Rickmansworth Revisited

May 4, 2011

Rickmansworth was familiar territory. This was an area that was visited several times when I attended a school is in area, many of my friends lived in this area. My overriding memories of the area from that period of my life were distance; everywhere seemed very spread out and the place in itself seemed very detached from the rest of London. Coming back this was still the case; this is zone 7 after all.

On exiting the station you are immediately confronted with the A412, a four lane dual carriageway sweeping past the front of the station under an overpass. To your right there is a multi-storey car park serving both as a car-crèche for commuters and shoppers to the large Waitrose connected adjacently. This felt like the classic commuter belt: cars dominate the landscape that car-paths have been carved through. As though over-time they have progressively eroded the landscape to perfect the smooth flows they require. This perception changes rapidly when you turn under the railway bridge towards the high street.

Densification around the high street is obvious. There are several five to eight storey apartment buildings bordering the high street. The high street itself is a very compact space. Shop frontages are small and the variety and number of retail premises that have been squeezed into the area is impressive. The area has been managed very effectively; whilst there are the usual chain shops that are present in almost all high streets there are also numerous independent shops that give character to the area and impress a sense of locality. The street scape lends itself well to both lingering and passing through for pedestrians whilst the car has been given second place in the planning schema, the high street road is a single lane one-way road. This emphasises the local feeling of the high street, through traffic seems almost completely absent.

Rickmansworth is a juxtaposition. It is at the same time the best and worst of suburbia. It is the commuter focussed; car dominated landscape and the local, walkable, characterful high street. Furthermore local planning seems to have got their priorities right. The densification around the main high street area will create a livelier pedestrian orientated atmosphere and encourage more diverse businesses that cater for a wider range of day/night functions. This in conjunction with the sprawling detached suburbia that surrounds creates a place on the edge of London that will likely thrive for a long time and be able to adapt to changing future economic and demographic demands.

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