Friday, 27 January 2012

Willesden Green Regeneration: Some key questions for the Council

'Richly divererse and vibrant' Brent reflected in an exhibition
I count myself very privileged to be a resident of Willesden Green. It is a richly diverse and vibrant place. It is hard to put your finger on what makes it tick but at the heart of this extraordinary integration of cultures, religions and generations is a Library Centre that celebrates and promotes a bonded Community. A building, which claims nearly 500,000 visits per annum.

The success of the library is not necessarily the Architecture. What seems to make it tick is the location, it is a shared ground where all paths can cross.

When Brent Council published their vision for the proposed new Willesden Green Civic Centre they expressed many of my hopes for a rejuvenated space.

Brent’s Vision was as follows:

Willesden Green Cultural Centre will be a building at the heart of it’s community in every sense. Actively welcoming people in all their diversity, it will be a social space: a place full of life, energy and fun, that will support and celebrate creativity and imagination and allow knowledge and ideas to be accessed, produced and shared. Efficient to run, and easy to maintain, the Cultural Centre will be a really useful local landmark: a thing of beauty that is able to respond to changing aspirations, offering the spaces and services that it’s community needs, now and in the future. 

The Willesden green Cultural Centre will be the main Cultural hub for the Council, and its role will only grow both with its new development and the transformed library service. The priority here is therefore to support local practitioners through giving opportunities to promote work and also to grow audiences through activities like reading groups, taster sessions and community food markets.

Currently the existing space serves most of these purposes well. There is plenty of space to gather, a quiet area to learn, exhibition halls, galleries, a museum, space to play, corners for newspaper reading, a market place, a theatre space, a well-loved bookshop, a cafĂ©, an historic, locally listed landmark, a shared destination etc.  The building is probably not the most efficient to run and could be reinvented for a new generation. It is very important however that in doing this, none of the qualities that engage and bond are lost. I am concerned that the ambition to finance and rebuild the Centre will inevitably result in a sacrifice of Public space. I await with interest, to see the scheme that has been chosen to replace the existing library.

For now my questions are:

  • Has there been complete transparency and an open dialogue so that all agendas are understood?
  • Has the Council consulted CABE/ Design Council?
  • Has a traffic study been carried out?
  • Will the Council’s decision support local practitioners and residents ?
  • Will the partnering developers fully understand the fine balance that makes Willesden Green?
  • Will all the cultural benefits of the existing library be accommodated in the new building?
  • How will the development risks be managed to safeguard the development vision? 

My own personal view is that the development plans are too ambitious and short sighted. The Vision cannot possibly be met in the current financial climate without a significant loss to Willesden Green. That loss could be limited by local insight leading to good design. I hope that through careful consultation and a well lead design team, Brent Council will be able to deliver a balance and solution for us all.

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