Walthamstow High Street, London
This ancient parish, mentioned in the Domesday Book, (although only a tiny village at that time,) has long been known for its High Street, and since 1885, the street market – the longest in Europe. This market is part of a string of street markets in East London, known as the Black Path, used to drive cattle, sheep and poultry into Smithfield Market in the City of London from farms outside London.
Situated to the east of the River Lea, the few roads crossing the Walthamstow Marshes and the River Lea were important, and gave access to Essex to the east. The rural Marsh Street was one of these highways, and was transformed by the Victorian building boom, and became the High Street, central to the town, incorporating such facilities such as the town library, town hall, main post office and the swimming pool and baths.
The railway came to the town in the 1870s and this enabled Walthamstow to claim that it was the first commuter town, allowing workers to travel into London on a daily basis, and started an exodus of people out of the city. Central Walthamstow is still well served by public transport, with Walthamstow Central station providing both Overground and Underground rail lines, and the Walthamstow Bus Station is strategically positioned between the railway and the Town Square.
In 2016, The London Borough of Waltham Forest commissioned a report into how the town centre could be improved, recognising that some of the existing street trees at the east end of the high street were causing problems with the surrounding hard paving, and were of poor quality. Wanting to create a truly shared space, where pedestrians and cyclists had priority over delivery traffic, and where the Farmers Market could expand. Working with GreenBlue Urban, Project Centre London assisted the local authority with an open and attractive public plaza design that incorporated healthy trees and planting, providing quiet areas where visitors can sit, eat and drink or just watch the world go by. The tree pits have been designed to support tree growth for the next one hundred years at least; excellent uncompacted soil volume courtesy of GreenBlue Urban soil cells, aeration, irrigation and root management.
Transformed from a medieval country lane to a new area of the public realm, the multi-award-winning High Street including Mixed-use, Planning & Placemaking Award 2016 is now equipped for the latest phase of its’ history, and as the green infrastructure matures, it will be providing mitigation to climate change, both cooling and stormwater management through the healthy canopy over, for generations to come.