Saturday, 31 August 2019


I've been thinking a lot about the things that I like in a street or a place and I have come to the realisation that the thing I am always trying to grasp for is somewhere that is peaceful.

It's actually quite a tricky thing to completely define because peaceful doesn't mean somewhere devoid of people, far from it and (he whispers) it doesn't always mean free of motor traffic.

Take the square outside Malmö Central Station. It has buses and general traffic going through it and it has a steady stream of people walking and cycling through it, but I would say it is peaceful;

This is the heart of old Deventer in the Netherlands. OK, no motor traffic here, but a busy with people, but it is a peaceful place to stroll around admiring the street and the shops;

Lauenburg near Hamburg has plenty of parking along its old streets, but again, it's peaceful;

Closer to home, we have the nice end of Exhibition Road in London. Whatever you think of the overall design, people can stand in the middle of the area people can drive through with abandon;

Not too far away, we have Covent Garden which I don't find peaceful at all. It's too crowded in the pedestrianised area and there's too much rat-running traffic on the streets surrounding it;

Francis Road in Waltham Forest. Car-free and not too many people, so I think it's a peaceful place. Perhaps the guy in my photo is actually an indicator - being able to perch on a bench and make a phone call without shouting;

The middle of Cambridge city centre. For me, it's probably getting a little too busy with people to be peaceful for my liking;

Bruges in the run up to Christmas is probably not a peaceful place for me;

Coronation Street, Salford. Yes, very peaceful, despite there being being a 40mph dual carriageway behind it.

One more. An open space in Stevenage. It's quiet, but is that the same as peaceful? I don't think so, I think it is lonely.

There will be people who have agreed with me on all of these examples, but probably most people will have been shouting at their screen disagreeing. The Stevenage example might not be lonely if a few people per minute cycled past. The Deventer example might feel too lonely at 3am. Covent Garden would feel a lot more peaceful at 6am when workers are out cleaning the streets.

My point here is that it is very hard to distill "peaceful" into a formula or a checklist. It is subjective. It changes with the time of day and the time of year. One person's peaceful might be too lonely for another.

For me, though, here is a list of things which I think contribute to a peaceful street or place, but even these are a bit either/ or in part;

  • Low levels of through motor traffic;
  • If there is through motor traffic, it needs to be well away from people;
  • Slow motor traffic speeds;
  • People on the street, walking, cycling or sitting;
  • The highway elements of the street forming a backdrop to the setting;
  • Seating, both formal and informal;
  • Trees;
  • Space for people to walk and cycle away from people who want to pause or wait;
  • Playful features to provide some fun or a focal point;
  • Enough going on over as many hours as possible;
  • Children and older people are the indicator species.
What do you think? What have I missed and what should I have left out?

1 comment:

  1. You've missed main point: noise.
    Netherlands looks very peaceful because of low traffic noise. Almost everywhere you can hear birds and people voices. It is not the same elsewhere in the world.