Reading the ‘Ballad of Ballards Lane’.

February 3, 2013

This post is a response to a reading of blog post today, which speculates why Ballards Lane doesn’t have a successful range of smaller shops. I agree with the author that there is a strong sociological element to the success of some shops over others, and of course also a broader economic explanation for which strategies work, and which others don’t, however I would argue that it’s a broader issue still: to do with how urban centres and sub-centres work together in a mesh of inherently spatial interdependencies of economic, communal and social activity. The notion of a ‘dynamic commercial ecology’ resonates in particular with our own research findings as it implies a temporal aspect to how places are shaped over time by accumulation of routine movements to and through them. Our study of twenty outer London suburban centres and their hinterlands indicates that those which have weathered change benefit from having a diversity of activities, which stem, we suggest, from them having a variety of people travelling through and to them – engendered by spatial connectivity of the street network at a variety of scales. Having started to look at the business directories of four of the cases over 150 years, we get an even stronger sense of how the ecology of such places is bound up in this way, with many instances of path dependency, where for example what was in the past a doctor’s surgery is nowadays a holistic health centre.


I’ve had a peek at the maps of Ballards Lane on the Edina Digimap historic maps archive. The map for 1890s Finchley shows an intensification of town centre-like activities around the intersection of Ballards Lane with what is now Finchley High Road, but the remainder of the road suffered in the past (I conjecture) in a similar way to how it does today, from trying to be both a link between places (a high road) as well as a place in its own right. The centre itself still retains some of its character today, but the High Road – now an A road, is relatively wide and poorly connected along its length. Although I haven’t got a space syntax analysis of it to hand, I suspect it has an imbalance of city-wide accessibility coupled to local lack of connectivity, with long stretches of the road connecting onwards, but not locally. Without sufficient mixing of different sorts of movement to and through the area, local businesses will struggle to survive over time, although organisations that draw people from farther afield (such as offices, garages and etc as well as restaurants and communal activities) seem to be surviving). From what I recall from my last visit to the area, unsympathetic street design that inhibits pedestrian traffic across and around the area doesn’t help matters either.


County Series 1:2500, 2nd Revision. County of Middlesex, published 1913. © Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2013). All rights reserved 1913. Downloaded from 3/2/13.


2 Responses to “Reading the ‘Ballad of Ballards Lane’.”

  1. I am very pleased my blog has received such an interesting and thoughtful reply. Interestingly North Finchley (pictured on the map) has fared well and seems vibrant and balanced. By contrast Finchley Central has not remained as healthy though the High Street limps on. I agree that spatial factors – Finchley Central is a straight road whereas North Finchley has the ‘Tally Ho Corner’ which acts as a sort of focus. I suspect that below a certain critical threshold of economic activity some of the negative patterns I identified in my blog set in.

  2. Agreed. I’d add that Tally Ho corner is really sitting at a point of change in the accessibility of the area and south from it the whole character shifts quite dramatically. I suspect this is why the Arts Depot feels out of place somewhat. It really should have been better integrated into the northerly section of the road.

    There’s a short history of the area on British History Online:, which indicates that North Finchley has always struggled somewhat to create a viable centre: “North Finchley… became less exclusive, especially along the Great North Road and Ballards Lane, where by 1934 there was a ‘vulgar line of hoardings, petrol stations, blatant shops, and muddle of all kinds'”

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