are indeed used by people, and regularly for specific purposes (in this case, walking their dogs). The same seems to apply for specialty shops. A number of them were located on roads off the High Street – Framing and building services, media businesses, and car repair shops. They didn’t carry a high profile of advertising on the high street; yet, they also didn’t seem to have a shortage of customers.

The shops off the high street seemed to me to be a metaphor of the suburbs I’ve seen so far. The normal shops are a façade, and by looking just beyond that, one can see what’s truly going on in a community.


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