There’s this place, near King’s Cross station.
Right by the canal.
Granary square. There are no cars, instead there are fountains, cafes, lots of people on bikes, bookshops on boats, and an ice cream barge.
There’s a gallery of illustration, there is a nice restaurant. There are big steps leading down to the canal covered in pretend grass that you can sit on and watch the runners go along the canal path.
It’s pretty much my favourite place to go in London at the moment, and it’s just a five minute walk from St Pancras station.
For me, the reason it’s such a treat is the fact that you feel like you have all that space away from traffic; to eat, to drink, to cycle through the fountains, to just hang out – right in the middle of this frenetic bit of London. It’s a great mix of old and new landscaping: the buildings are Victorian, the canal is the Industrial Revolution’s finest; the cafes and galleries, the fountains and the steps to sit on, the vans and cargo bikes selling coffee are all brand-spanking new. The newness and the oldness sit together beautifully; the canal which was once a pre-car essential connection between London and the north is now a focal point for people to sit beside, run alongside and watch. In our super-connected modern world, it’s these kind of places that I think are integral to community cohesion, to provide a place for friends to meet and for people to be alongside, and connect with other people. It feels like a dreamily futuristic, post-car landscape. It’s so easy for cities to be full of noise and things and people on the move, but no space to just be.
There was a really interesting article about the aims of the development in the Observer last weekend (here) about the aims and achievements of the development. It had “to feel like a piece of London, be a public bit of London, to have an influence beyond its boundaries and to achieve “a social mix”
Social mix is a hard thing to gauge when you only hang out there occasionally, certainly the parents I’ve met there whilst the kids have been racing up and down the steps, running in the fountains and generally lounging in the square have been posher-kinds of parents, but when your kids are in their underwear and soaking wet, it’s not like that matters everso much. The great and the good of north London didn’t bat an eyelid between them when Tilly slid down the stair rails in just a t shirt and knickers. It would be nice to think that it will attract anyone who fancies a bit of space to wander in a city full of people in a hurry, places to be and crowds of tourists – no matter what their social background. I certainly think it feels like a part of London, and it feels very much like a place that belongs to the public. Its influence has definitely stretched beyond its boundaries. Ever since I first visited, I’ve been trying to figure out how Bedford can get itself a place like this.
I can completely recommend it for hanging out with the kids, picnicking. and running in the fountains. Take a change of clothes for anyone who might be tempted to run through the fountains, visit the gallery, try drinking a cocktail in a can (just my classy suggestion there) on the steps by the canal if you’re there for a long summer/autumn evening. Take a book. Take a bike. Take the train to hang out in the city and sit outside.
On the top floor of the Camden local authority building, there is a piece of art that says ‘not for one but for all.’
I think that if anything, that sums up what this place is all about. And it’s kind of magical.