Landscape architect Luke Greysmith and John Ryan, CEO of Oxford House, recognised the untapped potential of the space – a south-facing aspect and shaded by trees but only serving as a car park. Despite the surrounding urban spaces being a hive of activity, the dead-end was only used for anti-social behaviour and fly-tipping. It seemed obvious that reconfiguring the street as a pocket park would benefit the local community in many ways – a social space with outdoor café, a connected space with new pedestrian / bike route, a bio-diverse space with new planting and a functional space featuring sustainable urban drainage (SuDS) as the backbone of the scheme.
They approached the local authority, The London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and got buy-in from their highways and flood management teams. A partnership was formed and a design developed that sought to manage all rainwater from the street and roof of Oxford House locally within the retro-fitted SuDS system. A funding bid was submitted to the Mayor of London’s Pocket Park initiative. This successfully raised £40,000 which was match-funded by Tower Hamlets.
The project was not trying to solve any localised flooding issues. It was however responding to the wider context; playing a part in reducing the well-documented pressure on London’s drainage system.
The new measures include;
- Diversion of three Oxford House downpipes into attenuating planters. These store water prior to it overflowing into a rain garden, via a piped connection.
- Permeable paving over a pedestrian section of the street.
- Green roof bike shelters and bin store.
- The rain garden channel, forming the central feature of the pocket park.
- A swale at the end of the system receives any remaining flow from the rain garden.
- A bespoke signboard was also installed to illustrate the functionality of the space and explain how the SuDS system works.
Additional benefits include the increase in biodiversity brought by the rain garden planting and the green roof shelters (which also incorporate insect habitat panels).
The project is now seen by the local authority as a benchmark for streetscape design. The rain garden, permeable paving, attenuating planters, green roof bike racks / bin stores and even the signage are all components that can be implemented elsewhere either individually or as a package.
Above all, the new layout and palette of materials creates a unique sense of place that was lacking beforehand.
The ultimate aim was to see the space animated and in use by local people. This original intention was fulfilled in September 2014 when Oxford House coordinated the first street party, with music, food, acrobatics, art workshops and theatre. Much better than little-used parking bays!
The planting within the rain garden, the planters and the green roofs will inevitably change and evolve reflecting the seasons and the flow of water through the system. Maintenance of the planting is to be coordinated by the local community. Tower Hamlets have ultimate responsibility for maintenance but, as with the design process, a partnership arrangement for management is being sought to ensure that the pocket park gets better with age.
“Greysmith Associates have managed to achieve technical innovation and true place-making in a finely balanced design that will transform our immediate outdoor space, opening up significant new potential for the local area where previously none existed”. John Ryan, CEO, Oxford House
Derbyshire Street Pocket Park | Bethnal Green, London, E2 6HG | Greysmith Associates
Landscape Architect: Greysmith Associates
Community Centre: Oxford House
Local Authority: London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Main Contractor: Riney
Green roof shelters: The Grass Roof Company
Attenuating planters: Thames Water Utilities
Construction period: Dec 2013 – Aug 2014